I really don't like being new at things. There are some things that I'm totally okay not being great at because I'm not interested in them like, say, football or math...meh. Then there are things that I wish I was better at, and try to do well, but am willing to let them go in favor of more time at other things, for example: cooking, interior decorating, having good balance in yoga class...you get the idea. However, when it comes to something that I want to do really well (read: perfect), everything changes.
About 6 months ago, I decided to try my hand at archery. I had taken it at camp and loved it and even won medals doing it. It seemed like something fun to try again so I researched it, got some basic equipment and gave it a go. 20 minutes into the lesson, I was hooked. I love everything about it...and it makes me insane at the same time. Archery isn't something that you just pick up and immediately do perfectly. It's like learning the violin, sort of good still sounds pretty bad.
Archery is about hyper precision, being methodical, highly body aware, patient and mentally strong. It's about discipline and at least 80% of the game is in your own head. Think: every Yoda quote you have ever heard...
Luke: "I can't believe it"
Yoda: "That is why you fail"
Until I started learning archery, I would have never called myself a perfectionist. I might have admitted "perfectionistic tendencies" at times or overachiever type moments but never full on perfectionism. I was wrong. Archery is showing me that darker perfection seeking side and is transforming (s-l-o-w-l-y) the way I think about life and learning. As it seems to happen with things like this, the universe jumped in and gave me a cue in the form of a book called, The Rise (Sarah Lewis). The subtitle is "Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and The Search for Mastery".
Not surprisingly, the first chapter of the book is entitled, Archer's Paradox. The author talks about how archery requires "a unique and sustained intensity" and that "living on a landscape where an infinitesimal difference in degree leads to a massive difference in outcome is what makes an archer an archer". It's true. Yesterday, I spent three hours at the range trying to work on my thumb placement. It has to be perfectly placed every time, held tight and also (somehow) be relaxed. What?! This leads to heart of the book, the idea of MASTERY.
"Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don't use often, is not the equivalent of what we might call its cognate- perfectionism- an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how other view us. Mastery is also not the same as success- an event based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved line, constant pursuit." (Sarah Lewis)
When I read that paragraph, I felt forever changed. Things started to fall like dominoes...so many of my life's most meaningful pursuits were exactly that- a curved line, a constant pursuit. Art, photography, drawing, writing, parenting, relationships, learning...all of these are the opposite of an "event based victory". Yet, in many ways I see myself chasing all of these down as if they can be a peak point. I'll publish my book and it'll be great and then ____. If I can get my kids settled in a good school where they're happy then ____. Don't even get me started on the fantasy I have created around what life would look like if my house could stay clean.
So, with archery as my new guide, I am trying to re-coach my heart. Today I had a truly "perfect' moment, I drew back (with my thumb in it's proper place) and my bow hand relaxed. My right elbow was up and my anchor was tight. I let out a breath and locked my eye on the target through my sight and let go. My hand recoiled back just as it's supposed to and my arrow hit the bullseye dead center. It was beautiful, a perfect 10. The young girl next to me on the line, who apparently was watching the whole thing, sighed and said, "That was awesome". The very next shot was a 1. No, not even a 9 or a 7...a ONE. It took everything I had not to toss my bow and go stomping off into the swamps of Dagobah muttering to myself that Yoda was full of shit. Instead, I breathed out that lousy ONE, reassured myself that if I could deliver that gorgeous shot once, I could do it again. I knocked a new arrow and chased after the idea of that curved line...mastery.
"I still remember the shudder when I sensed a knowing as sure as fact- that I might only truly become my fullest self if I explored and stayed open to moving through daunting terrain." (Sarah Lewis)