Exceeding Your Own Expectations

I have always been risk-averse. I was born a careful person and have never been attracted to things like bungee jumping. I like to know what’s going to happen, and I like to be in control (sometimes too much so, perhaps). Yes, I’ve done things some people might consider “risky.” I’ve travelled alone. I’ve lived abroad, in Australia and the United States, for extended periods of time, by myself. I went back to school after I figured out the undergraduate degree I’d completed wouldn’t lead me to the life I want to live. However, these things have never felt especially risky to me; they just appeared so to others.

The potential problem with being risk-averse is that you may miss out on a lot of experiences. That’s why I make myself try new things every once in a while. Not only do these new things generally provide me with some really great stories, but they also allow me to exceed my own expectations, generally resulting in better self-esteem. And really, isn’t that something we all want?

Perhaps the most successful instance of a great new experience was my decision to play rugby while I lived in the US in 2009/10. Honestly, it wasn’t really much of a conscious decision. I’d gone to the university activities fair during orientation to scope out the active clubs. But when I followed one of my friends into the athletics section of the fair, I found myself cornered by an excited pint-sized girl who told me, “You are going to play rugby,” and made me put my email address on a piece of paper. I went to the interest meeting later that week, and before I knew it I was hitting up a local sports shop for a mouth guard.

Anyone who knows me (or perhaps I should say, knew me BR ““ Before Rugby) understands how hilarious the thought of me signing up for any kind of team sport, let alone a contact sport like rugby, really is. I played netball for a couple of years when I was a wee one, but spent most of my time on the field chatting to teammates and ducking the ball. I did some folk dancing (my friends were into it, okay?), some dance, some fitness, but was never very athletic. I couldn’t run 1.5K in gym without stopping three times. I was always on the losing team when we played football. To say I wasn’t athletic would be an understatement; I hadn’t engaged in any physical activity for at least three years. And suddenly I was part of something where I had to show up for two hours of practice three times a week and had to sign away most of my Saturdays as well.

Rugby practice was “¦ intense. I tried to keep up, but I got tendonitis within weeks of starting practice. I liked being part of the team, though, and didn’t want to lose that connection, so I kept showing up. I brought my camera and shot pictures and videos of my teammates practicing. Pretty soon I became the resident team photographer. This was a great role for me because, I have to be honest here, I am an appallingly bad rugby player. My hands became better as time progressed, but I was afraid of making a tackle and my upper body strength was not nearly enough to be of any use in line-outs. I also remained slow, even after my tendonitis healed and I eased back into running and exercising. But at the end of the year, I did play in a couple of games in a way that made me proud of my own achievements (even though a better athlete probably would’ve been heartily embarrassed).

Thankfully my teammates didn’t need my athletic input. We still became district champions and I was able to chronicle every minute of it on my camera. We almost made it to the national collegiate championships, but were sadly thwarted by some amazing opposition in the regional matches. Still, signing up for the rugby club was the best thing I could have done during my year of studying abroad.

When I started rugby, I could hardly finish a single lap around the field. After a year, I could run four laps with relative ease. Not only could I make time in my schedule for three practices per week, but I went to the gym two or three times in addition to that. I met a stellar group of young women (and after they figured out we didn’t have cooties, bless their hearts, a stellar group of young men as well) who were great to hang out with, but also inspired me in ways they probably didn’t even imagine. My self-confidence was boosted to previously unknown levels. I went in not knowing what I was doing or what I could achieve, and came out in better physical and mental shape. And now whenever I have to face anything difficult or scary, I can tell myself, “Bitch, you used to play rugby. Ain’t no one messing with you.”

How about you? In what ways have you exceeded your own expectations in the past?

By Nanna Freeman

Anglo-America-loving Dutchie with a grad student twist and a mad dash of self-mockery.

Sometimes I also write things here:

17 replies on “Exceeding Your Own Expectations”

I’ve only recently discovered persephone magazine, but this post is gonna make me stick around. I play rugby and it is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I played volleyball year round for a decade, finally quitting when I burnt out at 18. Over a year later, I finally joined rugby and it totally changed my life.

It was rugby that made me feel confident enough to move to the UK for my graduate education, because I knew I would find a team and it didn’t matter that there were only 2 other people in my masters program, I knew I would make friends with the rugby girls. Then when I had a blood clot and was hospitalized less than a month after moving, I had the choice of quitting my program and returning to the states, or sticking it out. Even though I’d only known the girls for about 3 weeks, they were part of the reason I stuck it out. As I couldn’t play for about 2 years due to blood thinners, I also became team photographer, went to almost every training session and game, and the girls accepted me as one of the team anyway. I remember at the end of one season, one of the girls said she couldn’t imagine what the team was like before I joined. I’m pretty sure I cried then.

Anyway, last year I finally was able to play again, I’m working on my phd, on my 4th year with the team/2nd playing, still living abroad and my closest friends (and flat mates) have been from my rugby team. So to answer your questions, the past 4 years have totally exceeded my own expectations, and it’s also due to rugby.

What a positive article. I feel so proud of you!

Unfortunately all the things where I have exceeded my own expectations tend to be things I wish I’d never been in the position to do in the first place, like win my police complaint after they screwed up my rape case.

