Take Risks Like a Five-Year-Old
My beloved grandfather, Poppy, used to love recounting the events surrounding my first attempt at knitting. At five years old, I was fascinated with watching my older cousin, who was about thirteen, knit. I remember being mesmerized by the effortless rhythm and flow of her hands directing the needles and the yarn into beautiful stitches, and being fascinated by the fact that the stitches would at some point become a beautiful blanket.
Having watched my cousin do this over the course of several days and hours, I declared to Poppy that I could knit a blanket too. I convinced him that all he had to do was take me to Kmart and buy me needles and the yarn. After a very short debate, he gave into my rather convincing arguments and took me to buy the necessary materials. As soon as we arrived back to the house, I sat cross-legged on the den floor, excitedly ripped the needles out of the package, and began unraveling the yarn just as I had seen my cousin do.
With the needles and yarn at the ready, my tiny little hands began trying to move the yarn around and back and forth between those long knitting needles. But instead of stitches, all I succeeded in creating was a big mess of yarn on my lap and the floor around me. When I looked up to see if anyone was watching me make this mess, I found my mom, my grandmother, my cousin, and Poppy all watching me and trying to keep themselves from bursting out laughing. At this realization, a wave of emotions—anger, frustration, fear, shame, and embarrassment—surged through my little body. But those feeling lasted only momentarily, and when the wave subsided, I too burst out laughing at my “failed” attempt at knitting.
As I reflect back on this story, I realize that my five-year-old self has three valuable lessons to teach me about taking risks:
#1 Don’t let perceived limitations stop you. So often, we don’t try new things because of perceived limitations. We let others’ opinions and/or our own fears convince us that we can’t do something. In our debate about my knitting, Poppy presented some pretty obvious reasons as to why I could not knit: 1) I had no training; 2) I was only five and my hands were too small; and 3) I had no experience with sewing or other crafty projects. But in my childlike innocence, I did not understand these limitations. All I could visualize was a successful outcome: a beautiful blanket. When faced with something new, emulate that childlike innocence—use it to give you the courage and strength to proceed.
#2 Test the water and adjust. You don’t have to immerse your whole body right away when you venture into uncharted waters—you can put your toe in first to see how the temperature feels. In other words, when you decide to try something new, you can implement it in baby steps. You don’t have to sit right down and start knitting a blanket; instead, you can start with knitting one row of stitches. If that does not work well, evaluate what went wrong or what might need to be tweaked, make changes, and try again.
#3 Don’t take yourself so seriously. Many of us, including me, are perfectionists. We want things done right the first time, regardless of the circumstances. When we are not perfect, we think we have failed, and because we have labeled failure as a bad thing, this stops us in our tracks. But the truth is, failure as a negative result is a big myth. Failure is just feedback that something needs to be done differently in order to achieve the desired outcome. And feedback is always good—as long as you see it that way. If you’re open to seeing it, there is almost always a reward to the risks you attempt. Plus, you shouldn’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack and laugh at your mess-ups. Laughing gives you an instant rush of energy and enjoyment and makes the pain of “screwing up” virtually disappear. As an adult, my perfectionist side has prevented me from trying new and different things that could have had a very positive impact on my life and others around me. But as a five-year-old, my knitting debacle simply told me that I needed more training and practice before I was going to be able to knit that blanket I wanted so badly to create. And my ability to laugh the disaster off made me and those around me feel good about the experience. After all, Poppy got a lot of joy out of telling that tale over and over and over again throughout the years.
To this day, I still haven’t knitted that blanket, but I do often think back to that experience as a reminder that it is okay to try new things.
So next time you get the chance to do something new, I encourage you to do it—take risks like a five-year-old!