Friday, April 25, 2014

Dependence Day

Years ago I sat with a friend at a baseball game. Her husband coached the home team, and we were impressed by the athletic talent of one player on the field, who was the son of another friend. The player recently received a baseball scholarship for college and had dreams of the big leagues.

"He won't make it through the first year," she said. I looked at her, puzzled, since we just witnessed his sports ability. "He's got talent, but he's un-coach-able. Too independent." I understood what she meant with regard to athletes who need coaches to help hone their skills but did not realize the magnitude of her statement that day.

I have never been one to ask for help. Calling me fiercely independent would not only be entirely accurate but is a moniker I have held proudly for more years than I remember. Never feeling safe to depend on anyone, the description became part of me, so deeply ingrained that I know no other way. The trait is so intensely rooted that the thought of asking for help sends me into full-tilt anxiety mode.

Attention! Attention! Fierce independent requests assistance on 
aisle 1. Bring sedatives and restraints, please.

In all this independence -- this directed trek through my life -- perspectives can become skewed without notice. It sneaks up with small quiet steps. The sidekick of independence is focus, which can result in remarkable achievements, but when the two travel together too long without supervision, they tend to get into a little trouble, namely narrowed view and limited production. Releasing the tight grip on this trait is slowly -- ever so slowly -- coming.

My current class has us diving deep into writing our stories, each crafted from images swirling in our minds. Classmates visit our online gathering place when we share thoughts, story excerpts, worries, and roadblocks. In return we offer support, insight, and advice to each other, which coaxes this independent soul into the realm of  -- gasp -- asking for help.

"I'll do it," "I don't need help," and "I've got this" are interrupted for short bursts of "What do you think?" and "How should I . . . ?" These uncharacteristic phrases surprised me not only in their utterance but in the pleasant aftermath. Asking for help did not hurt after all. It did, however, allow me to see the view from someone else's stance, a perception unknown to me until then . "I never thought of it that way," was soon followed by "I see what you mean."

Oh, but this shift in my thinking did not come through normal channels. Of course not! It was borne out of a place called "stuck."

While continuing my assignment for the writing class where we are each writing a myth of our creation, our instructor encouraged us to daydream. Yes, sit back, relax, put down the phone, and daydream. The weather was nice so I pulled the hammock out of the garden house and climbed in. But trying to turn off the normal incessant chatter in my brain so I could daydream was a challenge. The breeze helped, rocking the hammock slowly on the wind, somehow persuading my mind to let go.
A great place to daydream

I pictured the heroine of my story at the place I had left her -- perched on a cliff with no escape. She was stuck, as was my story. Somewhere in the drifting of my thoughts I saw my heroine lifted out of her peril by the wings of hundreds of birds. Wait, what? You mean she let someone/something help her?!?

I pondered that image all weekend.

The next assignment for class contained a brief mention of teaming up with a partner for the benefit of helping each other with our stories. Um, teams? Uh, oh. Pulse racing. Breath shortening. Thoughts flying. Do you mean I have to ask someone for help? [Deep breath, you can do this, Rita. Remember what you have learned.] Suddenly the systematic breaking down of my wall of independence was facing a big task.

I hearkened back to the baseball game and considered my friend's comment of "un-coach-able" when she described the young player. Unable to accept direction, advice, or wisdom from those around him, he indeed was cut from his college team in the first year, dashing his lifelong dream of baseball greatness. Independence hit hard. I realized I had more in common with the baseball player than I cared to admit. While independence is a positive trait, able to carry a person far in life, extreme independence can render one un-coach-able and thereby unable to receive helpful perspectives that promote growth.

Accepting help or heeding advice is not a sign of weakness. Surrendering to the fact that one may indeed not know everything can be one of the strongest choices made. There can be strength in surrender and peace in dependence. The important thing is balance, and of course, moderation. At least, that's what they tell me. 

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