This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
Sandra E. Martin is head of newsroom development at The Globe and Mail.
At this very moment in my house, there are three guitars, one electronic drum kit, at least one recorder and a tambourine. In recent years, those instruments have co-existed with a hand-me-down upright piano, a saxophone, a trumpet, three different violins, two ukuleles and yet another guitar. Between my two daughters and me, countless hours have been spent in practice – sometimes in joy and sometimes in frustration, but always with the understanding that none of it needs to lead to anything.
After 15 years of playing guitar, I still fumble with barre chords and can’t tune by ear. With the exception of five in-person lessons I took early on to figure out strum patterns, my only consistent teacher has been YouTube, and so my musical competency sits at “campfire-level.” And I’m totally fine with that. It took a while, but I’m happily in a place where I don’t expect or need to “get really good” at guitar, or any of my hobbies. And I hope my children don’t have to wait as long before they discover the same.
Don’t get me wrong: It isn’t the pursuit of excellence I object to, per se, but the blanket application of it. I strive to do my very best at work, always. I hope my kids will remember me as an exceptionally engaged and loving parent. I feel a thrill of affirmation when my tax-preparation software declares my return to be free of “warnings” (and I certainly would not want to be on the CRA’s sloppy-filer list).
In the main, though, my mantra is Let Mediocrity Rule. An enthusiastic runner, I’m neither slow nor fast. In every road race I’ve signed up for, I’ve placed somewhere in the middle. “You can hire a running coach!” some advanced friends have urged. “You’ll shave 30 seconds off your pace!” The thing is, though, I don’t feel like I need to.
That wasn’t always the case. My running habit was inspired by a colleague who’d racked up several race medals. She encouraged me to hit the pavement with her for a long run but I never took her up on it. I mean, how could I look my hyper-competitive, high-achieving self in the mirror if I failed? Non-completion would call into question everything I had defined myself by.
Then, in my 40s, after consistently moving up the ladder in my career, I was downsized, along with several of my staff. Suddenly, I had to figure out who I was without the demanding job that often occupied 60-plus hours of my week. Finally, I had the time to explore running. A friend suggested I register and train for a long-distance race.
Pfft. It had been years since I’d run much further than 10 kilometres.
“If you can run 10 kilometres, you can run a half marathon,” my friend insisted.
It didn’t make any sense ... until it did. Not knowing the right way to train for a race like that, I went out a few times a week, incrementally adding kilometres to my distance and each day finding the task less onerous. My brain would relax around kilometre seven, my body and breathing settling into a comfortable rhythm. I’d eventually come to a blissfully in-the-moment mental place where three or four kilometres would simply slip by.
I wasn’t at all confident I could finish that first half-marathon, so without my friend’s encouragement, I would not have even tried. (If you’re wondering, I did complete my first 21.1 K, and have finished a few more since, without ever feeling the need to be first.)
Turns out that fear of the unknown is a common reason why many of us hesitate to try our hand at something new.
“Studies suggest we fear an unknown outcome more than we do a known bad one,” notes doctor Alex Lickerman in his Psychology Today column, before going on to list some good reasons to push past our uncertainty to try new things. “Entire careers, entire life paths, are carved out by people dipping their baby toes into small ponds and suddenly discovering a love for something they had no idea would capture their imaginations,” he writes. The words instantly call to mind my Globe colleague Erin Anderssen’s account of the woman who – having never done anything remotely like it – set out to cross Canada on foot.
I can’t say that I have ever expected such a dramatic outcome when embarking on a new hobby, but I do receive a great deal of enjoyment. When I started playing guitar, I envisioned getting just good enough to play Christmas carols and join house-party jams. Guess what? That was a completely achievable goal! And thanks to fellow amateur guitarists around the world, now that I’m comfortable with a decent number of chords I can look up annotations for songs I want to learn and come up with a recognizable version of it to sing along to with my kids, who are showing hopeful signs of fast-forwarding to the “why not just try it?” philosophy it took me half a lifetime to adopt.
My 16 year old, who hasn’t taken dance since she was five, auditioned for her high school musical alongside classmates with years of performance lessons to their advantage. (P.S. She got a small part!) My 20 year old is heading to Copenhagen, where we know absolutely no one and don’t speak the language, for six months to study graphic design.
When I asked her this morning to text me a sentence describing her feelings about the upcoming move, she replied: “AHHHHHHH. That’s the sentence.”
But she still fully intends to go through with it.
What else we’re thinking about:
Amid the current noise about Ozempic, the diabetes drug some people (including, it’s rumoured, Kourtney Kardashian) are using to speed weight loss, it’s refreshing to hear from a fitness coach who preaches realistic goals, body acceptance and self-kindness. Trainer Samantha Montpetit-Huynh shares exercise advice for women “of a certain age” through funny, relatable Instagram reels. (Full disclosure: I’ve followed her since my time as a parenting magazine editor, and we’ve worked together on a couple of occasions.) She makes menopause a lot less scary than many of us have been told.
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