Op/Ed

Lessons in listening: ‘Add-in’ some fun and kindness

I had my first tennis dream last week. Although the particulars faded as my alarm chimed, I woke with a feeling of contentment. I am fairly certain that in my dream world I hit that sweet spot without fail. I am grateful for this subconscious fantasy, as in reality, the connection between the ball and my racket is few and far between. As my observant daughter noted this summer, I’m not particularly good at tennis, but I am entertaining.
Curiously, this doesn’t leave me particularly embarrassed or disappointed. On the contrary, each week I can’t wait for my 6:45 a.m. Friday lessons to arrive. My venture into tennis started this summer. A three-day workshop was offered for beginners and I wrangled three brave friends into joining me. It only took those three days, and we were hooked. And in our excitement, we’ve talked it up around town enough to cajole more ladies to join us.
In my coaching role, this experience would undoubtedly be considered a success. A crew of seven full-time working mothers, with children ranging from three to 15, have figuring out how to carve out at least one session a week to learn a new, healthy activity. Just as it is important to explore the challenges we experience with integrating healthy behaviors, it is equally useful to examine the elements that contribute to success. The more we understand our intrinsic motivators, the better chance we have at living a life that supports our best selves. For each of us, this is going to look different, as our core values are naturally varied. In reflection, here is what made this a win for me:
I love to play. Learning to play tennis is joyful. We aren’t just given permission to play, we are instructed to play. Although we are grown women, our instructors help us learn through the same chase and tag games that they use with kids. And believe me, there has yet to be morning that hasn’t been filled with laughter — a life essential. It’s actually a common health goal: to cultivate more laughter and lightheartedness. There is genuine suffering in our lives and in our world, and finding outlets to experience even momentary joy helps restore our energy and the hope needed to meet our inevitable challenges.
I value cooperation. In these beginner lessons, cooperation is the key to our individual and collective success. Each lesson, our instructors, Heather and Franz, make us start in closer to the net. They bellow, “cooperation” as we struggle to maintain a simple rally. We depend on each other to play in a manner that gives us the best chance to sustain some action. We can’t simply smack the ball at each other early on, because we lack the skill set to return those wild Wilsons. We are practicing patience, control, and understand that collaboration benefits us all for the long game. This is a truth I know both on and off the court, and practicing it regularly helps me apply it at home, work, and in my larger community.
Kindness matters to me. Prior to our first session, my gals and I engaged in the self-deprecating banter about who would be the worst, as if we could actually save ourselves any embarrassment when we were awkward and uncoordinated. The truth is, though, we all hit some stinkers as well as some amazing shots. What I’ve heard over and over, though, are words of encouragement. “Nice hit, EJ.” “Awesome backhand, Dana.” We are all committed to the learning process and understand that it can be hard to not be good at things when you are an adult. We’ve spent years creating a world in which we are competent. Moving back into a space where you aren’t an expert is brave. Having friends to remind you that it’s OK to be a novice and root for you can make all the difference. 
True wellbeing is possible when we align our values and lived experiences. Where in your life do you recognize that alignment? Let it be your springboard and path to a meaningful life. Happy autumn.
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Integrative Health Coach at Middlebury College. Learn more about her and her coaching at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.

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