Do Something You Can’t Do Until You Can

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Everything you did today you could already do.  Did you learn something new?  That’s great.  Do it again.  Did you sit there and hear about it from your professor/NPR/best friend?  Go listen to them more, they have things to offer you.  Very few, if any of these things, though, are a skill.  Of those that are skills, could I have dropped you straight in and had you just figure it out in under five minutes?  If so, you probably didn’t learn a new skill.  What you did, right there, was rearrange bits and pieces from skills you already had.  You didn’t get a new tool in your utility belt, you just figured out how to solve the problem with the batarangs you already had there.  To be clear, there that is not a bad thing.  Being able to use what you already have will solve most problems that you will come across.  This, though, rarely serves as an actual challenge.

Let’s take a trip back through history.  Way back through history.  At one point there were a bunch of humans and a bunch of neanderthals.  Now, there were a few things that made them different, the shape of their pelvis, how they moved around, etc.  These aren’t the things that made the real difference though.  The big thing was that neanderthals had one set of tools.  These were tools that could be made anywhere and suited most of their needs.  Humans, on the other hand, had lots of tools.  Whenever humans went somewhere new, they made new tools for the challenges that arose.

For those of you who don’t know your history I want you to take a guess at what happened next.  For those that do know your history, good job, you get a pat on the head.  Okay, big surprise!  All the neanderthals died and the humans kept on keeping on.  Do you know why?  It’s because the humans forced them selves to overcome challenges in ways they had never previously.  This, this right here is what I am talking about.  Do this, right now, except without a hand axe.  Also shower first.

What I want you to do is find something that you have never done before and that you cannot currently do.  Example.  A few weeks ago I learned how to walk a tight wire.  It’s pretty simple in theory, point your feet forward, keep your shoulders and hips from moving, compensate with your arms.  I can tell you this and give you a tight wire and you will fail miserably.  Sure, you might get one or two steps across without losing balance.  Good for you, you get another pat on the head.  Do you know how many people get hired to walk three steps across a tight wire?  Zero.

Now, you don’t have to walk a tight wire in particular, although it’s really cool and if you ever get the chance it’s definitely worth it.  Find something that you can in no way do right now, then go and try it until it works.  Don’t make this something that requires other people to take any particular course of action.  I don’t mean here that you can’t go and sign up for tap dance classes after never having danced, you should definitely go and do that, tap dancing is cool.  What I’m talking about is don’t make this “get my first girlfriend” or “make my first sale”.  This needs to be something that you will be able to do after long, arduous hours of practice.

One of the reasons I want you to do this is to feel scared as well as for you to fail at something, repeatedly.  When I first went around in a German wheel, I was scared that my hand would be crushed by a giant spinning steel contraption.  It took me a while to build up the courage to finally go all the way around, and I was scared the entire way.  Then I did it some more and was still scared that I would leave with less limbs than I had come in with.

Rarely are we ever truly scared.  We all have our routines and our plans.  Occasionally there’s a hiccup, but we eventually deal with it like we did the last twenty times.  What I want you to do is find something that you will fail at for the first several times, something that scares you, and do it.  I’m not saying you have to conquer your one greatest fear.  It doesn’t even have to be something you knew was scary.

Now go out and fail at something new.  Fail until you can’t fail anymore.  Ideally this will be something that will take hours of tiring effort.  You’ll walk away feeling ore fulfilled than when you started, trust me.

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Schadenfreude as a Tool for Healing

Juggling is hard.  I don’t just mean hard in that it requires some effort and you don’t get it right away, unlike most things, but that it takes a lot of time and painstaking determination to get.  Thankfully, I have both of those.  As of a few weeks ago, I finally got down the three ball cascade, which is the basic pattern for three balls for those of you who don’t speak circus.

I’ll tell me story of how I learned how to juggle, but for now I want to address  a different lesson.  After learning how to juggle, I almost immediately started working on new patterns.  There’s one that I’ve spent the last few days working on and that I can only do a few times back and forth without dropping.  At a certain point during circus practice last night I was down about the fact that I couldn’t do anything past cascade and here were these people balancing two clubs on their chin and passing balls.

Eventually I found something.  Something that made me feel better about myself.  I tried teaching one of the jugglers some more poi tricks.  He had already learned a handful and had even been on stage doing poi once.  When I tried to teach him a few moves that I thought were pretty basic and effortless, he could barely wrap his mind around most of them.  This little incident served to remind me that so much of it is just about time.  I’ve easily logged over a hundred of hours of poi.  At most I’ve put fifteen into juggling.

On a completely separate note:  I do not speak German.  I’m not entirely sure why such a high number of my posts have had German in the title, but I don’t actually speak it.  It’s made sense for each individual post, but looking back it seems like an awfully high amount.  Maye it’s all part of an international conspiracy to make me learn German.  More on that later.

Panzer Rad

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The other day I got in a German wheel for the first time.  Fore those unfamiliar with the German wheel, please look here:

The first time you get in the German wheel, you get the same speech as you do getting on a roller coaster, “Keep all hands and feet inside the ride at all times.”  Although you may be tempted to shrug off the automated voice at the amusement park, this one comes with some pretty compelling reasons.  If your hands and feet go outside of the wheel, or you grab the outside of one of the bars, you lose.  This isn’t just same game you lose, you lose that hand.  German wheels are monstrous, heavy, pieces of steel.  They will crush your hand if you roll over it.

That being said, as long as you listen to the directions, you’re safe.  If you’re feet are in the straps your hands are holding the inside hands, and your body is straight; you are the tank of the circus wheel.  The word “panzer” in German, literally translates to armor.  In WWII, the German mentality wasn’t that this was the next installment of the cavalry, in the way Americans do.  No, their tanks worked the same way their knights had hundreds of years earlier.  For awhile, it was dishonorable in European martial culture for men in armor to engage in battle with one another.  Instead, those with steel exoskeletons and years of training were set against those who had neither. 

Joachim Meyer, a German fight master, gives as a drill a series of eight consecutive cuts.  With each of these cuts, you take a step forward.  Now imagine that you’re standing out on the battlefield, sword in hand, coated in armor.  In front of you is a group of peasants armed with clubs and pitchforks.  At most, they have a thin layer of leather protecting them against your hardened steel.  All you have to do now is to walk forward and continuously do these eight simple cuts until there are no more peasants in front of your.  That is the meaning of “panzer”.

The same goes for German wheel.  If you are about to hit someone, you hit them.  If you try and get out, your suddenly move, you will both be crushed.  Better one of you gets injured as opposed to both.  Even if you are about to hit a wall, the wheel will come out looking the same.  The only question is, will you?