I just got back from DC. I’ve been to DC before. I’ve seen the sights, haunted the galleries, gaped at the Star Spangled Banner. When my kids were little a friend arranged a tour of the West Wing for us. The image my kids most vividly remember is a rubber ax one of the West Wingers had. Every time you whacked it, the ax whistled and screamed. Presumably this got used for tax cuts. This time my husband, our now grown son and I took a Segway tour. My son, a DC resident since August, says that locals laugh at the helmeted tourists wending their way through our nation’s capital on these funky vehicles. But we were game.

We met at the Segway storefront at our appointed hour and got quick instructions on the proper use of the machine. There was a short video showing a poor stick figure doing everything wrong and getting mangled in various ways. Then it was time to suit up and try them out ourselves in the security of the store’s open layout. I summoned my courage, secured my helmet and stepped aboard. Then I pulled the handle some wrong way, did a dramatic downward dangle with a left facing Hot Dog Yo-Mama Spiral and landed in a heap, bonding with my inner stick figure.

I brushed my embarrassed self off, started all over again and enjoyed the next two hours navigating through DC by balance and the mere pressure of my toes and heals. By the end of the tour I really had the knack. I mostly ignored the commentary piping into my helmet about the sights and monuments. It was enough to watch the gorgeous autumn day as I zipped around 7 inches above the ground on a machine that would respond to my simplest sway or lean. Let those locals laugh!

There is an important life lesson here for me. When trying out new adventures I may make a total fool of myself…but that’s okay. Coded in Mormon-speak as “Learning Experiences” these unpleasant occasions feel rotten but in fact are very instructive. If I can get past the bruised hip and bruised ego and persevere I can develop amazing (if not otherwise applicable) skills. (Or, as in the case when I ran a snow mobile into a tree on my first effort, I can determine that life is too short and snowmobiling is not a skill I want to develop after all. That way I’m freed up to try other challenges.)

I have been trying to incorporate this lesson into my life for years in various ways. Attached to my computer is an inspiring quote: “I think there are two keys to being creatively productive. One is not being daunted by one’s fear of failure, the second is sheer perseverance.” The source of this wisdom is Mary-Claire King. I didn’t know who she was but assumed, because of the magazine I found this in, that she was a writer or an artist. I always liked that she never mentioned having buckets of talent or being brilliant or having connections. Just be undaunted by your fears and persevere.

Today, musing on the Segway experience and Mary-Claire King’s familiar words, I googled Mary-Claire King to see what kind of writer or artist she is. Wikipedia, the go-to first source for many things, astounded me:

Mary-Claire King (born 1946) is an American human geneticist. She is professor at the University of Washington where she studies the genetics and interaction of genetics and environmental influences on human conditions such as HIV, lupus, inherited deafness, and also breast and ovarian cancer. King is known for three major accomplishments: identifying breast cancer genes; demonstrating that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical; and applying genomic sequencing to identify victims of human rights abuses.

Wow! Go, Mary-Claire, go! I also discovered that she was born in the town where I currently live and that she graduated (at 19) from Carleton College from which two of my three kids graduated. Now I feel cosmically connected to her and her words are etched deeper into my psyche.

Long after my Segway bruises have faded I will remember that perfect autumn DC day and the wisdom of Mary-Claire King.

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5 Responses

  1. Rebecca says:

    Go Linda! No fear! Truly, there is something about getting outside of our comfort zone that makes us feel alive. Maybe I need to put riding a Segway on my bucket list!

    Oh, and I have case of vacation envy. D.C. is a big trip for us since we live on the west coast, but it’s something I’d love to do with my kids before they are grown, preferably over a July 4th. I want to see the fireworks glittering over our nation’s capital while listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing America, and Woody Guthrie singing This Land is Your Land.

  2. Caroline says:

    Lovely, lovely post, Linda.

    I too love King’s statement. I think I’ve let fear of failure stop me from doing things before. There was that year I was determined to write a young adult novel, but in the end, my fear that I would look stupid or do a crappy job stopped me. I admire my husband for just going for things like that without that fear — he wrote two juveile books for his nieces one year.

    My decision to re-enter grad school was a moment when I consciously decided to move forward and risk failure. I may turn out to have nothing important to say in the end, but at least I won’t regret letting my fear stop me from trying.

  3. Emily U says:

    I’ve always wanted to try a Segway!

    I love that quote as well. Chalking up someone’s success to their superior talent, intelligence, or privileged-ness is easy to do, so it’s helpful to hear really successful people like Mary-Claire King own the fact that their success took a lot of sweat and elbow grease. My husband who is a musician is always annoyed when people attribute his abilities to all his “talent,” like his ability just distilled upon him like the dews of heaven. It’s some talent, but also thousands upon thousands of hours of practice!

  4. Starfoxy says:

    This is a great reminder, and hits embarrassingly close to home. I’ve let fear of failure hold me back in lots of ways, and continue to do so. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. kamisaki says:

    After reading several very heavy-topic posts on this site, all of which provoked various deep-seated emotions in my soul, I came across this one, which was triggered by a keyword contained within the post. I’m not even sure yet what the gist of the post was, and I intend to read it more thoroughly and with more thought tomorrow, as it deserves. I have to say, however, that your yoga-esque description of your first attempt at Segwaying cause me to belly laugh. And, I also have to say, after the emotional see-saw caused by the previous posts I read, my weary and soul-searching heart needed that. Thanks.

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