I’m not quite in the zone to see these things as achievements yet, just crappy awful events that have derailed me from where I wanted to be exceeding expectations in work and life. Maybe I’ll get there…

Aw, thanks, Gherks!

I understand that you don’t see some of your achievements as achievements yet, but I’m quite certain you will some day, because they ARE achievements! Of monumental proportions, in fact. They may have been achievements you’d rather have avoided, but they’ve been amazing nonetheless.

When I was 24, I decided to go and study in New Zealand, together with my then best friend. We planned it for about a year, and in the meantime she got herself a boyfriend. No problem, one would think, seeing as we would only be gone 6 months and he would come visit after 3. Well, 4 days after we arrived in Dunedin, while we were both very much jet lagged and sleep deprived, but oh so happy to be in NZ, she comes over to my flat and announces she is going back to the Netherlands, because her boyfriend just misses her too much! Instead of getting angry or being hurt and disappointed, I just wished her the best, went to the introduction programme of the uni on my own, and made a shitload of amazing friends. I never would have thought I’d cope so well with being on my own in a strange country, but now I can honestly say my experience was better because she wasn’t there. I had no choice but to become this extroverted happy girl, and I think it has changed who I am as a person for the better…

Solo-study-abroad high five! I’m a big proponent of studying abroad solo, that is to say not with people from your school (who you might know beforehand) and not to hang with only people from your own country while you’re there. Though you can obviously have a great experience doing those things, I think the feeling of self-reliance you get from doing it all without being in close contact with ‘the familiar’ is well worth it.

I’ve become a lot less shy in the last few years. I used to feel more introverted and shy towards socializing or didn’t know how to connect well with people. I pushed myself more to be more open and friendly and ask people about themselves, and I have a few close friends and a busy social life. I feel much happier and more connected in the world than when I felt so closed-off and intimidated by people I thought were “above” me in some way.

With sports, taking Thai-style kickboxing at a local gym has done a lot for me, confidence-wise and physically. I would go in initially because I took dance classes at the same place, and loved dance, but had a period of losing focus. I took the kickboxing classes, which are partner-based and more beginner/intermediate, to be better coordinated and more focused, and bring that into dance.It worked well, and I liked the class, so I’d alternate between dance and kickboxing (though more into dance) until the dance classes were canceled. I went to the kickboxing class about once a week, but despite learning stuff, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm or drive that the other students had, and only practiced sometimes at home, feeling like I’d look foolish trying to practice on a bag in public. But in the fall, I was able to go twice a week, and had more of an awakening that I wanted to get better, and that it was starting to work better with my body. I asked the teacher for tips, and would practice on a bag there before class, sometimes getting tips from guys around me. In the class, I felt much more focused, more aware, and developing a fun rapport with other classmates, and not feeling so much like an outsider or someone who doesn’t seem athletic. It’s more of a stand-in for dance now, but I learned to appreciate it a lot more recently than when my mind couldn’t connect to it before.

That’s such a great story. It can be so hard to push yourself to do unfamiliar things. I’ve had the same experience at the gym many times, where you don’t want to look silly and you don’t do the things you really want to do. And really, no one is looking. And if they are, they’re probably not judging. And if they are judging, then screw them, they’re not worth the calories you burn thinking about them.

I had a similar experience when I went out for the rowing team in college (even though the role I ended up in wasn’t athletic, but still challenging). And then again last year when I started running. The only reason I hadn’t done it was because I had always told myself I wasn’t a runner, wouldn’t be good at it. I finally said screw that.

I tried rugby in college, but a combination of the running and that fact that I’d already squeaked by in life with two injuries that should have left me in a wheelchair for life (but didn’t!) made me quit.

But I did wrestle for three years in high school, which was amazing, and gave me kind of the same attitude.

The most motivating thing, though? It’s not one of my own experiences. It was helping someone in the LJ community we_got_guts (which is for people with Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, etc., and their supporters) go on a canoeing trip when she had one of the ulcers that went all the way through to her skin. A bunch of us brainstormed a way for her to keep it waterproofed so that she could go. I figure that if I could help someone do that, then I’ve got to find ways to make things work.

Every time I read about your rugby times I feel like I really just need to find something to DO. Motivation is my biggest problem and team sports have never been my thing, but I feel like I was probably turned off to them for pretty arbitrary reasons and just never considered the possibility strongly enough.

UGH. Why you gotta do this to me, Nanna?

I actually wrote this a couple of weeks ago and when I reread it last weekend I made myself feel bad for not doing more. But then I remembered I don’t always have to do stuff. I mean, I should probably have more to do than I do now, but it’s okay not to be constantly running around like a headless chicken.

This is timely for me — my husband forced me out skiing this weekend and after a short lesson (I haven’t skied in 15 years), we went up to the top of the mountain for a run. It was a tall mountain. Very tall. I’m afraid of heights. It took me two hours to get down, I cried all the way, and there were points where I had to slide down on my butt, but I made it down. I don’t know if I’ll ever ski again, but I didn’t have to call ski patrol to take me down on a snow mobile, which is a positive.

On a happier note and more in line with your post, I took up kick-boxing this year and it has changed my life for the better. And there are no elevated heights involved.

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