Necessary, and ultimately unnecessary, distractions

About 10 years ago, in the weeks leading up to teaching my first writing class ever, I fretted excessively about what shoes I would wear on my first day in the classroom.

I was almost 38 years old, and really I had not ever before obsessed about shoes. But fretting about shoes, in this case, helped me work through a lot of anticipatory fears about my public role in the classroom. I wanted those shoes to be comfortable but not dowdy, fashionable but not eye-catching. I was getting ready for students to stare at me, but not at my feet.

The shoes I wore that first day — in a classroom at Wheelock College that looked over the Riverway — I have forgotten, and I have never thought again about what shoes I would wear in the classroom. That doesn’t mean the shoe distraction was frivolous; it focused my attention and fears on something concrete and manageable that I had control over. And then I got beyond shoes.

In the past couple of months, I have been preparing for my first ever figure skating skills test. (Read about the story and the outcome here: link.) In the lead-up to the actual date, I tried to learn about and think through everything. The social situation itself would be entirely new to me, even newer than being at the front of a classroom. I had never watched anyone else take a skating test, and surely, as a student, I watched teachers teach hundreds of times.

Skating outfits_550_cool

For a while I obsessed about what I would wear. It had to be more than fleece pants and a fleece jacket, which are the skating equivalent of a sweatsuit. But it didn’t have to be as much as a costume, with rhinestones, bright colors, and a theme. I scrolled through the offerings of online retail stores. I looked at skaters’ blogs for advice on what to wear. I ordered three skating dresses (one fit), a skating skirt (nice), and skating tights.

I had options. I didn’t wear any of them.

Two days before the test, my coach reminded me that the test situation would feel new and unfamiliar enough that a new and unfamiliar outfit might not be a confidence builder. He suggested skating pants, a nice sweater, low-key gloves. I went with his advice.

That morning, as I watched the other skaters who tested on the same day, some wearing skirts, I reflected on my outfit purchases that turned out to be unnecessary. But then I thought, maybe they were. Maybe the buying and trying on a skating dress was akin to trying on the identity of “skater.” Maybe the hours of online browsing was a way of wrapping my arms around a really big, overwhelming task. I didn’t know if I could nail the skating, but I do know I can choose and buy clothes online.

I made it through my first skating test ever: link. Next time, I’m wearing the skirt.

4 thoughts on “Necessary, and ultimately unnecessary, distractions

  1. Ah this completely speaks to me! I looooooove gear so I constantly question my desire to purchase it, but sometimes trying on the identity is a necessary precursor to really committing to the effort.

  2. I’ve always struggled with Henry David Thoreau’s warning to “Beware of enterprises that require new clothes.” And your post has finally helped me understand why! Your observation that you needed to try on the identity of a skater seems spot-on to me. *And* you needed to figure out where on the skater spectrum your identity lay–not at either extreme of showiness or minimalism, but somewhere there in the middle. Those dresses are cute, and I especially love the skirt and top…that seems like an outfit that you can feel comfortably *and* confidently yourself in.

  3. I did this same thing with running clothes. It took me a long time to buy actual running pants and tops (the kind that are high tech and keep you warm or cool). I thought, “I’m not a runner, I’m slow, and old, and lope around the trail at a snail’s pace. I’ll just wear whatever and go.” But then something changed, I ran my first 5k (at the age of 45) and it felt good, I felt good. Then I thought, “I need some real running clothes” and I felt ‘capable.’ Then, THEN I splurged on the proper shoes. I tried on that identity and liked it. I was a runner. I am a runner.

    Sometime allowing yourself to try on a new identity opens new doors. I guess that is why kids play dress up (and we do, too).

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