I was at a party with some running friends several months ago. A group of women gathered at a tribe member’s house for a run, followed by pot-luck breakfast and a dip in her pool.
I was talking to one friend after breakfast and noticed she was wearing three earrings – two in one ear and one in the other. I liked it; I thought it gave her a chic, Bohemian vibe.
As it turns out, my ears are pierced in three places too. At one time I had two piercings in both ears, but one of the holes grew shut since I rarely wore two sets of earrings.
I almost never put in that third earring, believing myself too old and too conservative to pull it off, but my friend, who is about my age, wore the look well.
She unknowingly gave me permission to wear three earrings.
Why do I need permission?
When we wait for permission we are showing our need for others’ approval.
Or are we?
I once took a personality test as part of an in-service program. Among other things, I learned from that personality test that I am more of an extrovert than an introvert.
That doesn’t mean I am a back-slapping, life-of-the-party kind of person, although I am fairly gregarious. Being an extrovert means I gain energy from being with others. I lose energy from spending too much time alone.
Introverts, by the way, are the opposite; they gain energy from spending time alone and lose energy from too much social interaction.
Most of us are not 100% introverted or extroverted; we all fall somewhere on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.
Since we are all at least somewhat extroverted, we all gain some energy and insight from others. That’s not always a bad thing.
What if I was not waiting for permission to wear the third earring, what if I was waiting for inspiration?
Inspiring people are often enthusiastic, innovative, and caring. They exude confidence and appear to be relaxed and calm. People who inspire us have a certain amount of courage; they are bold, at least in some areas of life.
Now, wearing a third earring was not a momentous decision. It was just a tiny example of a change I thought I could make for the better. I sometimes need a little push to be bold.
I have been inspired by others in countless ways. Sometimes it works out, as it did in the case of the earring.
Sometimes it is a disaster, like the time, inspired by a friend, I tried to do a triathlon without really training.
I know an extraordinary woman who is an extremely talented runner. And biker. And swimmer. She talked to me about doing triathlons and made the challenge sound appealing.
On her suggestion, I signed up for a small sprint triathlon near my house.
I was already a runner, so running a 5K was no issue. I swam two or three times a week for about a mile at a time, so swimming six laps in the pool was a breeze.
The problem was the bike. Or, more accurately the problem was me riding the bike.
I never ride bikes on the road. I don’t even have a road bike; I have a mountain bike. To prepare for the triathlon, I asked my husband to fill the tires of my little-used mountain bike with air, rode to the end of our street and back, and declared myself ready.
On the day of the triathlon, the swim portion of the race went perfectly. I beat my predicted time by several minutes. The run was wonderful too, a mostly flat out and back on scenic country roads.
But the bike portion of the race was by far the largest section of the race and I was terrible. I couldn’t keep up with people riding light, aerodynamic road bikes on my heavy, clunky mountain bike. People who actually trained on bikes left woefully untrained me in the dust.
I was out on the bike so long, the course marshals began to return before I did. My husband, who came to the race to cheer me on, became worried I got lost. I was the dead last finisher on the bike.
We can all learn from our mistakes. As I attempted to learn from this disaster, the first lesson was obvious. Never undertrain for a race. Hubris made me think I could compete with racers who were much more prepared than I and using the proper equipment. I couldn’t.
I now believe there was also a deeper lesson for me to learn.
When I was inspired by my earring-wearing friend, I was inspired by her example. When I was inspired to do the triathlon without training on the bike, I was inspired by my friend herself. I was inspired by the person.
It’s fine to be inspired by traits, habits, and skills of others, but when we try to emulate another person, we are not being true to ourselves.
I can be inspired by a friend’s generosity, but I should be motivated to imitate the generosity, not the friend.
We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, our unique characteristics that make us individuals. When we attempt to adopt the attributes of others, we give up our own inner strength.
The only person I can be honestly is me. When I forget that, I become a fan or a follower and I lose self-respect.
I also run the risk of losing my inner compass, that little voice in my head that tells me right from wrong. Too many followers have accompanied a charismatic leader down a dangerous path.
Imitating another person can lead to serious trouble.
I saw my earring-wearing friend at the pool recently. She was wearing a bikini. It made me wonder if I could pull off a bikini to swim laps. “Nah,” I thought. Not me.
Sometimes it takes a while, but slowly, I am learning to be me.
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