Who Am I?

Who am I?

I feel like I have been asking that question a lot lately. Perhaps this is normal, given who I am. I mean, what else does an introspective young writer like to do with her time?

When I ask myself that question, a very standard response pops into my mind. It’s one I’ve often given to people I am encountering for the first time. The order may change on any given day, but the answer goes something like this: I am a hand balancer. I am a writer. I am a hand balancer who writes, a writer who loves to stand on her hands. The details of this description, of course, have shifted slightly over the years – but their essence remains the same.

No matter which way you put it, I am a doing. I am defined by the things I do and the things I aspire to do in the future, something that will inevitably change time and time again as I grow through life.

Life is a series of experiments: there are so many things one can choose to do or explore or become. As a young person, all these options can be quite overwhelming, yet somehow, society tells us that by the time we graduate high school we should’ve already chosen one. Growing up is confusing enough as it is, and the pressure to define who we are by our aspirations only adds to the pressure to get it right the first time around.

I am not sure when exactly I became a doing, or how I came to be that way in the first place. All I know is that this method we’ve developed for defining ourselves is entirely unreliable, which leads me to believe we should reach for a new way.

I am very good at letting others know they are so much more than what they do. When it comes to myself, however, I struggle to apply this same truth. If I am not a hand balancer, then who am I?

I have been doing circus and acrobatics for three-quarters of my life – for me, to be upside down IS to be alive. I spent my childhood at my mother’s circus studio and my grandparents’ gym. Many of my best memories and most defining moments happened there.

When I wasn’t walking on tightropes and swinging from the bars, you could almost certainly find me doing a series of cartwheels across the lawn of my elementary school. For my seventh-grade talent show, I performed a piece on the aerial silks. I missed school functions for gymnastics training and circus productions as opposed to the other way around. I was never like anyone else in my school, and so they never understood my discipline or devotion to my sport. As a result, I almost always felt separate, somehow left out.

In eighth grade, I discovered how to hold a handstand; because they take up almost the same amount of space as if I were standing, I could do handstands anywhere, anytime. And so, in typical Maia-fashion, this became my new obsession. Anytime I was bored in gym class or if a teacher left the room, upside down I would be found. Upside down was my favourite way to be. I felt safe upside down.

There have been times in my life when this part of my identity was taken away for a time, and I struggled to find any sense of grounding without the thing I defined myself by. These were some of the hardest times of my life so far – I felt as though my world had dropped out from underneath me and did all I could just to get my head above water once again.

When I was eleven, I injured my back and had to take a break from training altogether. Food became my solace, and I spent the vast majority of my time watching videos and reading magazines about gymnastics, plotting the path of my comeback and rise towards my Olympic dream. I gained a lot of weight during my time off, and coming back was hard, much harder than I’d anticipated. A year and a half later, however, I started to see some success. Gymnastics was still the thing that defined me. I can do this, I thought.

When I tore my ACL five years later, I spent the first six weeks convinced nothing bad had happened. It was just a sprain, a minor setback, and I would be able to compete in three weeks, just as planned. I may have been determined, but determination will only get you so far when it comes to a legitimate injury. When I finally saw a doctor, it turned out I’d been wrong – I had torn the ACL and damaged the meniscus, and I would need surgery to repair both. I was devastated and terrified for many reasons all at once. In an instant I knew this one truth: it was time to move on.

So I left the sport for which I had lost my passion and pursued circus full time. Circus had always had a playful energy for me, and I didn’t realize how intense it could become at the time. You can put unnecessary amounts of pressure on yourself anywhere, and over time my relationship to circus grew strained. I clung to my craft with fear, fear of who I would be without it, that I would lose the body I’d worked so hard to maintain.

When the pain in my wrist became unbearable, it had already been hurting for many months. I was overtraining with bad alignment and not enough strength training to support the skill-base I was working to build. And so for two months, I couldn’t do any handstands. Maybe it was good for the partner work I was doing, but I felt as though I’d lost a piece of myself. Who would I be without handstands? How could I ever be good enough?

Each time I was forced to step away from my “doing,” I spent the whole time focused on doing everything I could to get back what I’d lost. I never allowed myself to pause, to feel remotely happy for any reason – how could I with this piece of me gone?

