Assuming that I still have a skill from years ago… and finding out that I’m rusty!

Have you ever had a situation in which you go to do a skill that you learned long ago, practiced, enjoyed, and see as part of your identity, and it’s like… you’re starting at the beginning again?

Just the other day my daughter and I decided to go to the town tennis courts, just down the street from us. While I still have my tennis racket, I can’t remember the last time I picked it up — over a dozen years ago easily. But I grew up playing tennis with my dad, that’s how we’d spend our spring, summer, and fall weekend mornings at the little, unassuming tennis club in Pleasantville, New York. I loved those early mornings, being out in the sunshine, playing hard, being in competition with my dad. Playing tennis with my dad, my husband, my daughter, going to the US Open every year (except this year), watching all the major tournaments on television, considering myself a tennis player—it’s a part of my identity.

When I picked up the racket and started striking the balls, the results were comical! It felt so familiar to stand on the court and anticipate playing—I loved it! When I tossed the ball to hit it to my expectant partner, it felt like I had never played before! My eye-hand coordination was so off! My wrist was wobbly, my sense of power and ability to hit the ball in the court, much less place it where I wanted to go, had deserted me. I marveled at my lack of ability. Happily, we were equally bad, and we just laughed and laughed about it.

As time went on and I stepped back from what I thought I knew about how to do this and approached the task as a beginner again, I saw progress. It took being shaken out of my habit (of tossing the ball in the air and then hitting it, to bouncing it and hitting it), to make me stop and think and therefore do better.

Truth be told, It was with a bit of gentle prodding from my daughter to bounce the ball before hitting it over the net—a technique that I saw it as too basic for my skills—that made me think about how I was doing what I was doing.

What about you?

How do your habits and expert mindset get in the way of seeing how things are in the moment?

I had another experience this morning as I was drawing an example for a colleague. I had drafted an example over the weekend but couldn’t find the slip of paper so I thought I would try it again. It was a combination of two icons. I wanted to dash it off and show it to her, so I just started drawing. I didn’t think of my mantra when I am in my Bikablo trainer role, which is, “size, sequence, and proportion.” So as you can guess my first two drafts didn’t look the way I saw them in my mind’s eye. I needed to slow down and get conscious about my process… then my drawing became close to my vision.

These experiences are such pointed reminders of how easy it is to glide along with our notions of who we are and how we do our work when in fact, when we take the time to look at how we do what we do, we can find new ways of seeing and doing.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki