Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blog Action Day - "Attitude"

This post is part of a quarterly Blog Action Day initiative started by Steve Schwarz.  You can read other agility bloggers' posts on "Attitude" here.

A large majority of agility enthusiasts express the same positive attitude that "as long as you are having fun, you're doing good."  It's so obvious, they never question it.  And I totally agree -- NOW.  But it hasn't always been so.  So I thought I'd share the bad attitude I had to overcome to get to the "fun" part.

Long before I could begin to grapple with a good attitude towards agility training, I had to overcome my father's strong opinion that pleasurable pursuits are frivolous.  A product of the Great Depression and WWII, he was so afraid his children might starve, I suppose, that all he approved of was educational excellence and good jobs.  Our focus must first be on self-sufficiency, and then on improving society.  Perhaps without quite meaning to, he convinced his children that hobbies are superfluous.  Even though he played golf avidly, he always told us it was "strictly for business".

He thought that doing things for "personal relevance" is pure self indulgence (biblically, a waste of one's talents), and the fastest road to hell. He was not an appreciater of art or literature, either, unless it was the classics. I can still hear him say, "if you can't paint like Michaelangelo, don't waste the canvas. If you can't write like Shakespeare, don't clutter the world with your drivel. If you're not prima ballerina material, I won't throw away money on ballet lessons." Extrapolating from that, he might say "If you can't be Susan Garrett, don't train dogs". Of agility, he once asked "are you making money at it yet". That was his criteria. Never, ever, "are you having fun".

I bet most of the rest of you didn't have this impediment to overcome!

I've had to learn to pursue my hobbies guilt free.  Getting rid of his parental influence in this area has been a life's work, and from my success at it, I can attest that:
  1. If you let other people's opinions shape you, you can not live your own life.
  2. If you dwell in the past, you're future becomes so weighted down with old issues it can't take flight.
  3. If you set your sights too high, you may never start your journey.
  4. If you don't cultivate gratitude for the many good things around you, the negatives can swamp you.
I was well into adulthood, almost 40 in fact, before realizing that Dad's opinions weren't binding on me, that hobbies are healthy, that progressive learning is unavoidable, that skill-building takes time, that there is plenty of room for people in the middle.  We can't all be super-stars.  I learned to take responsibility for my own personal happiness, to value myself as worthy of such happiness, and to reach for and be content with "my own personal best".  Not to compare myself to the brightest stars in the sky, but just shine as brightly as I can.  To take pride in my progress. But it took me many years to quit carrying around that big bag of guilt for doing things I naturally love to do, even if they don't make money or win me high recognition.  I've had to learn to take care of my own inner child, to be my own parent, to praise and encourage myself the way I see other parents praising their kids (and dogs) for every little thing they do.  My blog helps me do that. Every now and then I notice another "guilt" boulder I'm carrying around, and heave it. Yeah!

I expressed my hard won mindset in a poem to my son in 1990, as I struggled to learn to live a joyful life, free from unnecessary struggles and needless grief!  It's called "Mamma's Last Request", and imagines the final piece of advice I would give to anyone about "attitude".

With that mountain mostly climbed, it frees me to work towards a winning attitude in agility.  Of course, more mountains to overcome there.  I'm absolutely no athelete.  I've had to learn and relearn to get up early (I'm a total night person).  I've had to spend money on coaching, developing a precompetition routine, a thicker skin, and get comfortable with the fact that I'll never be a Susan Garrett.  Setting realistic personal goals, not comparing myself to others, are all important tools in my "agility attitude" tool kit.

Counting my blessings is another big tool.  It's the tool kit itself.  This often takes the form of putting positive spin on what seems like a constant stream of negatives.  Here's a poster I used to keep on my wall which, to me, exemplifies the "spin" trick.
     The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.
     While to others I may seem more confused than ever,
     and to myself as well,
     I believe I am confused on a higher level
     and about more important things.

Perhaps I'm not over the guilt yet because I'm still motivated to justify my hobbies.  But here's my spin on having 5 dogs and spending so much time and money on training them.  First and foremost, my dogs are heap good therapy. They pay their way 100 times over. They add structure to my retirement.  I wake up every morning full of motivation (a priceless treasure), and agility is simultaneously my social life, my physical therapy and my antecdote to alzheimers! No telling how much money I save not needing a psychotherapist or anti-depressants to get through life's confusing, sometimes discouraging, jungle. Far from being "superfluous" or even "optional", I consider my dogs and their training essential to me living "the good life".

Pepper guarding his rock, age 7 months.
My dogs, unlike any humans I know, inspire me to stretch beyond my current abilities, then pay me back immediately with acceptance, affection and devotion. They exude confidence in themselves and in me, thus are ideal companions!  They keep me laughing -- heap good medicine!  It's exhilerating to love and be loved so intensely. Maxie, Willow and Lucky Lucy are my therapy, and now Pepper, so full of cocky Papillon attitude and enthusiasm, with his future all ahead of him and totally trusting that I keep him safe and teach him all I can, is another motivator.

Expressions of gratitude for all my blessings, effusively and frequently offered throughout my blog and elsewhere, keeps me rich and mostly upbeat, too!  Money can't buy that.  My cup overfloweth, and I know it.  Hopefully I carry that into the arena.

My dogs are what is motivating me now to heal my aching hip, fix my cataract surgery gone wrong, both of which have about stopped me in my agility tracks, so I can get back to training and trialing with them -- perfecting those well-timed front crosses, serpentines, running contacts, and reliable start-line stays, and giving everything all the intensity I've got.

Thanks for letting me share,


Kathy said...

I know I have more fun with my dogs out on the training field then I would have sitting in a therapists office and it still does the trick to keep me feeling good too! Well worth what we invest :-) at least in my opinion.

local dog walkers said...

such a great post..thanks for sharing this. by walking together with our dog can keeps us healthier and mentally alert. it can really help in stimulating, not only dogs but also people.
Animals and nature do what they do. That leaves only man's free will to tread lightly as possible.