I realize now this created a clinginess, an energy of fear that made my training an obsession as opposed to something I truly enjoyed. I grew so attached to this doing and becoming I never took a moment to step back and learn who I am at my core.

About a month ago, my body started talking loudly again. I’d been ignoring a nagging pain in my right upper body for about a year, and my body was telling me it’d had enough. At first, I was deeply upset – I’d made so much progress, wouldn’t I lose it all and be forced to start from the beginning again? I began seeking treatment and inevitably, have had to take a break from hand balancing again.

This time, the process is no less scary than it was before, but my approach to my healing is a significantly different one.

I’ve decided to give my body the space and rest it needs to heal, truly heal from everything it’s been through over the last number of years. Sitting still is not my forte, but I am learning – your body will tell you what it needs if you only listen. My entire right shoulder is shifted up, higher than the left; this lack of blood flow and strength has caused a tilt in my body that will not go away on its own.

Indeed, I do need to go back to the basics and teach my body how to move again. Frustrating as it is, I know this process will enable me to continue to do what I love for far longer than I would if I kept training on a maligned joint. I am learning to be patient because I know it will be worth it in the long run.

I tell myself, love, love, LOVE. I love you, even when you feel broken. You are healing, and you will be stronger and even more beautiful for it, just like those Japanese pots that have shattered and been pieced back together with liquid gold.

I am approaching my healing from a place of love: loving my body and all it does for me every day, love for my craft and who I am at my core. I can still be happy without all the doing and aspiring and becoming. I can be happy right here, right now because life is pretty damn beautiful, no matter where you are.

Last week, I faced that question once again: who am I? Doubt and Fear lingered like shadows around the edges. Who am I, if I’m not a hand balancer? Would people still like me and respect me and want me in their life? Or am I utterly worthless without this skill?

So I began looking for answers. I genuinely do believe we are worth so much more than what we do, I’ve just struggled to define what that means for myself. Often when we let a problem sit in the back of our brain, the subconscious mind will come up with answers. A few hours later, my mind submitted a few tentative answers. A little later, I had a few more.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” It’s not always the doing that has the most enduring impact – sometimes it’s the simplest little things that count the most.

So who are you, deep down in your core? I challenge you to stop your doing for a second and just sit with this question. Because I promise you, doing things is important in life, but it’s not everything – there’s something more.

***

Something that has helped me in the past: VIA Strength Finders Test

Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

On Getting Unstuck

I am a writer.

It has never been hard for me to say those words. I am a writer, and I’ve been telling people I am a writer from the time I was eight years old. I know of many incredible writers who had trouble stating this same fact until they had something to show for it: a viable career, a substantial income, a few successful books published. When I was young, I never had this same need for external validation and I didn’t know the stigma attached to the profession, so I was never shy about the fact this was who I was, who I wanted to become. No one else got to decide if I was a writer. A writer is someone who writes. I write, therefore I am a writer. End of story. No questions asked.

We are who we are, simple as that…except for when it’s not.

I still consider writing to be a respectable profession – we translate stories and information for the world. I believe this is essential. But the world does not always agree. As I grew older, I became aware of this discrepancy, and so there were times where I have conveniently forgotten this vital truth. I got busy doing other things. I surrounded myself with people who did not understand this deeply intellectual side of me, and so into hiding it went.

The thing is, I am a writer. Writing is the thing I cannot-not do. It is how I make sense of my thoughts every day, how I connect and interact with the world. We are more than what we do and yet, so much of who we are is manifest in what we do. There are some things inside of us that just need to come out. To tell me to stop writing is like telling me to stop breathing. I cannot stop if I wish to live.

Perhaps I am being a little dramatic when I say I consider writing to be essential to life – I am sure I could go on living without a pen in my hand or a means to share my words. But if there is one thing I have come to know about myself it is this: a Maia who is not writing is an unhappy Maia. Sometimes the lack of time or mental space to write is the thing that causes the unhappiness, and other times I am certain the unhappiness causes the lack of writing. Either way, it is a signal that I need to take a step back and re-examine my life because something needs to change.

Writing is an extension of the core of who I am.

