Permission to Fail

Or….Orienteering with Christopher Robin as a metaphor for creativity

A group of us are making our way through Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, a book devoted to…well, joy.  Living a more joyful life by being true to yourself.   

Chapter Four is on Creativity, and at one point, she suggests we should all have this statement tattooed on our foreheads:

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

Christopher Robin is an orienteer.  A very good one, actually, and he’s been training pretty seriously this year.  For those who don’t know what Map1 orienteering is, it involves navigating over terrain with a map and a compass to find a series of flags.  Much bigger sport in Europe than the US, but of course, CR is British and learned it there. This is an example of a map marked with flag points.  (Learn more about the sport here.)

I’ve done a little bit with CR now and then. I don’t tag along to every event, but I do like to go play outside, and there was an event in Buena Vista this weekend, so I happily went with him.   The knee has been healing slowly, and a good ramble on the hills seemed like a good test.   I signed up for a yellow course (advanced beginner, very easy, mostly on trails). 

When we got there Sunday morning, the president of the club talked me into trying an orange, which is intermediate.  I protested at first, that I didn’t think I was confident enough, that I get confused with the compass at times, and she nodded, smiling, and showed me a couple of tricks to make it easier, speaking beginner language, which is not–despite his most earnest efforts–something CR can speak.   It made a lot more sense.

Because of the knee, I didn’t feel any pressure to actually race or be fast, and really, my instructor was patient.  "There’s no hurry," she said. "Just enjoy yourself."

Huh.  Enjoy it.  Now there’s a thought.  Because CR is so good and so Christopher_robin_orienteering fast, I think there was some part of me that didn’t want to embarrass him by being really terrible at it, so I was afraid to take chances, afraid to be really super unbelievably slow, and maybe even completely fail.  (Which I did the last time I tried an orange course–DNF, which is did not finish.  I actually got hopelessly lost and frustrated and freaked out, which was why I’ve been sticking to yellows). 

Orienteering_landscape_buena_vist_3 But it was a beautiful day, the first chance I’ve had to be in the mountains this year, and in a spectacularly beautiful place.   I had my handy-dandy camelbak, a Luna bar if I needed it, and I do know how to read a map, so if I got lost, all I had to do was find the trails and roads to bring me back to the start.

I had the best time I’ve ever had orienteering.  It took me forever to find the first control, but once I did find it, I could follow a map feature to the next, and then the next.  In fact, I did just fine, marking off control after control.  Twice, I overshot, then navigated back to where I was meant to be.  I was damned slow, but the climbs were substantial and my knee was holding up just fine.

And then, I got lost. I couldn’t find the 8th control in a pile of rocks.  I thought I knew where I was, stopped using the compass, and made a big navigation error.   I ended up way off course, found the 10th control and noticed the sky was getting black with thunderclouds, so I headed back with a DNF.   Technically, a failure.

But in reality, a big success.  I learned a lot.  I really do know what  reentrant is now.  Wow, that’s so cool!  I do know how to read these maps a lot better.   If it had not been my first time out hiking with the still-healing knee, I would have retraced my steps to control #7 and re-navigated to find #8, and what’s more, I knew exactly how to do that.

It’s so much fun to learn new things, especially challenging, difficult things.  Orienteering is not rocket science, but it’s not exactly easy, either.  What I learned yesterday is that it’s okay to be me, right where I am, learning and growing.  Mtprinceton_tree

Oh, and I think this will be the next 14-er, I’m going to hike, Mt. Princeton.   Fabulously beautiful, no?

What would you like to try that you’ve been nervous about?  What might you fail spectacularly at doing–and love trying anyway?

2 thoughts on “Permission to Fail

  1. Audition for a play. My old shy comes out on stage, so I would probably freeze up and freak out, but who knows. I think it would be such an amazing experience to be in a play. The last (and only) time I tried out was in high school, and I didn’t make it, and stuck to costuming after that, but I’ve always hovered on the outskirts of theatre–being a thespian vicariously through costuming, or lately through my kids.

  2. Barbara

    Julie, maybe you could try out for a local production, aim for some small part in something that seems fun.

    A friend of mine waded into this a couple of years ago and loves it madly.

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