Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Being Aware of Your Own Backpack

My nine year old son is playing recreational baseball for his second summer in a row.  

I watch his games with both joy and trepidation; sending a prayer up to whoever is the patron saint of baseball (apparently Rita of Cascia according to Wikipedia) whenever my youngest steps up to the mound,  into the batter's box or crouches behind home plate to catch.  

His emotions are easy to read.  Each outside pitch..... each giant "woosh" of the bat or ball lost behind the umpire.... is reflected in his posture.  First his head drops.  Then his shoulders slump.  He winces as his brain rapid fires words like "loser", "idiot", "stupid", "no good" at his raw ego. 

Each negative thought manifests itself as a physical weight on his shoulders, only making it harder for him to perform.  Each poor performance supported his mistaken belief that he was a lousy ball player.  He was fueling his own spiral, that I watch get deeper and deeper as each inning progressed.  

Kids his age often tune out at pep talks if you are their mother.  You don't yell from the bleachers, "You can do it Rabbit!" without risking "the look of death" and I was pretty sure calling time out for a sprint to the mound for a hug and a kiss would not be particularly welcome! I needed a simple message, that he could see and believe in; one that he could carry around with him and remember when things like this happened.

And when I thought about it, what I was witnessing was bigger than baseball. Life is ripe with challenges, where more often than not, there is a line of people out there waiting to tell you where you fall short. 

We certainly don't need to be at the front of our own the line.  

The best defense against this negativity would be a good offense.

The weekend, after another tough loss and no hits yet this season, I took my son and his backpack into the yard to where I had been edging the garden with bricks.  I told him we were going to work on his game.

He eyed me skeptically as I picked up a brick, told him to put his backpack on and handed him his bat.  

"Ok,  Show me your swing."

"Why do I have to wear the backpack?"

"Well most often you are not going to have perfect conditions when you are up to bat. You might have a new pitcher, it might be really hot and sunny, it could be raining a bit or it might be two out and you need a hit to stay alive in the game.  You are probably going to always have some sort of extra pressure on you.  That stuff is always going to happen. It is normal and you have to learn to just sort of work with it."

He shrugged and swung.

"Oooooo...so sorry.  Strike one!"  I added a brick to his backpack and asked him to swing again.

He frowned, tucked his hands behind his ear and swung again.  His swing wobbled a bit and I called out,  "Strike two!" and added another brick.

"Mom!  What are you doing?!" he whined. 

"Don't worry about me.  You just swing again!"

This time he tipped over a bit, the bricks forcing him off balance on the swing and I called the third strike.

He dropped the bat, shrugged off the backpack, regained his footing and howled, "How do you expect me to do it well when I am carrying all this extra weight around??"

I pointed at him, "Exactly!"  

"Each time something doesn't happen the way your want, it is like taking a brick of negativity and adding it to a backpack and then trying to perform better.  And then, if something doesn't go right, you add another brick and another until it is impossible to get out from under that weight and do your best."

His eyes glared at me from under the brim of his cap.

"And let's say you are on the mound and have two bad pitches, which equals two brinks in your backpack, and then you pitch a good one. "

"You have two bricks in your backpack.  Do you take one out with every good pitch? Or, are you just adding up the bad ones and not lightening your load when you do well?"

His eyes softened a bit.  "I just keep the bricks in the bag".  

"What about when you are up to bat next?  Do you empty the bag or are you still carrying it with all the negativity bricks in it?"

"I probably still have them.  I will be thinking about how I messed up last time and don't want to this time."

"So let me ask you......how do YOU expect to do your best when you are carrying all this negativity around?"

He thought about it.  I waited.  

"Well I guess it would be impossible or almost impossible.  And if I did do well I would think I got lucky."

"Of course you would!  Who could do well with THAT many bricks of negativity in their backpack?"

I could see the wheels turning.

"Ok. So right now it is me putting bricks in your backpack.  But on the field, who is filling your backpack with all this negativity?" 

"Well, me I guess."

"So who is the only person who can STOP adding bricks?"

"Me."


It's a great life lesson that extends well beyond baseball.  

We can never control what the world throws at us but each time we step in the game, we have a choice on how we face it.   

We can either add up our perceived failures and continue to struggle under the weight of self-doubt and negative self-talk, or we can learn and grow each time life throws us a curve and treat each new attempt as an opportunity to succeed.


We often carry our "bricks" with us for years and instead of recognizing them as moments in time that we did not achieve our goal, we carry them around as reminders of our failures and use them to build roadblocks to our success.

This past year and a half I have been poking through my own backpack, examining some of the well worn occupants: divorce, bankruptcy, depression, anxiety---each one nestled snug in a worn spot in my pack.  

I hear the same words: failure, loser, weak when I take each one out to get a closer look.  

The message for me is the same:  How can I expect to be the best me I can when I am weighed down with fear, scarcity, shame and doubt?  What parts of life do these beliefs keep me from participating in?  

While heavy and awkward, I slip on my backpack each and every day.  It keeps me safe from risk and challenge, but also prevents me from experiencing joy and self-love.

Up next:  How to work through your backpack to get rid of what no longer serves you.

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