This is true: Running makes me feel horribly inconvenienced, pukey and annoyed; I prefer being inside with cake, tea and a book. I don’t want to swim in the ocean and I really don’t want to ski, thanks. Once, when put on a treadmill for one of those gym assessment thingies, I was told outright “You are not a natural runner”. I was the least active person in my family with a running, rugby-playing Dad and a local tennis champ and P.E. teacher Mum. If I was any of the Spice Girls I would not be Sporty.
And yet… this is also true: I played waterpolo from age 11 – 17 and my high school team won the National championships (several years in a row). When I can be bothered, I am a competent and natural swimmer. When I go out, I love to dance. In the last few years I joined up to Run Auckland and did several 10km races with my sister. Sometimes, when I’m running, I feel free and vibrant and happy. And in two weeks time I am undertaking my first half marathon.
Isn’t it funny what we tell ourselves? In our youth we find a tiny sample size of people – our siblings, our family, our immediate circle of friends or our high school and we make firm decisions about ourselves by comparison. In my case I was less traditionally sporty than my siblings and my parents so I deduced that I was “not sporty”. At primary school I was terrified by the confident, athletic netball playing types (netball being the most dominant female sport in New Zealand) – they were “sporty” and I was “not sporty”. At high school, feeling socially awkward with my waterpolo team, I deduced that they were “sporty” and I was “not sporty” (also they were “cool” and I was “not cool”, but that’s a whole other story). Time and time again I chose a tiny sample size, made assumptions about the other people in it and placed myself squarely at the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, there was no spectrum. It was just “sporty” and “not sporty”. If they were one I was clearly the other. Feedback that confirmed the assumptions – “You are not a natural runner” – got chalked up. Feedback that contradicted the assumptions – being part of a team that won a national competition – didn’t register, that feedback / information slid right off (or I attributed it to extraordinary circumstances).
Clearly keen on a binary version of things, I also decided that I was “not arty”. There were four of us in my group of close friends and one of us was arty. It wasn’t me. I was, perhaps, art-interested, art-curious, but not full blown arty. Another identifier struck off the list. In fact, running my finger down this imaginary list, the options became fewer and fewer – Cool? Completely not cool. Funny? Nup. Good? Maybe, but not really good. Weird? Too scared to be. Smart? Ish. Skinny, pretty, sexy? Ha! No. Tough? Definitely not. Teachers were mostly pretty thrilled with me because I didn’t cause too much of a ruckus / challenge and I often had the words “all-rounder” written on my report card. But in my mind I was unidentifiable. I was nebulous. At worst, I was sort of…nothing.
I don’t mean to pay out high school too much (welllll, maybe I do) but it’s amazing the amount of unpicking that is required from those days. High school leaves invisible boundaries in us, lines we learn not to cross, seams, if you will, that keep us hemmed in to a particular shape. We don’t try certain things because we’re “not sporty”, we avoid certain careers because we’re “not smart”. We navigate our lives within parameters that don’t actually exist, because we believe misinformation about ourselves. This first became abundantly clear to me when I was unstitching myself from working in Human Resources and trying to figure out what on earth I might be interested or in inclined to do with my life. I had crossed off so many options from my character, for so long, that I truly had no idea. I had to make endless lists – “What do I like to do?”, “What am I interested in?”. Forget listing my “passions”, I was starting with “what vaguely interests me”. Actually, screw “unstitching”, it was more of a complete “unravelling”.
Thank goodness real life is not high school. Thank goodness there is still time to ditch acting out our high school assigned roles, the paper doll, misrepresentative representations of ourselves. Thank goodness we can come to realise that we are multi-dimensional people. That we have one thousand swirling, sparkling variants inside of us. Some of them are even contradictory, at least in the high school sense – you can be a naughty geek or a sporty scientist or a sexy weirdo or all of the above. Probably all of the above. You can hate running but love belly dancing and lifting weights. You can hate writing from scratch but love editing. You can adore baseball but not playing it.
You can be “not sporty” and manage a half marathon. Or at least give it a red, hot go.
P.S. This post is for Julia, Katie and Celine who went to high school with me and may be piggy-backing me over the finish line in Queenstown… thanks in advance! 😉 All three of them are multi-dimensional, inspirational women; wiser and richer (in the deeper meaning of the word) and better than their high school selves could ever have imagined.