I played softball in elementary school; I wasn’t good at it. This was due to my terrible spatial awareness and also to my preference to just hang out in the dugout with my new friends. I liked being a part of a team, but I didn’t need to actually go on the field. I was really there for the camaraderie, the uniform and the snacks.
The coaches were nice to me, but had reasonable expectations when it was my turn to bat. I’m sure there were some girls who got instructions to swing for the fences, but since I was the kind of athlete who stood in right field and prayed that the ball would never come my way, my batting instructions were usually along the lines of, “Just try to get on base” and “It would be great if you could hit the ball.”
Getting on base, for me, was a huge triumph.
I thought about my short-lived softball career recently when I was feeling discouraged. I’d been on social media too much and had decided that everyone but me was living out their dreams while also raising perfect children and somehow feeding their families healthy dinners every night.
I think what tipped me over the edge was news about a writer I admire having a new book coming out soon. “Already,” I thought. “I haven’t even had a chance to read her last book.”
I wasn’t proud of it, but I was jealous of this other writer, whom I’ve never met, who clearly had her act together. How was she consistently hitting homeruns when I couldn’t even manage to step up to the plate? How did she write another book already?
Clear as day, the thought came to me, “She probably wrote it one sentence at a time.”
I remembered my ten year old self who was thrilled to just get on base. I decided to take down my expectations a few notches. I asked myself, “Can I write a book today?” I cannot do that today, I admitted, but I can write a few sentences.
Historically, comparing myself to strangers hasn’t served me well. I usually end up feeling rotten about my lack of progress. I inflate other people’s accomplishments and forget that I might not be getting their whole story.
Most of us make progress slowly and steadily, one base at a time. Homeruns are rare.
A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop with the teacher Jen Louden. She used the term “human-sized expectations” to describe the kind of mindset that helps move us towards our goals. The first time I heard “human-sized,” I felt teary with relief. I can do “human-sized” things.
It’s so easy to look at issues or people or projects that are big and scary and just give up because we don’t know where to start. When we hold ourselves to impossible standards, we can often end up feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed.
One of my twins came home last week with a worksheet from school that shared the narratives of several slaves in the American South. My daughter could read the information just fine, but was really struggling to finish the assignment. Once I sat down beside her and read the stories, I understood why she was curled up on the stairs. It was heartbreaking information, especially to a young African-American girl, who took these stories very personally.
“Let’s read it together and then we can work on the chart,” I said. She nodded and then asked, “Can you just sit near me while I finish it?”
Feeling like you aren’t alone always helps.
Just getting on base or writing a few sentences or finishing a hard worksheet is triumph enough.