Yesterday, I tried to learn how to swim.
Ok, confession. I actually know how to swim. I took lessons when I was a child. But ever since my extremely brief stint on the swim team when I was six (seven? eight?), I have never really spent a considerable amount of time working on my strokes. Somehow in the years between swim lessons and now, I forgot how to get the timing down to properly breathe while doing freestyle. Thus, I have spent most of my life swimming other strokes in which breathing is a given.
I have a friend visiting who swam competitively in college and she offered to help teach me.
I hushed my fears of being in a swimming suit, being in a pool and being bad at something in front of my friend and agreed.
Just as expected, being in a swimming suit felt awkward.
Just as expected, the pool was cold.
Just as expected, I was horrifically bad at swimming.
The result? I was furious with myself.
My friend got frustrated with my poor attitude. I got frustrated with my poor attitude. Overall, it was a pretty pathetic trip to the pool.
My friend insisted that I am too hard on myself and I need to realize that I'm not going to be perfect at something at the beginning.
"You need to just learn to accept failure." She insisted.
Which was oddly hard to hear because I went into this trip knowing that I was going to be horrible. I knew that I wasn't going to get it the first time. I knew that I wasn't going to be perfect. (In fact, I feel like I have had so many things fail in my life in the past few years that you'd think failure was my M.O.)
So, where was my temper coming from?
I spent a long time thinking it through. I think I figured it out:
You know how you go into a situation imagining how it's going to turn out? I didn't imagine leaving the pool with perfect swimming skills. However, I did imagine myself having a great go-to attitude about the whole thing. I did think that my friend and I would have a lot of fun and I would feel like someone who was going to start making progress on something she'd left on the shelf for far too long.
I don't get discouraged with my results as much as I get discouraged with my immediate gut reaction to my results. And somehow, that's more disappointing.
Anyone can fail. Lots of people do it.
But the people who just give up or get angry and walk away? We have no pity for them.
"I can't do this. I give up." Those words were out of my mouth before I could stop them just as soon as we had begun and I'd been left in my friend's wake, desperately trying not to swallow her waves. I regretted it as soon as I'd said it. I knew that I wasn't giving up. But the words were out and I couldn't take them back. I was mad at myself for saying it. Mad at myself for thinking it. Just plain mad.
I'm a person who gives up. At least, in those silly moments, I think that must be what I really am. And so I get mad at myself for being THAT PERSON. I get mad for being human and getting discouraged.
As it turns out, I'm not a perfectionist in that I want to perform perfectly. I am a perfectionist in that I want a perfect attitude while performing imperfectly.
It's interesting to discover that after after 30 years of life. But at least now I can do something about it.
Kindness - it's still the best policy. Especially when dealing with ourselves.