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Unlearning the Stories We Tell Ourselves

“Suzie got kicked out of the ballet when she was four.” That’s a family story I’ve heard ever since I can remember. The story goes something like this:

My mom took me to ballet lessons and after a couple classes the teacher said, “She’s not cut out for this.”

And I was kicked out.

It’s a cute little story, right? Imagining me in a pink leotard and pink tights politely being ushered away.

It’s a cute story until the subconscious gets hold of it. Then it becomes a lifetime of subtle messages like, “I’m a terrible dancer,” “I’m uncoordinated,” and a whole lot of other stories that got me super nervous every time I lined up with my classmates to be chosen for kickball, softball, or whatever.

In middle school, I was always picked last or close to last, which probably had more to do with bullying than my actual sporting ability, but it only reinforced the story that I’m uncoordinated and far from sporty. By the time a game started, I'd feel so self-conscious that I'd fumble and be ridiculed.

So, I've never played a sport. Throughout my adult life, the only exercise I’ve really done is walking and hiking (besides a short stint working out on Pilates reformers which I loved but couldn’t afford to sustain) and some free weights until now.

I’m visiting my mom and stepdad in Vermont. Two days ago, my mom asked, “Do you want to play pickle ball?”

“Yes,” I replied even though I had no idea pickle ball was.

We went to the court where she handed me a paddle, served the ball, and surprise, surprise, I hit it. We began to volley back and forth.

The next day, a bunch of her friends met us at the court and we played for an hour and a half in the sweltering heat. When I woke up this morning, my butt hurt and the two toes that have been stiff since I injured them in May are a tiny bit more wiggly.

Today, we played again. I’m not a pickle ball superstar, but I can hit the ball, and it was FUN.

At the end of today’s games, I told the other players that I loved playing and that I’d be around another month or so and that any morning anyone wants to play, I’m in.

When I got in the car, my 7th grade self said, “What if they don’t want to play with me? What if they don’t think I’m good enough?”

And then my 50-year-old self said, “It’s ok. Either way, you’ll be ok.”

That’s when I realized that I should write about this. We all have stories we tell ourselves. Stories about not being sporty enough or pretty enough or smart enough. Stories about not being important or lovable.

And that’s ok. The key is recognizing those stories when they pop up and unlearning them. That means telling that lying little voice that no matter what, you’ll be ok, and that those stories are just stories.

Even if it takes 50 years to unlearn them. What stories have you unlearned? How did you do it?

Brown-haired woman with blue sea and a boat behind her.
Boat selfie from Mykonos because unlearning happens wherever I go.

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