Susan Garrett wrote an interesting post on her blog today entitled The Key to Dog Training: Feeling Comfortably Stupid.  In it she writes “As dog trainers we can’t think that we must always have all the answers, we can’t be afraid to fail, and we must let go of the visualization of being perfect.”  

I’ve actually been thinking along these lines since the workshop on Saturday (I think I mentioned it in one my posts?), that is, that I need to stop being so darn serious when I train.  I actually need to stop being so darn serious, period. I put tremendous pressure on myself to be perfect all the time, and then spend an enormous amount of energy beating myself up for every mistake.  And of course I make mistakes constantly, because I’m human, and I’m very critical of myself.

When I train, especially during a lesson, I feel tremendous pressure to be perfect.  This was particularly true when I was taking herding lessons, exacerbated by an instructor who also expected me to be perfect and who was critical of everything I did.  I mean, I would come off a trial field with a first in each class and the championship for the weekend and before I could even put  my dog up she’d track me down and ask “so… what did you do wrong?”  Of course, I always had a long list to rattle off, having asked myself this question long before. 

I never once felt I deserved the wins we accomplished this summer.  Isn’t that pathetic?  Hannah and I were so far ahead of our nearest competition that we won the regional championship for the year without attending one third of the trials, yet I felt I could have, and should have done much better and didn’t deserve the trophy that sits in my living room.  Good thing I believe my dog deserves it (she does!!) as otherwise I don’t know that I could look at it without blushing.  

I always thought that I was much kinder to myself at agility, and in comparison to when I’m herding, this is true.  But when I watched my colleague this weekend playing around with her dog when they made mistakes and just trying different things until they got it right, keeping everything fun and lighthearted, I realized that I am taking even agility too seriously.  Good thing Hannah can put up with me!  And perhaps no wonder Mira can’t.  

I am this way outside of dog training as well.  I am in the 5th year of my PhD in a program that does its best to push people out the year in 4 years.  The national average for this degree is 7.5 years, so I’m still well ahead of many.  But I feel like a tremendous failure for not having graduated yet (and still having roughly another year to go – in part because of losing a year to stress induced health problems, and more time because of all the projects I’m involved in, not to mention working 4 part-time jobs and so on…). I feel so bad about myself that I am convinced that the department will kick me out if I show my face, so I don’t.  I avoid the building completely, in fact, and work from home.  I’m doing really great work, yet am ashamed to show my face because I don’t meet their stupidly unrealistic guidelines (mind you, they make a point of making you feel really bad about it).

So how exactly does one embrace stupidity? Especially when you’ve spent four decades trying to do the impossible and be perfect at everything?  How do you just let it go, loosen up, and have fun?

I’m not sure, but I’m going to try.  Somehow I need to stop thinking that things are the end of the world.  If I hadn’t won the regional championship this summer what would have happened?  Would the earth have stopped turning?  Would my dog have stopped loving me?  Ok, so my trainer would have probably ditched me, but I actually already elected to stop working with her.  And if I don’t finish this PhD?  Will my life be over? (how horrible that my instant answer to this is YES!  I’m trying soooo hard to convince myself otherwise…).  I even worry about writing something incorrect in this blog, even though it is impossible for me to be right about everything!  

Boy, do I need to learn to lighten up.  I think the first step is to take my dogs outside and just PLAY.  In fact, I’m going to do that right now…