Learning Strength

Learning Strength

Jenn Pilotti

 

I recently took up pole dancing. My sister thinks I am having a midlife crisis which, though it may be accurate, isn’t the reason I felt compelled to begin flipping upside down on a solid vertical object.

In actuality, the act of learning how to navigate my body around a pole gave my mind and body an opportunity to explore movement in a new way. I have always enjoyed flipping upside down, and though I have spent a bit of time (read, years), on low-floor acrobatics and parkour type movements, I knew I didn’t have the speed or desire to fall that much to actually learn the skills well enough to master them.

This means I am strong and decently flexible; it also means I don’t get dizzy or a sense of vertigo when I rotate or flip because I have been practicing it for so long. Pole dancing quickly became a thing I could learn, something I could become proficient at that provided me with a deep sense of satisfaction.

It also challenged me in a way that I relished. I have been studying movement sciences for a long time and exercising for even longer (I began lifting weights when I was 16, scouring “Shape” and “Oxygen” magazines to learn how to do a deadlift and use a stability ball. This was the late 90s when “functional training” was en vogue, but so was body building).

Naturally, I learned both, moving on to yoga and suspension training when I felt like I needed more flexibility in my life. When yoga and I broke up, I promptly replaced it with bodyweight and gymnastics based training, as well as somatic exercise, all of which ultimately segued into dance and natural movement, returning full circle to some weird blend of weightlifting, bodyweight movements, with some dance and mindfulness body awareness exercises thrown in for good measure.

The point is, I like learning how to use my body in different ways. It forces me to focus my attention, an aspect of both mindfulness and learning that seeps into every aspect of my life. To be able to focus completely enables me to become immersed in what I’m doing; in the context of learning pole dancing, it also provides an element of safety (losing focus while hanging upside down from one leg is ill advised).

Learning something that is challenging also reminds me that I am strong and capable. And if I am strong and capable in one area of my life, I am strong and capable in others.

 

How this applies to book publishing…

I write books for fun. Not because I actually think anyone will read them, but because I like sitting with ideas, thinking about how they relate to each other, and figuring out how the common threads apply to working with actual people.

But this thing happens to me when I have a finished product, something that I have spent several months working and reworking—I feel like maybe what I learned while thinking deeply about the concepts will help someone else, enhancing their lives in some way.

What happens with the finished product is the arduous process of pitching. Book pitching in the era of social media means trying to convince publishers that you are worth taking a risk on because you have enough followers or newsletter subscribers or Facebook friends. It’s one of the first things pitch forms ask, after “why are you qualified to write a book on this subject?” “Please indicate the number of Instagram followers you have.”

Whenever I get to this part, I am reminded that, like in high school, I am not really popular enough to send my ideas out into the world, but, also like in high school, I am not deterred by my lack of popularity. I am going to do it anyway and accept the probable rejection that will likely follow.

All of those rejections are worth it because every once in a while, a publisher writes back and says, “we might be interested.” This is incredibly exciting, because it means the created thing might actually be completed and put out into the world in full form.

Sometimes the words, “we might be interested” come with caveats. I recently received a “we might be interested,” email with the caveat that I not only change some things (a normal request), but with the request of changing things to create a narrative that caters to a specific audience. This wouldn’t have been that big a deal, except the request meant changing the narrative to create a story that simply wasn’t true.

And so, the elation from the “we might be interested,” turned to deflation as I wondered how to politely say, “no. I am not changing my story because that would perpetuate an idea that is totally wrong.” Instead of responding right then, I closed my email and went for a run.

I didn’t respond until three hours later, after a run, a workout, a shower, and some oatmeal (because food makes everything in life more manageable.) I carefully explained my position, politely explaining why I was unable to rewrite the book in the way that was suggested. I offered a suggestion of mine own to (hopefully) keep the dialog going.

My pitch is getting pitched to the publishing team this week. I don’t know if they will say yes or no, and the answer doesn’t really matter. What matters is I did something that was hard (because saying no may have killed any chance I have of this book seeing the light of day), and I feel better for it.

 

The takeaway…

This is one of the things learning any sort of new skill teaches you—learning is hard, but it’s temporarily hard. After your initial exposure to the concept, or the movement, or what it feels like to lift 165 pounds, the hard passes and you feel a sense of happiness (or relief that it’s over). It’s that sense of hard that, while challenging, is oh-so-gratifying when it passes.

The next time you are exposed to the same thing, the hard is less hard. You learned something from the first hard, and that something makes the next go around easier. And this is gratifying in a quieter way, this reminder that things become less challenging when you get used to the idea of them.

I can spin around a pole, flip my legs overhead, and navigate my body into a variety of positions. These positions get easier every time I do them, and the fear I feel with certain transitions is slowly easing as my confidence increases.

Fear is a big reason things feel hard. “Am I going to hurt myself?” “Am I going to hurt someone’s feelings?” “Am I going to ruin my chances if I say no?”

I can’t say for sure how I would have responded 5 years ago, whether I would have tried to find a way to please the publisher by saying yes and trying to fit the narrative to an incompatible truth? Or if I would have said no without offering a suggestion that would benefit both of us? It’s impossible to know and perhaps it doesn’t matter except to acknowledge that the exchange would have been harder because saying no (and the fear associated with saying no) is more challenging when you are younger and less confident than it is when you have some wisdom and experience.

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