It only took two steps before a doorframe broke my fall. Two more steps before my legendary grace and poise were manifested in near disaster amidst a room full of strangers. Thankfully a set of bleachers intervened before I was fully parallel to the floor. I adjusted my center of gravity and delicately placed my weight back on the wheels I had inexplicably strapped to my feet. My earlier enthusiasm and bravery were long ago consumed by the sheer concentration it took not to fall on my face. Just as I found my balance, the color drained from the room. My gaze slid from the floor, tracking each new addition to the battalion swaggering around the rink. The thrum of skates against the arena was at once both entrancing and formidable. Beginners they said. No experience they said. That is not what I saw. What faced me was the most intimidating, humbling moment of my recent existence.
Was it curiosity or proximity or maybe sheer lunacy that brought me here? Whatever it was, I soon found myself stuttering around the rink trying to find a scrap of transcendence where the wheels and my feet finally interfaced. Unsteady and uncertain, I schlepped around and around waiting for everything to click. It never did. Two hours later and the only thing that had grown was my admiration for the other beginners who seemed to have all grasped basic locomotion. What didn’t I get? What was I missing? What was I doing wrong? Two steps and two hours. That’s what it took to realize that I am really, really, really bad at roller skating. Literally the worst.
What was I expecting? Honestly? Brilliance. Maybe it was conceited of me, but I dreamed up a reality where this was a secret skill I never knew I had. I wanted to be amazing. I wanted to blow everyone away. I wanted to be a superstar. After feeling inadequate for so long and in so many ways, I wanted to feel like I was good at something.
Self-worth is funny like that. It can be impossible to predict. We try and pull it out of thin air or read it in the off-handed observations of our compatriots. We seek it from our bosses and our mirrors and our bank accounts. I often look for it in my utility to others. I worry constantly whether I am useful or whether I am imposing. I intrinsically understand the inalienable value of every other human on the earth. Every human except myself. For some unfounded reason, I must prove my worth with every breath.
That is what my skating hopes really were – an effort to find the small corner of the world where my worth is not in question, where my natural abilities speak for themselves. If I were a roller skater… well, that could be my own indisputable claim to exist. That’s a lot of pressure for some wheel-y shoes. And also not how the universe works.
There’s a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” We aren’t lost in some allegorical wilderness waiting to be rescued by… ourselves? (I might have metaphored too hard.) A pair of shoes with wheels on the bottom can’t validate our existence, no matter how cool they look. We are constructed from each individual choice we make. We are propelled by the choices from our past, but not overcome by them. And any day – every day – we can make a different choice. We can make decisions with intention and decide what we want to be.
In that moment, I wanted desperately to be good at something. Not because I wanted a gold star, or a medal, or a standing ovation. More than anything, I wanted to put those skates on with confidence. Like I belonged. Like I wasn’t a fool or a pretender. This is something I can still have. After a torrent of panic and self-doubt, I can recognize where I am. I’m starting from the start. Some day, with a lot of practice, I’ll find myself joining the barrage of acrobats dancing and walloping each other for fun. I might be a skater yet.