Living in a cage with the door wide open

When I was young I was a gymnast. I could tumble and dance and show off to a reasonable standard. I could do things non-gymnasts thought were impressive. Grandparents, teachers and well meaning strangers would say: “We’ll be seeing you in the Olympics one day”. Only, they wouldn’t. I started gymnastics at age 7, and although I progressed quickly through the different ability groups, at age 7 I had started too late. I had too many habits that couldn’t be unlearned, I hadn’t maintained the flexibility I had when I was five, and I was years behind in terms of technical ability. I wasn’t brave enough to fling myself upside-down with wild abandon and this meant I was not going to the Olympics in over a decades time. At age 10 I knew I was a gymnast, but a recreational one. In fact, the classes I attended were only to raise money to fund the serious gymnasts.

When you are young the future should be full of every possibility. A 10 year old shouldn’t think there isn’t a possibility of them going to the Olympics. I didn’t do any other sports, so that was it, I wouldn’t grow up to be an Olympian. That door was already closed.

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I find it sad that a 10 year old would be so aware of what they were destined not to be. Not just myself as a 10 year old, but any 10 year old, anywhere. We are so focused on who we are and who we should be that we fail to see who we could be. Our identity becomes suffocated by expectation and our multi-faceted talents and personalities become reduced to just one or two dimensions. As adults we become experts in placing ourselves in boxes, certain that skills outside of this box are completely out of our remit. Doubted into modesty we resort to limiting statements to strengthen our sense of identity.

“I don’t do numbers/creativity/technology”

Having progressed through several stages of education, developed our careers and pursued our interests we have specialised in particular areas, but we seem to forget the other aspects of ourselves. When I was young I was a gymnast. Now I am a language teacher and a Judo athlete. Yes, but when I young I was also a caring child, a good friend, a talented writer and a conscientious girl guide. I was a big sister, an enthusiastic art club attendee and a nervous karateka. I was good at algebra, a confident speaker and I had two years of dance lessons under my belt. With such a diverse CV at 10 I could have been anything and it’s easy to forget I still can.

I started Judo at the age of 18 and the door to the Olympics is once again open. It was never closed, I just hadn’t nudged it open.

It’s true that we can’t all be Olympians, just as it’s true that we don’t all have a natural talent for dancing. We shouldn’t let the weight of unlikeliness stop us from doing anything. Want to start a new hobby, or change career but don’t think you’ll be good at it? So what? Do it. Either you’ll surprise yourself by your ability to learn quickly or you’ll learn more from the process of mastering a skill than you ever thought possible. Persistent hard work is much more valuable than natural talent alone. Challenge yourself regularly and you’ll be amazed that there’s not much you can’t do if you’re willing to be brave.

In Hong Kong I’ve been challenging myself to learn new skills. I recently took a calligraphy workshop at a studio in central Hong Kong. My friend Holly and I were the only ones on our table who weren’t artists, but why couldn’t we be? We spent 3 hours immersing ourselves in learning this new skill and left the studio tranquil and refreshed, we hadn’t thought about anything else for the entire time.

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Day #2 of practice and my letters don’t quite possess the elegance I aspire for but I am confident that one day they will. Learning a new skill is empowering, it makes you feel like you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, and truthfully, you can.

Calligraphy workshops available at Kale Make Art Hong Kong. Need some inspiration for new skills to try? Buzzfeed never fails. Try skillshare for a ton of video tutorials across a range of subjects. Search for like minded people using MeetUp or take a workshop at GeneralAssembly for all things business and tech! (Available in most cities and countries)

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