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.
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.