How I Learned to Acknowledge My Strengths

Hayley: Learning to love what I am and what I am not

Last week, the captain of my kickball team sat us down to make the lineup for our first game, and asked who was a good kicker. I raised my hand immediately, surprising myself—not because I’m not a good kicker, because I am a good kicker—but because there was a time not so long ago when voluntarily identifying myself as “good” at something would have caused some serious hesitation. “I will probably whiff it and end up striking out,” I’d think. Then not only would I be embarrassed that I got out, but doubly embarrassed because I had said I was good at this, and gone and proved myself wrong. “Even if I do have a good kick, I’ll probably get out anyway because I’m too slow to reach first base,” I would tell myself. I’d decide not to raise my hand. Then I’d sit on the bench, watching other people step up to the plate and kicking myself (no pun intended) for not getting myself into the lineup.

Let’s be real: if you can’t comfortably acknowledge that you are usually pretty decent at kicking a somewhat-deflated rubber ball in a relatively straight line, in a league that largely values who brings the best stocked cooler over who wins the most points, where can you acknowledge that you’re good at something?

There are plenty of reminders out there to boldly recognize our worth and stop caring what other people might think. Jezebel touts IDGAF Feminism, Pantene tells us to unapologetically #ShineStrong, and Amy Poehler reminds us, “I don’t f*cking care if you like it.” But nothing has resonated with me quite like the article my writer crush, Ann Friedman, recently wrote for New York Magazine titled The Power of Twenty-Nine: An Ode to Being Almost Thirty. I’m a few short weeks away from twenty-nine myself, and for me, learning to proudly own who I am, and who I am not, is inextricably entwined with getting older.

The “not” part can be the trickiest of all. It’s hard to feel good about where you are and what you’re doing when you’re plagued by feelings of failure about all you haven’t accomplished. After years of dabbling in tumbling classes and vaguely considering getting back into gymnastics, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’m not headed to the Olympics in this lifetime, and I know this fact would be a big letdown for my six-year-old self. (Six-year-old self: You’re going to be a five-foot, eight-inch DD! You need to pick a new dream, stat!) I’m not going to be an astronaut or a brain surgeon or the first female President of the United States. There’s a certain bittersweet feeling in acknowledging that your childhood self would be slightly disappointed in the life you’ve built. But you know what? That’s okay, because the life you’ve built, and are continuing to build, is pretty damn great. As Friedman says, on the cusp of thirty, “You realize you’ll never be a wunderkind, and you’re okay with that.”

Freeing yourself of the idea that the only things worth doing are the things you excel at, or things that build toward some larger long-term goal, leaves a lot more time for trying stuff just for the hell of it. Learning to do things “just for fun” took some getting used to, but damn, it’s a blast now that I’ve got the hang of it. I tried aerial yoga for the first time the other day, throwing myself backward head first over a strip of gauzy fabric suspended above the ground, counting on two stranger ladies I had never met before to keep me from cracking my head open. I am pretty sure I burned more calories from hysterical laughter than I did from the yoga itself. I was terrible at it. Earlier in my twenties, this would have horrified me, and I would have felt the shame (real or imagined) of all the strong, flexible ladies in the class weighing down on me. But I had so much fun, and I can’t wait to go back. Who cares if anyone was judging me? (As Friedman says, as you get older, you just give “way fewer f*cks” what anyone else thinks about you.)

There is room for improvement in my life, of course. I ran my first marathon back in 2005 and took “just a few weeks off from running” shortly afterward. Nine years and forty pounds later, I have yet to get back to it, but I’m thinking this might be the year. I’m not resting on my twenty-nine-year-old laurels, accepting that this is the peak of my health, happiness, and success. But I’m comfortable with where I am, and looking forward to what comes next. This wasn’t always the case, and it’s a good feeling.

Remember how I said Ann Friedman was my writer crush? I’m able to say that now because, after nearly two decades of consistent writing, I am finally, tentatively identifying myself as a writer. “I sometimes write for these blogs?” I’ll sometimes say. I am still working on getting rid of the question mark at the end of that sentence. Maybe it’ll happen in my thirties.

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