thing (n): a unique quality pertaining to an individual which often personifies who they are.
Everybody’s got a thing. Our thing helps to define us and is how we tend to see ourselves. You might see it in a person’s bio: Lindsay Bednar- mom, wife, sister, movie quoter, frequently loses things, hella good free-style rapper.
As I’m quickly approaching middle-age (gulp), my friends and I have been having more discussions about what is our thing. Perhaps it is the early onset of a mid-life crisis… but realizing you are almost half done with your life and contemplating what your legacy is going to be is overwhelming to say the least. We reassure each other that raising kind and smart children who will grow up to help make the world a better place is reason enough to be proud, but all of us still reach for our own ‘thing.’
Growing up with two older sisters who were successful at basically everything, I often found it difficult to find my thing. I’ve honestly never felt competitive with them and couldn’t be more happy for their successes. My parents were pretty amazing about not comparing us to one another, and as we’ve gotten older, I feel more like a proud parent with my sisters than anything. However, the rest of the world tends to compare siblings. We’re all guilty of it, and I don’t believe it is with malintent nor do we even realize when we are doing it. I’ve been asked on multiple occasions ‘how come you don’t run like your sisters?’ It’s a fair enough question. We have similar interests and share most of the same genes… I suppose I always figured if they have a particular thing cornered, that’s their thing, and I wanted to find my own. And when your sister runs a marathon in under 3 hrs and 19 mins, you figure that running is most definitely her thing.
I spent most of my adolescence significantly overweight. So my thing for the longest time was that I was the funny fat friend. I was good at that. I was the good listener, the third wheel, and the safe confidant. There’s a lot of good there. People open up to you so much when they don’t feel threatened by you. I always loved that. I loved how many deep connections I had with guys and girls who weren’t afraid to be vulnerable with me. But at a certain point I was tired of sitting on the sidelines and decided to change. What I wasn’t prepared for is that my ‘thing’ was going to change too. If I wasn’t the funny fat friend, who was I? Going through that in the midst of high school thwarted me into a short stint of depression. It was like the weight I was hiding behind was shed and I felt exposed and scared and wasn’t quite sure who I was. Not exactly the empowering weight shedding experience you imagine, but I was young and still figuring out who I was. Slowly I began to feel comfortable in my new skin and found new things that people would associate with me. And I realized just because I lost the fat didn’t mean I had to lose the funny. (ba dum ching)
So my next thing was walking- some call it power walking, but I’ve always thought that sounded ridiculously lame. Like, settle down, it’s just walking. When I was 16, I started walking an hour a day every day to lose weight. I loved it. My friends were not walking an hour every day- they were all in crazy good shape and didn’t need to- so this quickly became my thing. I liked having a thing that was healthy for a change. I loved the clarity I got while thinking on a walk. To this day, some of my best moments of clarity come from walks. As time went on, I developed more things that were a part of me. And the more activities and interests that developed into my things gave me more confidence to try more things. I started working out at the gym which eventually led me to a trainer and workout family. I never thought working out would be one of my things, but now it is something that defines me.
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is that just because other people had the same thing, didn’t mean I couldn’t do it too. I realized that there will always be someone else who does what I want to do, and almost certainly someone who will do it better. It occurred to me how ridiculous it was to stop myself from trying a thing simply because someone else does it well. I decided that the fact that I know a lot of great writers doesn’t have to make me feel insecure about trying it out myself. Instead, I choose to be inspired by the fantastic writers that I know. Since taking a shot at this, I’ve had some great conversations with fellow writers. It feels so good connecting with people who share my same passion and I no longer worry about whether or not I can make this one of my things, too.
I’m certain anyone can make anything their thing, they just need the courage to try. I know how daunting that can be and it has clearly kept me from writing sooner in life. At some point, we got this notion that if we can’t master something or be the best at it, we shouldn’t even try it. As a teacher, I constantly saw students want to give up when they didn’t catch onto something right away. I would tell them over and over that there is a learning curve to everything and they will get it if they keep practicing. I watch my kids trying new things all the time and wonder why we can’t approach life with such fearlessness. I try to remind myself that at one point, I was a 200 pound 16-year-old walking on the streets of our small town, ignoring the judgement that I felt I was receiving from every passing car (which in retrospect, I realize I wasn’t). If I had been so stifled in fear and chose not to start walking, I can’t imagine where I would be today.
So when we want to find our thing, we really just need to jump in head first and try. The worst that will happen is we will realize it’s not for us and we’ll move onto something that is. When you see the last runner crossing the finish line of a marathon, nobody is thinking that they are a failure. We’re thinking ‘‘good for them,’ or maybe even ‘I should try that.’
So do your thing, girl.