From “My Life in Leotards”
Leotard #1: Pretend your way into success
As a little kid I had a swirling vortex of hyperactive energy much like the Tasmanian Devil. I called that energy “the lovies.” My parents called it “exhausting.” and doctors called it “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” So when I turned eight, instead of dosing me with Ritalin, my parents enrolled me in acrobatic gymnastics in an effort to dilute the lovies.
When I stepped into the gym for the first time and I saw athletes flying through the air and balancing on one another and tumbling and dancing, if the lovies had had a voice, it would have shouted, “Yes! I love this!” Acrobatics was better than kittens or Scooby Doo or even mint chocolate chip ice cream.
As a young acrobat I longed to be like Stacey Tutton, Stacey was on the elite team in my gym and she was a four time national champion in acrobatic gymnastics. Not only was she naturally talented, at age 14 she had a work ethic of a navy seal. She had the most incredible control of her body. Whenever her partner held her in a high one-arm handstand not a single cell on Stacey’s body jiggled or wiggled. It was truly like watching a masterpiece Degas sculpture balanced… upside down.
When I kicked into a handstand, my coach Jurek would catch my ankles and shake me to test for muscle resistance. Then he would set me down and say, “Zer are children in the world wiz talent — and Zen there is Christineka.”
I was not talented. I was unfortunately the “special” child of my class — the last student to learn every skill and the last to move up in levels… for years. It was, in retrospect, a beautiful lesson in humility… that I neither asked for nor wanted.
It was clear to my coaches and to everyone else in my gym that I simply wasn’t cut out for acrobatics. Clear to everyone — except to me. I was the only one who seemed not to notice that I had fallen in love with a sport that didn’t love me back.
My mom, who didn’t care whether I flipped or flopped, she just cherished those breaks from the lovies, went to a team fundraising garage sale where she bought me… Stacey Tutton’s leotard.
I didn’t know if I should wear this leotard or frame it. But I put this leotard on and didn’t take it off for two weeks straight. My mom would peel it off me while I slept to wash it and have it back on me before I awoke in the morning so I didn’t throw a fit but otherwise it remained on.
It looked like a simple long sleeved black polyester leotard, but looks were deceiving because see… it was a magic leotard.
Normally my handstands were as my coach said, like spaghetti noodles, but when I wore this leotard — I became Stacey Tutton.
I would kick into a handstand and I would point my toes just like Stacey did and I would squeeze my muscles like she did and soon my handstands became as good as Stacey Tutton’s handstands.
Ok, it wasn’t a magic leotard…but there was magic involved… It was the magical power of pretending.
I always thought of pretending as a magic wand that helped me reach my goals so I was surprised when I looked up the definition for the English word pretend and found that it’s not an innocent word in our culture. It’s fraught with peril. Synonyms include counterfeit, deception, dupe, sham, fool, bluffing, fake, feign, and lie. Not a word we aim to associate with ourselves.
When I read this, I thought, “I object!.” This was not how I had experienced the word pretend, so, because I’m a nerd, I dug deeper and found that the original meaning of the word pretend has a very different meaning. It comes from the Latin word praetendere, which means “to stretch out before, to aspire to, and to lay claim.”
As children we are the embodiment of the original definition of the word pretend. Kids try on different roles like they’re trying on new outfitsand by doing so they program themselves with new behaviors, which create lasting transformation.
Pretending is an essential part of child development and it’s a crucial part of what makes us smart.
Unfortunately most of us stop pretending and we decide who we’re going to be for the rest of their lives while we’re still just kids. In doing so our persona becomes inflexible and rigid and our life options and choices narrow because in order to do something you’ve never done before, you have to be someone you’ve never been before. You have to be willing to give up who you are now for who you can become.
I’m not advising that you ski down a black diamond on your first skiing trip just because you imagined you’re Picabo Street or Alberto Tomba… but do imagine that you’re Picabo or Alberto … then go down the bunny hill. It’ll make things easier.
And I’m not suggesting that if you’re in debt up to your eyeballs to pretend otherwise but do step into a role of someone who can handle dealing with this problem.
I’m not suggesting you being fake or phony. On the contrary, I want to inspire you into a shift of being. I want to inspire you to take back the original meaning and power of the word pretend.
Your mind doesn’t know the difference between an imagined event and an actual one. It accepts whatever you pretend is real and will use it to create your outer reality.
So create a vision of who you’d like to be, and imagine that you already are that person. Behave like that person would behave. Dress, walk, talk, and think about the things they would think about. Close the gap between who you are now… and who you want to become.
Don’t wait for courage. Act as though you already have it.
I once went bowling as an adult for the first time and of course every ball found its way into the gutter. That is until I remembered, “Be, then do, then have.” So I pretended that I was a champion bowler and I imagined what that ball might feel like in my hands if I had a champion bowler’s hands, and how my body might move if I were a champion bowler and because the body follows where the mind leads, to the shock and awe of my ex-boyfriend, for the next four turns, I knocked down every pin and I won the game.
Wearing Stacey Tutton’s leotard I learned to pretend my way to becoming a great acrobat, and I have pretended my way ever since then into a life that I love including great friends, a loving husband and a really cute dog named Sophie. And all of those things are very real.