Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Many people I know allow the fear of looking awkward or silly prevent them from trying something new. It could be anything from karaoke to going to their first yoga class. Just the thought of failing or looking like they have no clue what they are doing is enough to prevent them from ever trying things they have dreamt about doing.

Remember when you first learned to walk or ride a bike? You probably don’t because it’s quite natural to you now, but if you see any old videos of yourself you would see how unbalanced you were and how many times you fell, but never gave up. That’s what it is like trying something new. We can’t let the fear of looking stupid, like we don’t know what we are doing or even failing, rob us of the joy mastering (or at least being competent) in that area will bring.

Recently I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the hardest things I have done so far was to walk through that door and start my first class. I had so much anxiety about it and most of my anxieties revolved around how silly I would look attempting to perform exercises and maneuvers I had never performed In my life.

I was worried about my conditioning because while I consider myself to be in somewhat decent shape, I knew I was not in the type of shape I thought I needed to be in for Jiu Jitsu. I was mostly worried about my conditioning (or lack thereof). I go to the gym often and lift weights, but I rarely do aerobic activity. I also knew that I could find a thousand excuses to keep putting off starting the class if I didn’t push myself to go despite those anxieties.

During my first few classes, I was really self-conscious and compared myself to the rest of the class. Most of the other guys were in better shape, quicker and more coordinated. I did feel like an awkward gorilla when we did many of the warm up exercises that required flexibility I didn’t have and left me sucking in air before the class even really begun. All of that started pushing doubt and excuses in my mind. “You’re too out of shape”, my inner critic said, “You’re too old, too tired, too busy” it added.

I live in my head, which isn’t always a good thing if you can’t master it. I had to quickly get out of my head. I did this by reminding myself that I was a beginner and it was okay to look and feel like a beginner.

I had to tell myself that it was okay if I looked and felt awkward during the exercises, if I couldn’t perform some moves right, if at all. I told myself that it was okay if I got gassed during class and had to take a break. I was a beginner, and if there is ever a time to look awkward while trying your best, it’s when you’re a beginner.

Instead of being worried about being a beginner take advantage of it, embrace it.

When I started focusing more on myself and not on the other people in class things became easier. I had taken the pressure off of myself to be better than I reasonably could be. I pushed myself of course, but took breaks when I needed to and learned to be unapologetic about it (by the way, no one ever made me feel bad about having to take a breather). I modified moves I couldn’t do until I could do them instead of getting upset, hurting myself or giving up out of frustration.

I worked on not caring about other people’s opinions.

So what if other guys in the class made fun of me or snickered about how this middle aged, muscular but uncoordinated guy flopped around class like a fish out of water. They weren’t paying for my classes, I was. They weren’t in my shoes. We all have different lives and different goals. While some guys were there to someday compete for medals, I was there to get in shape and learn a martial art I had been curious about for over a decade. While some guys live to train, I have a full-time, stressful job, commute 144 miles to and from work each day and have a family to divide my time with. Our goals and drives are completely different, and that’s okay.

Once I got out of my own head, allowed myself to be a beginner and stopped being concerned about what other people may think about me, things became fun! It helps that most people who train Jiu Jitsu seem to be non-judgmental and encouraging. You’ll hear them say, “We all started at the same point, don’t give up, just keep showing up”.

I don’t think anyone ever looked at me and thought about how awkward I looked or how much my conditioning sucked. It was all in my head. Once I got out of my head and really focused on being mindful and present in the moment, I quickly realized I very rarely even thought about my weight, my clumsiness or my fitness level that much. As a matter of fact, Jiu Jitsu class became one of the few places I didn’t think too much about those things or other life problems at all. It became a stress reliever.

I’m still extremely new in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and in every class I am learning something new and attempting to perform it for the first time. I am still a beginner and I allow myself to be a beginner, unapologetic ally.

Acting Out in School as a Way of Hiding a Learning Disability

There are variety of reasons kids act out in school, but they all usually act out to either hide something or as a way of expressing something they don’t know how to express in a more appropriate manner.