We all have something like this, some character trait or thing we do that is just quintessentially us. What is that thing for you? Some people I know are the funniest people in my world. If they stop cracking jokes, I get concerned. Others are singers or builders or they love to cook and have people over at their house to enjoy a lovely dinner. It doesn’t matter what your “thing” is, but I promise you there is something only you can do in the way you do it. And I know I grow deeply unhappy if that thing is not in my life.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been struggling real hard to get anything decent down on paper. I’ve tried starting many essays like this one here, only nothing I wrote went anywhere. I would sit there with my pen and paper for two hours and come up with nothing to show for it. Less than half a page of coherent thought and a million unused words later, I would give up and turn to another task.

It became something of a vicious cycle. It is hard not to feel like a failure when nothing you do feels good enough. I began to feel as if I was climbing a steep sand dune with the wind blowing viciously in my face, effectively preventing me from making any progress at all. One step forward, three steps back. Two steps forward, four steps back. On and on it went until this week I said ENOUGH. I am done with this stupid cycle and feeling sorry for myself.

All artists struggle with creative blocks from time to time. It is simply a part of our profession. I have found, however, that these blocks don’t just show up with some greater reason for being there.

It is so easy for us to get stuck in a loop of seeing all the things that aren’t working. Inevitably, the more we stare at these things without doing anything about them, the more they start to show up. It was like I was looking for confirmation that I am a failure. We have to be the ones to recognize when we have fallen into a rut. We have to be the ones to physically shake ourselves to get moving again, to get out of the space in which we are stuck. No one else can do this for us.

There are many reasons we can become blocked at any given time, but the biggest one is this: we fail to take care of our bodies, the home in which our creative mind lives. So often we take for granted all the amazing things our bodies do for us on a daily basis, things to which we do not give a second thought. They breathe without us asking them to and carry us wherever we need to go. They heal themselves when they are sore or broken, and enable us to take care of the ones we love most.

Our bodies can handle a lot, but they have their limits too. When we are approaching the edges of our limits, they will give us warning signs with increasing intensity until all at once they yell STOP. At this point, they will sit down in the middle of the road and throw a tantrum like a cranky toddler, refusing to go anywhere until you give them what they need.

Allow me to remind you of something we all like to conveniently forget from time to time: you need to listen to your body.

Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honour, and it really does matter what you eat. Our bodies were made to move, so make sure you move yours every day. Water – drink more water. If you are thirsty, you’ve waited too long. Also related to water, crying is good. Not crying means not dealing with your emotions and without release, where do you expect all that pent-up energy to go? No, working more is not the answer. I repeat: if you are feeling depleted or numb from emotions you are not dealing with, working more is most certainly not the answer. I am speaking from experience when I say, please find a way to let it out. Your heart will thank you for it in the end.

We need to take care of our hearts just as we take care of our bodies, especially after we face something as painful as rejection or loss. If we don’t, it can severely undermine our confidence moving forward.

I am especially guilty of this. The Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” For much of my life, I have worked to live by this proverb. When I faced injury or rejection, I always tried to see the opportunity within hours of the hit. I am not very good at staying down for long. I like to pick myself back up again and keep moving, keep busy, keep doing things and searching for new goals when an old one doesn’t work out.

I am not very good at sitting with emotional pain, but in the last number of months, I have learned. Emotions are funny things. If we do not deal with our feelings as they come up, they will get stuck in our bodies, potentially causing physical weakness or pain or injury. As I am working through a long-term physical injury of my own, I am learning to observe sensations as they come up, which effectively triggers memories. Sometimes someone would make me feel uneasy or angered by what they said. Never speaking up for what I was feeling, I would shove it down and hold tension in my right shoulder instead.

Most of all, I have been struggling with a lack of confidence in myself. Read: constantly standing with poor posture, slightly deflated to make my body seem smaller than it really is.

Ah, Doubt, my old friend. That little voice in your head that constantly undermines everything you do and likes to ask you if you’re really good enough. Like, are you sure? I saw this person over there and they’re way better than you at this thing you’ve only been doing for three years. I mean, yes, they have double your experience but anything you do is worthless next to them, so what’s the point?

