On Being a Beginner
If you're anything like me, you get super anxious if you don't know what's going on or how to do what everyone around you is doing. Prime example: I had never eaten ribs until high school. I was over at a friend's house and that's what her dad made for dinner. I ate all of my sides and was trying to watch other people eat them so I could figure it out. Finally, her dad asked and I told him I had never had them! He made fun of me a little, but then kindly and politely showed me the best ways to get all the meat off and what sauces he liked. I could have avoided the embarrassment of not knowing what to do HAD I JUST ASKED!
When I moved to Colorado I was a beginner in essentially everything. My mom and Grandaddy taught me that confidence is half the battle, so I always acted like I knew what I was doing, but always felt a little lost.
One of my favorite beginner stories is when Sam took me skiing (technically I took him skiing, but let’s be real, I was just the ride and the money. Sam was the experience and the patience and the instructor). We made it to Breck, got our rentals, and got in line for the ski lift. Somehow I managed to actually get on with him (something that only happened two more times the entire day) and we got to the top of the hill. My heart was in my throat the entire time because… I HAVEN’T GONE SKIING IN ABOUT 12 YEARS, HOW DO I GET OFF OF THIS THING?! Sam walked me through it and I successfully exited the lift…and promptly fell on my ass 20 yards later. I was embarrassed and in a little bit of pain and all I wanted was for Sam to give me his hand and help me up, and he said “no.” I started to cry (thank the lord for polarized goggles…) and pleaded for him to help me up as a group of 5 or 6 girls started laughing at my situation. He looked at me and said, again, “No. You need to be able to get up yourself.” And then walked me through how I should do it – “Turn your skis to the side, good job, okay now use your poles to help you stand, good! You got it! Now pull yourself up!” And I did it. I stood up and was able to continue standing up all day, even when Sam wasn’t around.
Now, this is a little bit of a unique situation because Sam’s my brother and tough-love runs in the family. But the point still stands: Sam recognized that I was a beginner and would probably spend a good portion of my day on my ass. Instead of giving me the easy way out of the situation, he took it as an opportunity to teach me what I would need to know for the rest of the day.
I guess the point of this is that everyone starts out a beginner. It doesn't matter if the beginning for you was at age 6, or 16, or 26. Being a beginner is hard; it's intimidating, and sometimes it's outright brutal. You're trying to act like you know what you're doing so that you don't look like a beginner, but meanwhile you didn't wear the right socks and you can feel a blister on your pinkie toe that seems big enough to have it's own orbit. You don't want to have to stop every 150 feet to catch your breath, especially because you've been leapfrogging with a nice elderly couple for the last two miles and you're worried their quietly laughing at you. But here's the thing: everyone was in your position once. Of course, there's always going to be the asshole who tells you that you look like you've spent the afternoon at the bars because your face is so red... But there's also always going to be the people who high five you when you reach the summit and the people who tell you that you're almost there when you have one last uphill push. Don't let the unknown stop you from starting.
It's okay to ask questions if you don't know what to do. Be observant of those around you, and starting putting together a list of what would make you more comfortable in the future (the top of my list when we first moved out here was hiking boots). But no matter what, keep getting outside. With each trip, you'll feel more and more confident about what you're doing. You'll start to learn what your body needs and how you can help it for the next time. All of the sudden, those beautiful alpine lakes that are part of a 12 mile day-hike won't seem so out of reach. And eventually, you'll be able to help the next beginner fall in love just the way that you did.
"You might feel awkward at first, but then you will feel empowered."