When I was around 10 years old I had a major growth spurt. Suddenly I was taller than all the kids in my class, boys and girls. I no longer knew where my body was in space, I was all gangly arms and legs. I can’t say coordination had ever been my strong suit but this really brought on a whole new level of not good enough, which for me was already a strong theme.
At home, we tried to have dinner together every night as a family. There was my coordinated and athletic father and older sister, and even my mom who though she was out of shape from motherhood and tried to diminish her skills was in fact a very coordinated individual and a beautiful skier. And then there was me. At every dinner a glass of milk, water, or whatever was on the table would inevitably encounter my seemingly disembodied arm and go flying. An exasperated sigh, or sometimes laughter, often the rolling of the eyes would ensue and along with whatever gesture the phrase that in part defined my adolescence was uttered; ‘Stephanie Strikes Again!’ This happened EVERY. NIGHT. For years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if I had a kid and that kid was dropping, spilling, and breaking her way through life I would also feel exasperation, frustration, a sense of humor around it, and myriad other emotions that likely passed through my family, none of them intending to harm me or make the matter worse.
My “condition” persisted after I left home. Clumsy was so ingrained in me that I didn’t really consider the possibility of being anything but. It was as much a part of my identity as being a skinny bookish nature girl. In my early college years I lived with an amazing woman, a true friend who changed my life with a few minutes of conversation. She said that my habits of spilling, dropping, tripping, and falling were all perpetuated by the never-ending exclamation of Stephanie Strikes Again. It had become expected of me, and I was fulfilling those expectations. Then came the miracle. She told me I could CHOOSE not to be clumsy anymore. CHOOSE to be aware of where my body was in space. From that conversation on, I literally stopped being a clumsy person. Not that accidents didn’t still happen, of course they did, and do to this day. They happen to everyone, but they do not define me any longer and there are many more days that go by where I don’t spill, drop, break or injure myself than those where I do. It is not inherent in me to be clumsy.
It’s pretty well known that humans in general try to live up to the expectations set for them. A common management tool that I have used with great success is to thank an employee for doing what you WANT THEM TO DO. Tell the chronic late person that you appreciate their timeliness. It doesn’t work on everyone of course, but most people try to live up. The same goes for negative expectations. Words are incredibly powerful, especially when coming from the people we respect, expect to learn from, and from whose behavior we model our own. Choice is even more powerful than expectations. Above all, how we see ourselves in the world, how we fit and how we don’t is a construct of our own creation. I choose that I am coordinated, aware, conscientious, thoughtful, and kind. Every day. If I drop something, I drop something, but I am STILL COORDINATED. I get to choose. Whatever happens, how I frame it and what I make it mean are my choice. That is real power.