The first skill I’ve learned as part of my 100Skills challenge I’ve decided to set for myself (why do I do these things? I really don’t know) was learning how to slackline!
In Sydney I met a guy named Ian who fits my definition of adrenaline junkie – talk about skydiving, rock climbing, bungee jumping, and all sorts of variations of these kinds of things. Although I have done the highest bungee jump in the world (and am very proud of this!), I naturally err on the side of caution, and have often found myself doubting my ability to do something outside of my comfort bubble. Sometimes I go ahead and do these things anyways, mostly proving myself wrong; other times I’ve refrained.
In addition to being a thrill-seeker, Ian is a person who has done a lot of reflection, introspection, and chiseling away at his ego. It is rare to meet somebody in my age bracket who enjoys (or resents but can’t resist) thinking about all of the weird and wonderful things that my mind manages to find. Amongst other things, he has done a yoga teacher training course in India, and after getting to know Ian a bit it became clear that to him these two things – high intensity adventure and mindfulness – are intricately connected. I’ve worked on the latter but had never consciously connected it with the former. I was intrigued.
When Ian suggested to teach me to slackline, my immediate reaction was hell no. I guess that what (little) I knew about it, I always thought that that’s something other people do. I’m not sure why I’d immediately excluded myself from this, but I did. I later revisited it and scolded myself for not being more adventurous. This, combined with echoes of the message from the influential movie Yes Man, made me wonder what the worst thing that could happen really could be. I messaged Ian and said that I wasn’t quite fond of the thought of making a total fool of myself, but that I was maybe willing to give it a shot anyways (can I have a pat on the back please, Mom?)
Fast forward a couple of weeks later, and I found ourselves in a park at nighttime. Ian kicked back on a picnic blanket, chilled tunes setting the scene, and I had a daring toe testing this strange tight-rope, feeling vibrations of sleeping muscles ripple through my leg as I pushed my weight down. I was apprehensive. My complete “incompetence” plagued my thoughts. He spoke to me about how when on the rope, one must clear the mind; focus only on an anchor in the far distance – where it is, where you are at, and what your next step is. He said that you need to be happy and at peace with where you are at a given moment, holding the anchor in your mind but not stressing about getting there immediately.
Practicing contentment is the only way to walk the line. Does this not sound like something that is applicable to our greater lives? (Cue Eckhart Tolle references).
Ian said that slacklining is like a form of meditation with instant feedback. Often with other forms of meditation, if one becomes distracted it can actually take a while for them to realise that this has happened. This happens in our day-to-day lives too. How many times has a person been speaking to you when you realise you’ve missed a whole chunk of their story? How many times have you read a page of a book and realised you didn’t take in a single thing? With slacklining however, even half a moment of distraction and you start to lose your balance. This spoke to me. I physically felt the gravity of these words and it took some practicing to align my mind and body, forgetting any trivial anxieties of looking like a total rookie.
After maybe 1-2 hours, I managed to stand up on the line and walk across from one end to the other without any assistance. It was a short line, and I am sure there are greater things one can achieve in this life! But to do in one evening what I truly doubted was a very big eye-opener for me, and it set me on track for this project (more below). Amazingly, I enjoyed the activity so much that I have plans to get myself a slackline and improve my physical and mental balance when I’m back in Asia or home. Ian goes to parks and sets up a line, reads books, and then walks the line whilst reflecting on what he’s read. I’m sure that takes a lot of practice. But I want to do that too.
He has also written a really interesting blog which got some publicity, and although he hasn’t updated it in a while, if you’re interested in all of the crazy beautiful things he has gotten up to then check it out here.
I only had that one photo of my first skill for this project because the idea for 100Skills was born after this experience! So Ian very kindly allowed for photos of his to be uploaded to this post (at least it’s more authentic than a Google search for photos!)
From this experience, the idea of 100Skills was born. A couple of days after slacklining with Ian, I went for a run (my go-to form of meditation) and the idea just came to me. What if, for the rest of my travels (and beyond), I ask people to teach me the basics of any soft/hard skills in which they are proficient? Everybody is talented in or passionate about something. In exchange I could either teach some of my own skills, or simply offer a meal/friendship/conversations about my upbringing and home country (many people I’ve met have never met another South African before!) We all have a unique story, and everyone I meet seems so receptive to and interested in each others’.
There are countless things out there that we can learn – so many potential hobbies and interests that we may have never otherwise encountered or given a shot. It literally could be anything – moonwalking, welding, origami, counting from 1-20 in Japanese… the possibilities are endless.
Even if something turns out to not be my cup of tea, I’d have had the experience of meeting someone new (or getting to know someone better), allowing them to share a passion of theirs with me, and everyone involved will have had a unique interaction with another individual.
I am going to aim to learn as many new skills as I can for the rest of my trip. I have no idea if I’ll even get close to 100, but the number is more of a motivator for me to try and do this as often as I can. I’ll write about the new skills and people here on the blog, and will give them exposure if they allow/want it. This project might have an overlap with my Someone I Once Met section; if I find this to be the case, I might merge the two together.
This whole project might have much bigger implications than just for myself and those I meet along the way. I’m going to see it as a kind of pilot study, and at the end I might take this further when back home if I can still envisage it developing into something bigger. South Africa has a massive skills shortage, and this might be one angle to begin to address it.
I’d love to hear any thoughts or comments 🙂