I lived in Mozambique once. I learned Portuguese. I learned Portuguese in the mornings from a Brazilian woman and in the evenings from a Mozambican student. I learned Portuguese in meetings, in the office canteen, in a capoeira class and on field trips to the provinces. I learned it quickly, but I lived in fear of making mistakes, of not being understood, being misunderstood.
“What my colleague is trying to say….” uttered more than once by more than one colleague. Meant in kindness, but cut me to the core.
My Spanish colleague. Never afraid to speak. I know enough Portuguese to know that while she speaks well, it is not always perfect.
“What I do is I imagine I’m playing at speaking Portuguese”
So I play with the words, I try to take it, myself less seriously, I try to see it less as a test than an opportunity.
I speak my mind in meetings. And sometimes, still
“I think what my colleague is trying to say..”
This advice I recall almost any time in my life when I sense that same fear. The fear of being on the spot, of making mistakes, of being exposed.
What if I didn’t take myself so seriously. What would life look like if I saw it less like a test than an opportunity? What if I could could play like I did as a child, as my child does, committing fully to the game in the moment, without fear, worry around the outcome.
I joined a drama group because I needed to play. I was 30 something years old and I needed to learn to play again. We did improvisations. I jumped in. I said ‘yes’. I lost myself in the moment.
I joined a drama group because I needed to play. I had been to a social meet up and made up a fake backstory. I don’t sell tropical fish anymore. People don’t like it when you lie about things in life. But people love it when you pretend about things on stage.
I’m washing my clothes in a bucket in a meditation centre in the north of Thailand. Mindfully, slowly, white clothes in soapy water. Meditation isn’t for me I’m thinking.
Then suddenly. I’ve had this thought before. About everything I’ve ever been new to. Everything I’ve ever been scared enough of to not pursue.
“It’s not for me”
“I’m not good enough at that”
“It’s something other people do”
I decided that this one time, for the first time, I would experiment with doing the thing that wasn’t for me. I would experiment and I would practice to get good enough. I would make it something that I do too.
I carried that thought down the hill of the retreat centre and took it home with me. I buried it sometimes under worry about money and making ends meet, but I unearthed it when it was needed.
Why not. Why not try?
I trained as a yoga teacher. I did a Master’s degree. I moved to Africa. I moved back again. I joined a drama group. I said ‘yes’ to someone. I had a baby.
I experimented and I found my lost creativity. I took some photos and I wrote some words and one night I stood on a stage and told a story. Someone asked me if I was a writer, and I thought “no.. that’s something other people do.”
I thought about playing at Portuguese and playing at life and I decided to play at writing this time instead.
In Portuguese, ‘experimentar’ means to try out, to experience. This is me playing, experiencing, trying out, committing fully to the moment.
With the occasional worry and wobble about the outcome.