28 April 2016

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

PorterPants as I call him. Lovingly captured hiking by Lisa Bowers.
You wouldn't know it from looking at this photo of my favorite little buddy, but a few years ago I didn't like dogs. Or red wine. Or riding a bicycle, carrying things up hills, or sleeping in tents.

During that same time I had a colleague who got rid of her television, and I just could. not. fathom. what she was doing with all her extra time. I mean - I had a TiVo! Those shows were stacking up and I just had to watch!

But people change. Sometimes the change is a battle. We stick to our first impressions even though they aren't always right. We hold tight to negative experiences and refuse to try new things. We let memories from the past cloud potential future happiness.

I'm here to say change is good. Take Porter for example: I met his dad Q in a running group where we became fast friends. He told me he had a dog....I pretended to be interested. Truth be told I didn't want to admit to Q (and probably myself) that I was afraid of dogs. In case you don't know, I suffer from shortness, and one of the side effects of being short is that you're generally short for your entire life. Grades K-8 I was always the shortest in my class. As a result, lots and lots of dogs were also bigger than me, and I remember a few occasions growing up where I was jumped upon and consequently knocked to the ground by an unruly canine. It was traumatic to say the least.

I was also handicapped by having grown up with cats. Cats are easy - they mostly ignore you, poop in a box, and can be left for days without so much as a check in. They were never big enough to knock you over (at least not the house-cat variety native to Montana). I knew what to do with cats. Cats were my speed. Dogs not so much.

Sleeping in tents and LOVING it! Photo by Imran Rahman.
When the time came to meet Q's mutt, my nerves were high. Q assured me Porter would be gentle (he was), taught me how to say hello (squat down to the dogs level and let them smell you first), and provided instructions and treats to see a few tricks (sit, shake, high-five, lie down). I was not mauled or bitten, and it was not terrible. I felt my heart open just a tiny crack for this adorable creature.

Fast-forward three years and I am one of TWO dog nannies for Porter (and his recently-reunited sister Cally). He comes to work with me two days a week most weeks, and I'm a dog sitter when his dad, mom, and live-in nanny are out of town (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous). My life is better because of Porter, and in a way he has served as a catalyst to continued friendships with the rest of the humans who care about him.

Friendships are forged over shared experiences, and when we deny ourselves opportunities because of existing bias we shut the door on future community. 

 

I didn't like dogs. Now I do, and my life is so much richer as a result. I could preach for hours about the value of opening yourself up to new experiences - about how trying something once isn't really enough anymore. I could write a mini (and semi-drunken) novel about how I came to love red wine or why I'll go kayaking again even though I don't really enjoy it or why I continue to ride a bicycle even though I'm really, really bad at it, but I hope my life - and this blog - serve as a living example of how change can be good.

If you - like me - find yourself in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable situation, here are my challenges to you:
  1. Admit that you're scared. To me dogs were terrifying. They're big and powerful and I was afraid to admit my fear. I was scared I would be judged for lack of experience. What I found was never ending support and understanding. Don't assume you know how people will react to fear. 
  2. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Change can only happen when we make a tiny bit of space for something new. Opening up only gets harder as you get older - remind yourself it's a small cut and not a big, gaping wound. It makes the initial step easier.
  3. Ask for help. Accept compassion. I'm an Irish-Italian Taurus. I blame genetics for basically all of my shortcomings. But despite my preconceptions towards greatness, I am not the best at all things always. Struggling is not naturally, but when I ask for help and accept compassion, I'm much happier and more successful than when I don't. You will be too. 

With each baby step in a new direction comes a new challenge. A new opportunity. Don't you want to find out what's waiting for you?

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