The look of sheer joy on her face was priceless! My sister had just shot her first flying clay pigeon. It wasn’t the first time she shot a gun, or the first time she hit a target. It was the first time she let herself TRY to shoot a target that wasn’t stationary. Prior to yesterday, she referred to herself as the shooting challenged. She’d organize outings in the country for everyone to shoot, but limit herself to aiming at objects held by target holders.
Okay, before you get upset by the specifics of this post, please understand. We grew up on a farm in the South. Our father hunted quail on our farm. He taught us about gun safety because there were always guns in the house. In spite of this, neither of us ever shot a gun until we were adults. We were never included in the hunting because we were girls. Nonetheless, it feels perfectly normal to us to handle a 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotgun. We don’t have blood lust or killer instinct or a militant view about bearing arms. We’re just country girls who use guns the same way other athletes use a bat, a racquet, a golf club, or a hockey stick.
And guns and shooting really have nothing to do with the point of this post anyway. The point is derived from my observation of the joy of accomplishment I saw on my sister’s face and the process that led to that moment.
My sister just turned 43 and our cousin just turned 93. Both deserved a celebration, so yesterday Ben & I traveled a few hours to my mom’s house on the farm where I grew up. The weather was beautiful – clear, breezy, and about 70º. It was the perfect day to be outside.
Thinking I was only joining my sister & her guests for a ride around the farm, I ended up at a makeshift shooting range carved out of the tall grass while Ben & I were making the drive. In the clearing, there was a basic target thrower, biodegradable targets, a single-shot 410 shotgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, and when we arrived 3 women, and one man. The competition began. When it was my sister’s turn, she easily broke some nearby stationary targets with the 410.
We switched to the 12 gauge. She was happy to shoot at the same target locations with this gun as well. I encouraged her to take a shot at a flying target. Her response was, “I can’t hit those. Haven’t you ever seen me try to hit a softball? It’s the same thing.” I’m not sure she’s tried to hit a softball in more than 20 years so I was struck by the statement. I pushed; she repeated that she couldn’t do it.
I recognized that she really believed what she was saying in spite of the fact that she’d never even TRIED. I took a few shots and missed on every single throw. I enticed her again to take a shot. As I reminded her, she couldn’t do any worse than I had just done. We started by having her leave the safety on and follow the target with the gun.
On the first throw, she stood absolutely still. I assume she moved her eyes along with the movement of the bright orange disk, but her body did not move. It was almost as if she was frozen. I stepped in and gently reminded her that she would have to move her body along with her eyes for the sight on the gun to follow the target and I told her that I would give the “pull” command.
I said, “pull”. She followed the target’s movement with her upper body. One more time and she relaxed a bit. Now it was time to turn off the safety. Breathe, relax, follow, shoot. On the second round, she obliterated a target. It was a perfect shot. The look of joy and pride that washed across her was priceless!
And the effects lingered. She stood taller, excitedly told everybody when she got back to the house. And never again will she be able to say, “I can’t do that.” because she can, and she always could.
She had been preventing herself from the joy of experiencing the process by focusing on the end goal and projecting how bad she’d feel if she didn’t perform well. She imagined she’d feel the same way she felt on the softball field when she was a kid. This projection was preventing her from progressing from stationary to moving targets.
She couldn’t even see that there were steps in the process. She believed she had to pull the trigger as soon as she said, “pull”. This paralyzed her. She never realized she could just move her body in relation to the moving object or allow someone else to determine when the target was released. In fact, she was unable to see any options at all.
My sister is not alone. How often have you prevented yourself from joining a yoga class because you’re afraid you won’t be able to master every pose the first hour? How many times have you avoided a commitment to being gluten-free because you just can’t imagine NEVER eating another yeasty dinner roll?
However many times we choose the status quo rather than trying something different, we guarantee we’ll miss the sheer joy that can result from taking the first step in the process. Will every process result in joy? Maybe not immediately, but each step forward fills our internal bank with the courage, resilience, and confidence that makes the next step easier, and yes, I believe that ultimately it is the participating that brings us joy. And our joy brings others joy. Seeing that look on my sister’s face was my favorite moment of the day!
Have you ever experienced joy or exhilaration when you tried something you thought you couldn’t do? Would you encourage someone else to take that first step?