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Exceeding your own expectations

October 11, 2011

I have always been risk-averse. I was born a careful person and have never been attracted to things like bungee jumping. I like to know what’s going to happen, and I like to be in control (sometimes too much so, perhaps).Yes, I’ve done things some people might consider “risky.” I’ve travelled alone. I’ve lived abroad, in Australia and the United States, for extended periods of time, by myself. I went back to school after I figured out the undergraduate degree I’d completed wouldn’t lead me to the life I want to live. However, these things have never felt especially risky to me; they just appeared so to others.

The potential problem with being risk-averse is that you may miss out on a lot of experiences. That’s why I make myself try new things every once in a while. Not only do these new things generally provide me with some really great stories, but they also allow me to exceed my own expectations, generally resulting in better self-esteem. And really, isn’t that something we all want?

Perhaps the most successful instance of a great new experience was my decision to play rugby while I lived in the US in 2009/10. Honestly, it wasn’t really much of a conscious decision. I’d gone to the university activities fair during orientation to scope out the active clubs. But when I followed one of my friends into the athletics section of the fair, I found myself cornered by an excited pint-sized girl who told me, “You are going to play rugby,” and made me put my email address on a piece of paper. I went to the interest meeting later that week, and before I knew it I was hitting up a local sports shop for a mouth guard.

Anyone who knows me (or perhaps I should say, knew me BR – Before Rugby) understands how hilarious the thought of me signing up for any kind of team sport, let alone a contact sport like rugby, really is. I played netball for a couple of years when I was a wee one, but spent most of my time on the field chatting to teammates and ducking the ball. I did some folk dancing (my friends were into it, okay?), some dance, some fitness, but was never very athletic. I couldn’t run 1.5K in gym without stopping three times. I was always on the losing team when we played football. To say I wasn’t athletic would be an understatement; I hadn’t engaged in any physical activity for at least three years. And suddenly I was part of something where I had to show up for two hours of practice three times a week and had to sign away most of my Saturdays as well.

Rugby practice was … intense. I tried to keep up, but I got tendonitis within weeks of starting practice. I liked being part of the team, though, and didn’t want to lose that connection, so I kept showing up. I brought my camera and shot pictures and videos of my teammates practicing. Pretty soon I became the resident team photographer. This was a great role for me because, I have to be honest here, I am an appallingly bad rugby player. My hands became better as time progressed, but I was afraid of making a tackle and my upper body strength was not nearly enough to be of any use in line-outs. I also remained slow, even after my tendonitis healed and I eased back into running and exercising. But at the end of the year, I did play in a couple of games in a way that made me proud of my own achievements (even though a better athlete probably would’ve been heartily embarrassed).

Thankfully my teammates didn’t need my athletic input. We still became district champions and I was able to chronicle every minute of it on my camera. We almost made it to the national collegiate championships, but were sadly thwarted by some amazing opposition in the regional matches. Still, signing up for the rugby club was the best thing I could have done during my year of studying abroad.

When I started rugby, I could hardly finish a single lap around the field. After a year, I could run four laps with relative ease. Not only could I make time in my schedule for three practices per week, but I went to the gym two or three times in addition to that. I met a stellar group of young women (and after they figured out we didn’t have cooties, bless their hearts, a stellar group of young men as well) who were great to hang out with, but also inspired me in ways they probably didn’t even imagine. My self-confidence was boosted to previously unknown levels. I went in not knowing what I was doing or what I could achieve, and came out in better physical and mental shape. And now whenever I have to face anything difficult or scary, I can tell myself, “Bitch, you used to play rugby. Ain’t no one messing with you.”

How about you? In what ways have you exceeded your own expectations?

This post originally appeared in Persephone Magazine.

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