Yes, I am a writer. But that phrase carries with it a little more doubt than it did eleven years ago. This is a curious phenomenon – I’ve put in thousands of hours into honing my craft and yet…Doubt sees my experience as nothing. Worthless. It has been a challenge for me to validate my experience because there are no degrees behind my name. I did not graduate from university with a BA in Creative Writing. I did not go to grad school to become a certified Poet or novelist or writer of creative non-fiction. I’ve opted to attend the school of life instead, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my education thus far. The best part is this: it’s never-ending.

I am a writer because I write. Not because I have some paper hanging on my wall that says I am a writer. In fact, it is entirely possible that I have more experience than some people who do. And I do not say that to be cocky, I am just stating a fact. I am a writer because I write and I will continue to write and share my writing for as long as I have things to say.

Yes, there will be periods where I am not feeling inspired. Yes, there will be hard days. But I can and will choose to show up anyway.

There is a fine balance between being kind to yourself and making excuses on a daily basis. I was falling into the later until this morning when I woke up and declared I would write (and publish) this essay. This is a balance I am continually seeking to find – life is changing all the time. If there is one thing these last few weeks have taught me, it is this: choose your commitments wisely. If you make a promise to yourself you will do something, the follow through is the most important part. This is how we build confidence in ourselves. This is how we learn to trust.

Chapters of Life

So much can happen in a single year of life.

I will never cease to be amazed by this simple fact. You can look out on a fresh year sitting before you, be inspired by the possibility and take your first steps in a certain direction – but there is absolutely no way to know what will happen next. No way! How foolish we are to think the universe will bend to fulfill our meticulously laid plans. Our intentions and deepest aspirations can manifest themselves in our lives if we hold them deeply in our hearts and do the work required to make it happen, but they will most often not show up in the package we first expect.

Certain points in our lives invite reflection on what has come before as we anticipate for what will happen next. We sense one chapter coming to an end and another about to begin, and time seems to slow out of reverence for the preciousness of life.

I have found myself in one of these periods most recently. This time of year has held significance for me for a long time, as it has always been the end of the school year and competitive season of gymnastics, a time for slowing down and simply being a kid. Last year held even more importance than normal: I had officially graduated high school, and it was time to enter the real world as an “adult.”

And so eleven months ago, I took a huge leap and stepped out on my own. I moved to a new city to attend the school of my dreams and left behind the familiarity of my childhood home in favour of adventure. This year proved to me that our late teens and early twenties are a time of great discovery. It is a time of firsts, irrational decision-making and a perpetually heightened emotional state. I’ve never much been a fan of failing or messiness, but it seems to be utterly unavoidable at this time of life. I have been on an impressive rollercoaster this last year, let me tell you. Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. Life is quite the ride.

I look back now and feel as thought I am a completely different person from when I first stepped off that plane into the stifling heat of July.

It was the first one-way trip I’d ever taken, and the feelings were bittersweet. I remember journaling as we flew through the air several thousand feet above the ground. I was starting a new journal, and I wanted every word to be perfect. Still, to this day I cannot think of a word to describe the unique blend of sadness, fear, and exhilaration that tags along when you move to a new place. Leaving behind the people I’d grown up this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew it was what I had to do. Something in my gut told me I was making the right move.

For the first six months, I existed in disbelief and wonder at the richness of this new life I got to live. I was learning, growing, expanding to fill the space I had never felt back home. This new place became my home, and I hated the idea of leaving it for even a moment. I was surrounded by people who understood me and loved me for who I am – or at least, this part of me that has never before felt truly understood before.

I was attending one of the most prestigious schools in the world for the circus arts, and so the circus artist in my thrived while I neglected nearly everything else. I didn’t write a single poem for eight months, and the writer in me watched in increasing irritation as I failed to record a single detail from my life.

It is so easy for us to lie to ourselves at times, far easier than we like to admit. I viewed my life as one does a new lover: through rose tinted glasses that slowly, imperceptibly, deteriorate in time.

Yes, my fall semester was filled with beautiful moments and simple joys, with friendship and laughter and love. But there was also an underlying pain I was not dealing with, one I could only ignore for so long. I was tired all the time, fatigued in a way you cannot fully understand until you have experienced it for yourself, one even then I could not begin to understand. I played mind games with myself to get to the end of the week, and I spent much of my time looking forward to a weekend that never quite seemed long enough. I worked hard to squeeze myself into the mould the school had cast for me but no matter how hard I tried, I never really fit.

