Although some of my friends laugh at me for it, I believe that we can find important lessons in the lives of animals and our interactions with them. Maybe it goes back to adoring Philosophy classes in college and vehmently defending them whenever someone would claim they were somehow less useful than nebulous “business” classes. I firmly believe that the search for the good life is useful and will contribute more to my lasting happiness and peace, which in turn will help me be efficient and contribute more to society, than taking an entire class on how to manage employees. I’ll use what I’ve learned from Machiavelli and Arendt to manage people, thank you very much. Half joking there, I’ll also use what I learned about Aristotle and positive-based animal training.
Back to learning from animals and our interactions with them.
Failure and perseverance have been on my mind a lot. I think that most people, except those naturally blessed with massive amounts of intense ambition (which can cause its own set of problems), need reminders that failure is okay and simply an invitation from the universe to try again. You might simply fail differently when you try again, but even that is worthwhile and does not negate the positive aspects of the attempt.
I took riding lessons from about age 9 to age 15 and then again for a few years in my 20s (while shelter work is emotionally rewarding, it’s not financially rewarding enough to enable one to afford riding lessons in the DC area). When I started, I remember my instructor having us practice falling. She told us that we couldn’t be great riders until we had fallen 100 times so we were going to get 20 of those falls out of the way. Admittedly, a slightly arbitrary number but it helped all of the students get past our fear of falling. When we were no longer concerned with falling,everything was easier. Cantering for the first time was fun and exhilarating, jumping was a joy, and new horses were exciting. Plus, it helped our riding! A horse knows when his rider is scared. Most, especially lesson horses, will take advantage of that and test a new rider. It isn’t until you’re confident and know that you can handle whatever the large animal throws at you, that you’re able to be firm and gentle at the same time, in the right proportions that calm a horse and encourage him to work with, rather than against you.
When I started again in my 20s, much more conscious of “holy crap, I’m really high up and falling hurts!” I asked my instructor to let me practice falling again. Even though I was afraid, I needed to get past my fear so I could ride confidently.Because I wanted to succeed, I needed to fall.
I think life is like that. In my eyes, I failed at something recently. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted despite my absolute best back-breaking efforts (no, seriously, my lower back hasn’t been the same since). I don’t normally fail. I’m not always the best, but I usually do well. I can name the times I’ve just utterly failed on one hand. In some ways, I think that makes it more difficult to dust myself off and get back on that proverbial (and I know, completely and utterly cliched) horse.
When I was literally riding horses, I practiced falling and getting back on the horse immediately. Even when I hit my head and tailbone (yup, at the same time, not ashamed to say I cried), my instructor helped me mount and then held my leg while we walked in a circle with me raised up in the stirrups so I didn’t hurt my tailbone anymore than I had.
I guess that in “real” life I just haven’t practiced falling enough. I’m dusting myself off this time and trying again in a slightly different way. I’ve learned something about what I need as well as what the world needs. I’m also trying to get more comfortable with the idea of falling again. Because I will. But that’s okay. As Google told us, “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking big enough risks.”
And a life without risk doesn’t seem too rewarding.