So far this blog has been all about cooking, but there’s something else I’ve been thinking about lately, and that’s how we hold ourselves back with an image of who we are that’s actually far more flexible than we think.
Something I come back to again and again is the realisation that you shouldn’t be afraid to implement radical change in your life. If you want to try something, try it. Whenever I’ve attempted some kind of major change in how I live my life or the things I do I’ve not regretted it. Even if it failed – it turns out that trying something and realising you don’t like it isn’t as bad as you think. Instead of having an unfulfilled ambition, you’ve gained some valuable self knowledge and have become the kind of person who gives stuff a go. And honestly, very rarely have my attempts at change been a terrible failure. Usually they’ve been successful and I’ve loved it.
I used to be the kind of person who didn’t exercise. I would have conversations with people who cycled to work that went like this –
Me: I couldn’t possibly cycle to work I’m really unfit and bad at cycling.
Cyclist: But cycling to work makes me fit, I didn’t start out fit, and you get good at cycling by doing it.
I had this image in my mind of myself and it was of a person who sucked at all sporting activities, hated exercise and was terribly unfit. I was not a cyclist. Cyclists were these fit skinny dudes (I am also not a dude, nor am I skinny). But that conversation planted the thought in my mind, and later on I changed to a different job where cycle commuting was really popular among staff and the office facilities were great, and my car broke down, and I needed to save money, and I had a tendon injury in my foot just from walking around and I needed to get off my foot instead of always walking to and from train stations… And I bought a bike instead of repairing my car and gave it a go. And it was hard at first, but then I got fitter, and I stuck with it because I hated the train so much and couldn’t really afford a car… And then it became easy. And I was a cyclist. And I started having conversations just like the one I’d had before, only it was other people telling me they couldn’t possibly do it, and me saying that that’s how I used to feel…
We let our self image hold us back.
I also started running a couple years ago (thanks to cycling I’d started trying other things too), and while I only do it intermittently I really enjoy it. A friend recently said to me she wished she was the kind of person who ran. And it drives me nuts, because the way I became the kind of person who ran was by running. The first month or two were miserable! It was hard work. Now I’m the kind of person who runs.
There are of course real barriers to taking up various activities. Physical and mental health can both be real limitations, and some people really don’t have a lot of time around work and family life and so on and so forth. But for most people there actually aren’t that many barriers to starting this stuff that aren’t entirely illusory.
I’m not interested in pressuring anyone to take up any particular activity – I’m not going to evangelise about running or cycling or whatever. It’s just quite often people tell me they want to do these things. But that they can’t, because…reasons. Not real reasons like a medical condition that precludes it, just that they are bad at it, that they don’t currently do it. Of course they’re bad at it! They never do it! Everything takes a bit of practice and effort to learn, and most physical activities suck until you’ve built up a base level of fitness. And actually there’s no rule that you can only do a physical activity if you’re really talented and could do it competitively – lots of things are just fun to do, even if you’re not great at it. Imagine if we applied that rule to other things in life – “Oh, I can’t go to restaurants because I don’t have a michelin star chef’s palate so I’m just going to eat ready meals for the rest of my life.” That would be a ridiculous thing to say, because you can enjoy food without being a food reviewer or famous gourmand. Likewise you can enjoy running even though you’ll never win any kind of race, or you can enjoy playing a musical instrument even though you could never do it professionally.
I’ve done quite a few things like this recently. I always wanted unnaturally coloured hair, but felt like that was only for the kind of people who had hair like that (even while I was at university or in jobs where it wouldn’t have been a problem)… Then one day I just did it – dyed my hair bright pink. Ta da! Now I am the kind of person who has unnaturally coloured hair.
See also other disruptive activities like massively downsizing my possessions in order to move close to work – I work in an expensive suburb, so I can only afford a small flat here. The process was difficult, but now I can walk to work. I don’t miss all of the things I got rid of, during this process, and in fact I’m now inspired to get rid of a lot more.
This is becoming a fairly long post, so I suppose here’s the thing. You can’t actually change things in your life if you always wait for a change that feels comfortable and normal. Change doesn’t feel comfortable and normal because it’s change. Change is scary. Unfamiliar things are scary. And they might take a bunch of effort to pull off, and you’ll perhaps really have to force yourself to take that effort. If you decide that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t do a thing without trying that thing, you are guaranteeing you’re not that kind of person. If you admire the kind of people who do do a thing, but constantly regret that you’re not like them, you will make that the truth. It turns out that actually you become the kind of person who does something by doing it. And if you do it and don’t like it, you’ve learned for real that it’s not for you. But here’s the thing – if it’s something you constantly wish you could do and admire in others there’s a good chance that it actually is for you, that you’ll love it – because you’ve always loved it and just let a fear of change hold you back.
If you like the idea of being the kind of person who does something adventurous, just…do the thing. Give it a shot. Maybe you’ll like it, and maybe you won’t, but you won’t know unless you try it. Become the kind of person who does the thing.