I was doing work that was, in many ways, extremely satisfying. Any kind of growth in that capacity usually is. I am incredibly grateful for that period of learning, and I have no regrets but for this one: I began going about my days in a way that was inauthentic and ultimately unsustainable, and I lost a large part of myself in the process.

The thing is, we are all multifaceted people – some are just more this way than others. I am not wired in a way where I thrive on a single-minded environment where nearly everything you do falls upon some pre-determined path. I do much better with the freedom to choose and simultaneously pursue a few different kinds of work aligned with my interests. Balance is key, I know this now. It took me many hard months to get here.

Sometimes people can see things in us we cannot see in ourselves; sometimes we are just too close to the problem.

Others can sense when you are lying to yourself, as a friend of mine once told me. There was a heaviness in my life that I was ignoring. Towards the end of the first month of the new year, one of my coaches approached me with a question that shook me to the core. In essence, she was asking one thing: are you happy? Is this really what you want to do?

I was forced to face a decision I’d been lingering on for about a year, one that held with it the gravity of my entire world. I knew my answer would change everything, literally everything about my path, where I would go and how I would move forward. Terrified and shaking, I chose to do what my gut was telling me. I ended a partnership that had grown toxic, the same partnership that guaranteed my place at school. I took action, and then it was my turn to wait. And wait. And wait.

A few months later, things blew up in my face in a way I had not anticipated. I faced more rejection in four months than I thought one heart could take. And yet, the day after the finale of one spectacular supernova and a mere three hours of sleep, I looked healthier than I had in months. I had a friend tell me my face was glowing.

Life has a funny sense of humour. At times, Life is not very funny at all. Our capacity to move through grief lies in our ability to remain open to the lessons Life has to teach us in the moments we’re on our knees, holding in our hands the two halves of a heart that has split in two. Trust the process – there are some things you cannot know.

I see now that this life I get to live in this moment is much more in line with what I truly want to do. It is, however, also a life I could not have imagined would be possible before my initial plans all went to shit. My intentions were clear all along, I just did not know they would manifest themselves in this way.

Each life is a work in progress. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can change how we approach the future. We can choose to give ourselves space to feel whatever we are feeling without holding on too tightly to ideas of what tomorrow may look like, whether that be for better or for worse. The only constant in a constantly changing world is change.

One short chapter in my life is coming to an end, and I never imagined I would be ready to move on so soon. But I am. This next chapter is going to be a good one, I can feel it. Here I come.

Doubt

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

A very wise man once said these words. As a hand balancer, I am reminded of their truth on a daily basis. If you can’t understand why on earth anyone would spend hours of their day trying to stand on their hands, I would tell you that it remains a mystery to me as well. For me, handstands are akin to a moving meditation. There is a feeling in the practice I have not been able to find in anything else – I do not know of a word that exists to describe it. I only know I am at home upside down, and so I continue the habit.

Handstands are a lesson in patience. Like anything else in life, some days are better than others; but unlike many things in life, the ups and downs make themselves tangible in a very visible way.

In a world of instant gratification, the art of hand balancing is an anomaly. It is a humbling reminder of the importance of consistent hard work over time. Sometimes when I am training in public places, people approach me and ask me to teach them how to do what I do. I smile and give them a few pointers and basic exercises they can do on their own, but most often they are looking for something I cannot give them. They are looking for some secret to let them bypass the hours of work that are required to achieve a level of mastery in any skill, not just in what I do. The thing is, most people are not willing to go that far and dedicate the time required to accomplish what they think they want to achieve. They just want to be good already, yesterday, five years ago. But it doesn’t work that way.

 do it. Minutes turn into hours which turn into years before you really start to see any headway at all. Because progress comes so slowly, you must pause and look backwards, to where you were six months ago or the first time you managed to stay inverted for more than five seconds on your own. You are taught to celebrate the smallest wins because that is all there is.

