I have used that word quite a bit as an educator, as a parent, as a committee member – most often to describe other people’s experiences. I’ve probably even written about what struggle can be good for, how it can shape and grow us. I believe all that. I don’t always enjoy it so much when it’s my turn, however.
Currently I’m struggling with focus – having it, maintaining it, holding it steady. Confidence is another area that’s feeling a little wobbly these days. Not yet crisis worthy, but also not A-OK. There’s more than one struggle going on.
While I was away on vacation last week I felt an expanse of the imagination. I got curious about the mountains I have always driven past, around and sometimes over. Once you travel an hour south or two hours west of Vienna, foothills show up. Add on another hour in either of those directions and you are in Sound-Of-Music style Alps. I have known this set-up for a very long time. But I’m not really a hiker or camper or skier, for that matter.
Look at those spaces! Feast your eyes!
This trip I made it a priority to investigate the surrounding hills. To get up a few more hundred meters and see what I could see. I was amazed, delighted and humbled by the intricacies of the journey, the variety of the landscapes, the views from below and above. All of it was there all along but I had not yet felt the need, or the calling to find out what these spaces held for me.
Even if I have lived in this Alpine country for the majority of my adult years, I never forget that I’m that skinny black girl who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I speak the language here, at times well enough to be mistaken for a native (by a non-native, mostly) and yet …
When I walk in these familiar unfamiliar places it’s as if I’m walking beside myself – not just looking, but gawking shamelessly – with an expression that says: “How on earth did you get here?” And the question is really about How and even if I deserve to be here – under whose auspices do I deign to claim these spaces as part of my story, of my becoming?
But I hiked up the mountain and experienced the spectacular view. And I’ll do it again because I can and because it was a missing piece and I didn’t know. The struggle was never about the ability to climb. It was instead about me deciding to become and be the hiker; she who hikes up and down the mountain. Not an ability question, an identity question. In fact, an identity doubt.
Those mountains calling, the lake singing, expanding my imagination. And for a moment I had a bubbling wealth of creative ideas. I had new projects I wanted to explore and consider. I put out feelers for help and got some great responses. The fire was hot! The engine was running!
I’m back home now and hunched at my laptop producing very meager results if any. I came down from the mountain, left the expanse of the open water behind me. My brilliant ideas began to shrink and acquire dust at an alarming rate. Focus has felt hard to muster. Any sense of flow seems wildly distant. Struggle. It’s clearly my turn.
On our last day I also did this: Stand-up paddling. You have to really zoom in to find me. I didn’t just do it, I loved it! I learned it by watching others, most notably my extremely confident 9 y-o.
That’s what I need to remember: I succeeded by trying. I endeavored without knowing the exact outcome to follow. Seeing, trying, testing, going ahead, succeeding. Sounds like a process. Sounds like a learning process.
So back to my struggle; it’s mine to hack. I’ve got some strategies and a little slack to work with now. Hiker, paddler, doer – I am the learner from Cleveland, here to slay.