So you are trying to learn something new and most likely feel vulnerable about your first attempts. You are a spark, this new little spark of passion. You want to express your passion to the world, but people are looking at you. They are watching these meager first attempts. Some may have years and years of education, piles and piles of experience, vast knowledge of what they are doing, because this is their hundred thousandth attempt. They have learned a lot. They are the ones these new sparks of passion look to. What are they doing and can I learn from it?
Let me tell you a story. When I went to my very first AKC Dog Sport Rally Trial, it was scary! I was so intimidated. The first show I selected; however, both my instructor and a friend were going to be there. My dear husband also came to be my pillar of support. I woke up that morning my stomach was turning, while I struggled to eat something. I didn’t want to go. Why did I think I could do this!
I made it to the show. I walked in and saw my new friend across the room. We met in the Rally class we had just taken, which ended about a month earlier. We are both anxious types. We thought it would be good to do our first show together.
My instructor was also competing at this trial. Instructors, teachers or authority figures always amp up my anxiety. They probably make me feel vulnerable, because they know what they are doing, they know better than little ole’ me. She could tell she had some sort of affect on me and only came over with some words of encouragement. In the back of my mind, I thought how funny it was that she believed in me, when I was so certain I was destined for failure.
My time came. I sheepishly walked up to the starting gate, my loyal akita girl, Kiska by my side. Honestly, it was a blur. I felt like I was moving a million miles an hour and yet it took an eternity to get through the course. Less than 2 minutes to be exact. When it was all said and done, we took home a blue ribbon. I was hooked after that first trial. Even though, I know those veteran faces were watching my inadequate attempts.
I decide to try again. Signed up few months later for my next trial. Some trials have something called a run-thru. This is typically held a few days before the event. You are able to see the venue, setup your kennel, pay to enter one of the rings the course will be set up in and work your dog.
My friend and I decided to go. We had never been to this venue and we thought seeing the place would help reduce some of our anxiety. I arrived before my friend. Standing in line with the seasoned competitors. As I stood there, they began to talk about this new sport called Rally. How easy it was, how annoyed they were, that it took up space at the event. Space where they could put their kennels or have another ring so they could get done faster.
There were other things said. Honestly, I don’t remember, because I wanted to run. I wanted to get out of there. I felt so awkward and uncomfortable. I found out later it was never officially “advertised” to Rally competitors, we were not invited to this clubs run-thru. Which might explain whey even an AKC Judge was there complaining about Rally. An authority figure hated Rally and thought it was a ridiculous sport. I took a little hit to my confidence and it made me seriously wonder if should I continue.
The actual intent of Rally was to be a springboard for new competitors. Even though, when you move up to the higher levels, it is very difficult. One particular challenge is your dog must remain in heel position and heel backwards with you. No, the rules aren’t as strict in some areas; you can talk to your dog and the intent is to have fun in the ring. Of course, this sport is a mix of obedience, agility and any other partnership dog sport where you must work as a team. That is what really gets you the high scores; the teams that are enjoying themselves and make it look easy.
Now days, I hear these same seasoned veterans wondering why their dog sport is dying. I have some advice, ask the newbies to the dog sport world how they feel as they are trying to put their vulnerable attempts in to play. Do those who already know so much about it welcome them? Could you be inadvertently dampening their sparks? Can the sport grow if you don’t nurture the new kids?
People are walking around stomping on these little sparks and they don’t even know it. Stomp, stomp, stomp! I am crying as I write this, because I know this pain. I have experienced it over and over again. It breaks me inside when it is reflected back at me in faces filled with fear and anxiety. The tight, tight leashes, trying to hold their dog into obedience, if only by sheer will. I see these sparks hold back, stop and slink away. Tiny sparks that will never grow into the huge flame we should all carry.
Someone reminded me recently of a movie I adored as a child called “The Red Balloon”. This movie always stuck with me and it truly was about a red balloon. This red balloon belonged to a young boy. They are silly little things balloons, bringing so much joy to their holder. In the movie this little balloon was brought to life of sorts. It even seemingly fell in love with another balloon. In the movie, groups of rock wielding kids continually try to bring it down, destroy it and burst that little boy’s balloon bubble.
