by Suzanne Reisler Litwin
The New Year eve comes a day after my birthday. On my birthday, December 30, I can state my age (55, yikes!!!!) and a day later I can say I will be 56 this year. Sort of a game I used to play when I was younger. I suppose at 15, I wanted to say this because I wanted to be older. It was fun to be 15 and a day later say, “Hey, I’m going to be 16 this year! Now at 55, who needs to rush the clock?
At my birthday I make a promise to myself. I promise that I will try to do something I have never done before. I will experience a “new something”. It would be travelling to a new place, or learn a new language, or experience a new culture, learn a new skill, or study a new topic, etc. There is no limit to what you can do that is new. Sometimes, the new isn’t planned and it just happens. Other times a lot of planning goes into what the new will be. One year I studied Italian and took Italian cooking lessons. Now, I know how to make Italian sauces molto bene.
Another year I tried snowboarding. That was fun at times and painful at other times. I don’t snowboard well enough to avoid hurting myself, so I don’t do it anymore. Another year I planted 3 big trees in my garden. I had never planted such big trees before. I learned how to do it and did it. The three trees are doing quite well. One year I got a dog and trained him to do geriatric pet therapy. I learned how to do this via the internet. This was a huge challenge as I trained him almost daily for a few months. Bear is excellent at his job now. He is a proud pet therapy dog.
This year I accepted a huge new professional challenge. I usually can’t say no to any professional challenge. This was going to be my birthday promise to myself, the new experience I had never done before. However when I accepted the challenge, I didn’t realize how much time was needed to complete the task. During the last 5 months I have never worked so hard and such long hours. Every day was devoted to learning, planning, writing, editing, reading, evaluating and working on this project. I barely left my desk. I spent so little time with my friends and family. Some people complained as in, “Sue, I thought we were going out tonight?” Or “Sue, don’t we have plans this weekend?” Or “Sue, I haven’t spoken to you in months! Sue, I haven’t seen you! What’s up with that?” Here’s the worst, “MA! Not pizza again?”
I felt like I was under water or in a coal mine. I was in a cave working and working on doubting myself. The more I worked at meeting the deadlines, the more I feared I wasn’t’ going to make it. I had fear of not being able to complete the task which I had accepted to do. I kept reminding myself, if I complete this work on time, I will advance professionally and I will have this year’s new experience under my belt. Sometimes I worked until 3 a.m., always on the weekends, and without eating. I also didn’t sleep very well. I was nervous and anxious all the time. I kept telling my family, “I over cooked myself!” I also said, “I don’t think I can do this?”
Every week that passed, I doubted myself more. My confidence was in the ground with me, in the cave, in the coal mine. Some days I was spiraling in self-doubt down into the molten core of the earth. I was also calling myself an idiot for taking on so much work. IDIOT SUE! YOU JUST CAN’T SAY NO!!!!!
On one of those very bad self-depreciating, self-doubt, I’m a super huge idiot days, I was complaining to a dear friend. “I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m seriously drowning. I don’t think I can finish and make it happen. I’m going to fail at this. I can’t meet the deadlines. I can’t eat, can’t sleep, and can’t think about anything else. All my clothing is tight because I’ve gained weight from sitting at my desk. My knees, neck, shoulders, and back ache all the time. I feel like a blob! I’m such an idiot. I’m a fricken MESS!”
That’s when he simply said, “It’s your rodeo…own it! Make it yours. You decide how you want it done. You’re the expert. They came to you for guidance. You make the calls. This isn’t your first rodeo. Put on your big boy boots, cowboy hat and get into the ring!”
I thought, he’s right! …It is my rodeo. That’s right, Sue…IT’S MY RODEO! IT’S MY FRICKEN RODEO!!!!!
That was the advice which made me realize I had lost two things in the process. Ownership and Confidence. I had to regain them both and fast. I had to be the cowboy that I am. The person with confidence and experience which they hired. I had to get my big boy boots and cowboy hat on and face that bull! I had to get myself out of the coal mine, above the ground and on to the horse. That was all the advice I needed to get this project to the final deadline.
What I came to understand is how important it is to maintain ownership and confidence in everything you do. I love the statement, “It’s your rodeo.” Every time I reached another deadline and pressed ‘send’ to email the document, I said, “That’s right! It’s my rodeo! I’m da boss!” The closer I got to the end of the project the better I felt, the bigger my confidence grew, and the prouder I was of my accomplishment.
During the experience I was drowning in self-pity. Now I am so proud of the work I did. The day I finished the project, I went out for dinner and celebrated with a delicious glass of red wine. However, the next day I felt an awkward void. “What’s next?” Suddenly, the void quickly filled with happiness and pride from a job well done. Had I never accepted the challenge, I would have never felt this great. Perhaps the further you push yourself to try new things, the more accomplished you will feel when you have done so.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you thought you couldn’t accomplish and then do.
Now, I’m starting to think about what new thing I will do this year. As a lesson learned, I know what I won’t be doing. I will never ‘over cook myself’. I will not sit at my desk for months and live in a coal mine not seeing my friends and family. I’m going to do something more simplistic. Perhaps I will ‘actually’ get my big boy boots and cowboy hat on and go see a real rodeo! I just might OWN that idea!
Suzanne Reisler Litwin is an instructor at Concordia University in The Centre for Continuing Education – Communications Department. She is a writing instructor at The Cummings Centre. She writes a weekly column in The Suburban Newspaper and at the West Island Blog. Suzanne is a freelance contributor to The Suburban Newspaper, West Island Blog, Wise Women Canada, The Metropolitain, and Women on the Fence. She is the author of the children’s book, The Black Velvet Jacket. Visit suzannereislerlitwin.com to read more of her published articles, books, and poetry.