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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Russian Lessons

Maybe I'm writing this today for all the talented procasturbators out there who still have plenty of time, plenty of time, come on, don't freak out, baby, relax, before the IRS's midnight deadline and who'd therefore like something fun to read in the meantime...but last night I was thinking about our tendency as a species to negatively compare ourselves to those we admire..and how dangerous it is. I blame Facebook. Partly because it's easier, and partly because you go on Facebook, and you see all these other people promoting this perfect version of their lives, and you start thinking," wtf happened to me?!!"
Nothing. Relax. Those people are just like you, I promise you, they're just better at playing the game.
This happens to me all the time. I have clients who suggest that since I'm successful (...or something) now, well, clearly I don't know how hard it is to get started, and they could never be like me and I don't appreciate how hard things are for them, gawd! Simma down...
Listen, I know EVERYTHING about how brutally hard it is to get started--I was a history major with a law degree, remember?--and who's saying you should be like me? (Do we really need two of me? Git yer mind out of the gutter and don't answer that.) I'm saying you should be more like you...and stop comparing yourself to anyone else.
Comparing yourself to someone already engaged in something you're interested in, is like thinking you'd like to learn Russian, and then watching a movie, for example, in Russian and deciding, "Wow, that's a hard way I could ever be as good as those guys. I better not..." Yeah, especially because the people in the film are probably native speakers who grew up in Russia, speaking Russia! Sweet fancy Moses.
I'm cranky because I hear this defeatist attitude all the time. All. The. Time! And what's the point? Now you just shot yourself down and decided not to try something you might have loved! (Irritating.)
Instead, what if you studied Russian, made mistakes, had an atrocious accent and made Russians giggle...what if, right? I did and guess what? Eventually I became "fluent" in Russian. I could study, work and live in Russia, and Russians would ask, "Hmm, your Russian is so good...what part of Armenia are you from?" The part known as the Upper West Side?
If you compare yourself to someone already engaged in an activity, or whatever it is you're interested in, you will always lose. And you'll get discouraged. And you'll assume you won't be able to achieve what someone else did..and eventually, you'll end up giving yourself permission to not do it. And then, you really will lose.
True story: I spent my junior year of college in Petrozavodsk, Russia. To say my Russian was "bad" is truly a generous understatement. People would ask me the time and I'd have to mentally dissect the sentence. One time my landlady's grandchildren laughed at me because I couldn't understand what she wanted me to do. Laughed at me for hours. (Good memory!) What she wanted me to do was the laundry. Sigh.
I used to go to sleep exhausted every night from the strain of trying to understand what the hell everyone around me was saying. It was exactly as much relaxing fun as you'd suspect.
And then, after about 6 months, I was at a party, and a Russian friend told a hilarious joke...and I got it. I got it as she said it! I thought that was the funniest joke ever, I thought my friend was brilliant...all the vodka, beer, cherry brandy, apricot brandy, more vodka, Georgian wine and even more vodka probably didn't hurt. (What? Oh, all the alcohol? Come on: it was Tuesday.)
My point being: Russians love to party and eat pickled mushrooms and are very talented at telling hilariously malicious jokes.
Also: I never would have learned the language if I had accepted at the outset how horrible I was at speaking it. And by "horrible," I mean, saying things like, "Me to walk to market to buy to chicken?" (On the other hand, I had a remarkable natural fluency in Russian profanity...which got me yelled at a lot by my Russian landlady, Yulia. Then, on her birthday, she and I shared a pan of friend potatoes and 2 bottles of vodka and we became BFF. Her 70th birthday, by the way.)
But learning Russian, and living in Russia, gave me so much! I wouldn't trade those experiences, good and bad, for anything. I didn't just learn a language, or experience a different culture...I learned some amazing stuff about myself. (Whoa...when did this suddenly become an ABC Afterschool Special...?)
And when people compare themselves, and find themselves lacking...they're losing so much more than they know....
And when you're ready to stop comparing yourself, email me @!

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