Some would call them bullies or just mean spirited. Yet, there are those with no ill intent, but they stomp just the same. Here is how powerful it can be. When I was a young girl, boys told me over and over, I was ugly. I assume now, it was because I was painfully shy, filled with anxiety. I was awkward, an easy target.
There is a memory burned into my mind. It was the summer before I started high school. It was a sunny day, not too hot. A few friends and I were on the corner of a busy street heading to heading to a nearby park. A boy name Mike who was a classmate from my grade school, got right in my face. Enough so that his spittle landed on my face as he said this, “You are the ugliest girl I have ever seen, you will always be the ugliest girl alive.”
Now, many other people have told me I was ugly and many other people have told me that I am beautiful. I am going to post a photo before the next paragraph. Please do not give your opinion regarding my physical beauty or my husband’s awesome hair (ok, maybe you can talk about his awesome hair). My point is, look into those eyes and you probably won’t see it is someone who is hurting this day, because of one experience that stopped her in her tracks. Journey ended. It was so embarrassing; that everyone was obligated to tell me I looked beautiful. This thought was at the front of my mind this entire day!
I remember my wedding day, a day you are supposed to be pretty; people told me I looked beautiful. I knew they were lying. I hated it when people said that and always looked away hoping they would just stop. I am not pretty. Almost like, when I look at myself, I blur out my face, in an attempt to not see the ugly. It is burned into my mind, because the ferocity of Mike’s opinion.
I tried to be perfect after that, because I was the most ugly girl alive. You might guess what came next. I couldn’t control how ugly I was, but I could control my size. Anorexia/body dysmorphia came shortly after. It severely affected my confidence all through high school and my life. I still hope I can remove that thought from my mind. What could I have done with all of that time I spent, holding myself back?
Now, we are all different. Some of us will push back when another tries to stomp their spark. Hey, get away from my spark! AWESOME! These are the pillars of strength that we who find it challenging to defend our sparks need. Can these people help defend our sparks? Yes, some can. Some will stand with you, feed your flame. If it falters, they may lay themselves down for you to protect your spark.
Now, I am sure Mike walked away and never gave this moment another thought. Yet, he stomped me so hard, I have yet to recover. Because of these experiences, I try to make attempts to turn things around for others. It drives me to find other sparks. I want to find these tiny sparks, feed them, give them oxygen, help them become a huge bright flame.
I do this not because I want to take credit for what any of my students or friends accomplish. I am not doing the work. They are doing the work and must find their own path. I am merely leading them to water. I want them to know, no matter what is holding them back, I believe in them. Thinking someone believed in me was powerful. I also know for me it helped erase some of the hurt that was driven so deeply into my soul, that it stopped me from being who I really am. Maybe it is because it gives me hope for mankind.
My writing isn’t for money; I have not taken writing classes, outside of the regular classes we all take in traditional schooling. I don’t even make it public on any other social media, except Twitter. I don’t seek out many people on Twitter; I have a handful of followers just over 30. I have always been a private, anxious, fearful person.
I am writing, because it makes me organize my thoughts out loud. It makes me struggle to put things in a way that others might understand my intent. As I write, it slowly un-jumbles my spinning brain, sorts out my thoughts. Sometimes I think I have a clear message. When I try to write it, I jump around. It might become something else. I might just have held onto it too long. I just need to put it out there and move on. Kudos, to all who are able to suffer through my under-educated writing skills.
I bring these thoughts to my class and I see my insights are helping them understand how to break down their on walls. I see them progressing much more quickly now, perspectives are changing faster. I am giving them knowledge from my personal experience. The things I have learned from a plethora of resources that work. My number one goal is to create an environment where they feel safe. Only then will they open up, so we can talk through their insecurities and try to offer new perspectives.
My hope is others may find some of the same blessings I have received through working with my dogs. Simply trying to give people who appear stuck, enough confidence to begin to climb their way out or around any roadblocks they encounter; accomplished through the love they have for their dog. How learning to develop a clear understanding of partnership and relationship through dog training can change their life. This spark is yours to carry; only you can turn it into a flame. I simply hope to foster as many of the sparks as I can.