Earlier this week I sat in on an executive board meeting with various members of the Department of Juvenile Justice in the state of Florida and was reminded of Dexter Manley’s incredible story. 

Dexter Manley was an American professional football player who liked to give back to his inner-city community. Often he would go to various schools and speak to children about the importance of an education. Well one day after he had gotten through giving an inspiring speech to a group of elementary school kids, he was asked to read to them from an elementary level book. Dexter tried to get out of the situation, but he was cornered and eventually broke down crying. He had been hiding a secret that he was terrified would be exposed. He couldn’t read. Here was a man who had not only graduated from high school, but had also went to college and yet wasn’t able to read beyond a second grade reading level.

In elementary school Dexter realized in the second grade he had learning issues (poor auditory memory) and was often teased by other students. In return he started acting out in class, becoming a “troubled student” and even once pushed one of his teachers against the wall. He was passed on from class to class and grade to grade until he eventually graduated high school with only a second grade reading level. He had become a master at hiding his learning disability so well that he made it through college and much of his adult life without even his children and wife knowing he could barely read or write, but it all started in elementary school where he learned that acting out in class got him out of having to reveal that he was having trouble reading, writing or understanding material his peers were grasping. 

That got me to thinking about the many “troubled” teens I work with and I noticed before that most of them also had failing grades and very poor reading and writing skills, but I had been under the impression that it was mostly due to their lack of participation in class, lack of concentration, attention and motivation. It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing that many of them act out to hide the fact that they are suffering from one learning disability or the other. Now when I am referred a kid by a teacher or guidance counselor for “behavior issues” I also check their academics and their grades usually are very poor. Eventually I usually learn that their reading and writing skills are also extremely poor and I say “eventually” because it is usually hard to get them to write or read anything, they are usually master manipulators and will either change the subject, get angry or deviant. One kid in particular walked around with a stack of books, about five books checked out from the library in her arms at all times. I always thought she was an avid reader, but one day when I called her in my office and she came with her books, I asked her about each book and realized she hadn’t read any of them. When I tried to coach her into reading one to me, she struggled through a line or two and then became very angry and deviant. She stopped reading. She could barely read and she was a 17 year old high school junior.

Although I believe the practice of just passing troubled kids through school to get rid of them is less common today in the age of standardized testing, I am all too aware of many recent and not so recent high school graduates who read and write on elementary grade levels and seem to have slipped through the cracks of our educational system. Often times teachers send me kids they have kicked out of their class for “acting out”, and these kids are usually failing that class and have learned very quickly that if they act out, they will either get left alone or removed from the situation they don’t want to be in anyway. Up until recently, the real situation wasn’t getting dealt with as I had ignored the possible learning issues going on and went straight to trying to solve the cognitive and behavioral problems as I’ve been trained to do. 

Without help, these kids who manage to skate through high school will find that functioning in the real world is much harder. Many of the manipulation, distracting and defense mechanisms that worked in high school will not work in society and may actually get them hurt, arrested or worse. Unlike Dexter Manley who was a star football player and had the athletic talent and financial resources to hide his issues (at least for awhile), most of these young people will be unable to get or keep jobs and will most likely turn to drugs, alcohol, and criminal activities as ways of trying to cope. Ignoring the problem now will only cost everyone more later when these young people are carjacking us, or we are using our tax payers money to feed them in jail.  

If you have or are a parent of a child with a learning disability I would love to hear from you.

If you are a parent and have a child that is acting out and also struggling in school, it would be a good idea to have him or her tested for a learning disability. I think often learning disabilities go undiagnosed because parents are unwilling to have their kids tested. No one wants to have a child with a learning disability, but having that disability identified and attended to will allow that child to learn how to adjust and succeed. Not giving your child that opportunity out of fear of labeling could be detrimental to his/her future.

To read more about Dexter Manley you can click on this link http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_n12_v44/ai_8010811/?tag=content;col1