Handstands are special because they are a direct reflection of what is going on inside. I can tell if I am frustrated or mentally exhausted from a long day of work in how easily the balance comes. If I am feeling extremely emotional or disconnected from my body, it shows. Doubt sidles up beside me and snakes his arms around my own. My elbows begin to wobble and my hands can’t quite find the sweet spot where I am comfortable on the floor. Some days, the only way I can describe the feeling is this: it’s like I am belly dancing while standing on a moving boat. All while in a handstand.

It’s not as fun as it sounds.

More often then not, it’s a mental game. Sure, there are days where my muscles are fatigued from overtraining or I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. But I can usually overcome these factors if I can get into the right space in my head. The moment I allow Doubt a shot at the control panel is the moment I will fall. I forget the thousands of hours I’ve put into standing on my hands. If I can manage to stop consciously thinking about what I’m doing for thirty seconds and lighten up a little, my body takes over and I can suddenly balance again.

I experienced this phenomenon as recently as last night. I have struggled with Doubt for a long time, in many domains of my life. Doubt is a master of disguise. He and I are very well acquainted at this point, and I am only now beginning to understand his many sides. We’ve gone on a number of late night walks in which I let all my deepest fears fall on his sympathetic ears. He knows all my biggest aspirations as well, and he likes to use this to his advantage – not in a way that is conducive to my growth as a human being, but rather successful in keeping me exactly where he wants me. That is, not moving forward a single inch, but staying exactly where we are.

Recently, I’ve been able to identify some of his favourite tactics for getting into my head and manipulating my thoughts to suit him. There is that gentle, worried whisper, and the not-so-subtle whine. There are the times when he throws distasteful glances in my direction or when he gets up in my face and just shouts “WHY?”

My doubts are almost inextricably linked to a subconscious search for external validation, one I didn’t know I’d signed up for in the first place. I thought I could care less what other people think of me, but it turns out that assumption was wrong.

All this time, it seems I’ve been waiting for the right person to come along and tell me I am good enough when really, I need to see that in myself before I will believe anything anyone else says. For better or for worse, you only ever accept that which you believe you deserve.

We so easily fall into a pattern of thinking that says something needs to change before we will be satisfied with our life, be it our body, our financial situation or the relationships we are in. It’s like we are running a race chasing after the setting sun, and the horizon is our finish line. These extrinsic rewards or “markers of success” so often get tied up in what we believe about who we are, but they don’t need to. You don’t need to prove that you are worthy of fulfillment, of happiness or love – you already are, just the way you are.

I say this because I know. I’ve been there myself, a lot. It’s easy for me to get roped into thinking my years of experience in art and in life are negligible, simply because I am young. I’ve had a few people tell me as much, and for a time I grew to believe it. Sometimes I see all the people I perceive to be more skilled than I or more knowledgeable in their given field, and I get caught feeling like I am not good at what I do just because I see they are so amazing.

I am learning to appreciate the value of others without letting in diminish my perception of my own because everyone’s path is a little different. Just because my experience doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it is any less real or valuable. Each one of us is intelligent in our own way. If you can approach your daily interactions with this open mindset as opposed to one that is pretentious and closed, you will be surprised how much you can learn.

The stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful. Just look around at the people in your life, and you will see what I mean.

These stories have the ability to dictate how you go through life, how you overcome challenges and continue in the face of your fears. For a long time, I lost faith in my abilities to make even the simplest decisions – I was looking at all the places I had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end, or had managed to lie to myself for a period of time when in my heart I knew something was wrong. I didn’t even trust my own feelings anymore, and so I allowed other people to tell me what I was feeling instead.

I had grown attached to the wrong story.

The way you see yourself refracts back out into the world, in the way you treat other people and even the earth itself. A person who knows their worth, who respects their own strengths and acknowledges their weaknesses is one who can respect the world around them. This is the kind of person I want to be.

Everyone deals with doubts and fears in everyday spaces where it does not serve them. We get to choose if we listen to what these voices have to say, or if we decide to call the shots instead. I used to scream at the walls when Doubt would show up to the one thing that brings me calm. Now, I just take a deep breath and quietly ask him to take a seat – I’ve got this one, thank you very much. I understand your concern, but I’ll be okay.

And know that you will be, too.