There are certain days and times in our lives that are universally acknowledged as being “scary”.
Your first day at school. Public speaking. Bungee jumping. Starting your own business.
What most people seem to forget is that everything, every single thing that you take for granted as part of your daily life now was scary the first time you did it.
I was reminded of this during a conversation with a friend a few months ago when he told me he had never deposited a cheque. It hasn’t had much impact on his adult life (who uses cheques in 2014?) but he admitted he had missed out on childhood birthday and Christmas gifts that came in the form of cheques, because he didn’t know what to do with them.
For most of us, the idea of being too unsure of yourself to go into a bank and ask them to process your cheque is likely to be pretty baffling. Perhaps you assume my friend is an extraordinarily timid person. He isn’t.
What you’re probably forgetting is what it felt like the first time YOU had a cheque to deposit. I wasn’t there, of course, but I can make a reasonable guess that you:
1. Didn’t know exactly what to say. (For years during my adolescence, thanks to the influence of American TV shows, I used the completely incorrect phrase “I’d like to cash this cheque” with bank staff. It was obviously close enough.)
2. Didn’t know what you needed to bring. The cheque, naturally. Your bank card? Three certified copies of documents providing proof of identity? The birthday card the cheque came in to prove its authenticity? Who knows! You’ve never done it before!
3. Didn’t know what to expect as confirmation that the cheque has been successfully deposited. One of the scariest things about doing something new is that, often, even when you have done it you don’t know how to tell whether you did it correctly. Should you be asking for a receipt? Will the money be there straight away? How will you know if something’s gone wrong?
All of which isn’t to suggest that depositing a cheque is an insurmountably difficult task- after all, once you’ve done it the first time you realise there was really nothing to worry about – but to remind you that that worry probably did exist, even if only a little.
Today more than ever, I’m trying to remember that everything is scary the first time, because I just had my first SFI class.
I guess I imagined that, at the start of the course, I would sit down in a room full of other immigrants who were new to SFI, we’d introduce ourselves to each other and our teacher, and we would embark upon the course together, from page one.
What actually happened was, first, a half hour session of introductory information for new students (myself and two other immigrants) provided in spoken Swedish, with occasional checks that we understood. When I once indicated to the speaker (I would use his job title, but I don’t know what it is and nor does Google Translate – the school administrator, I guess?) that I didn’t understand, he looked at me askance and asked “what didn’t you understand?” Well, I don’t know, given that I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT.
Following this, we were taken to our classroom and invited to join the class. There were, I guess, 15 or 20 students sat around tables. Their class had already begun. In fact, it became quickly apparent from the other students’ confidence, ability and familiarity with the class that they had all been enrolled in SFI for weeks, perhaps longer.
I sat there surrounded by Swedish – Swedish on the tape for the listening exercise the class was halfway through when we joined, Swedish from the teacher, Swedish written on the board, Swedish from the mouths of the other students – and it was all I could do not to burst into tears. I felt utterly, utterly out of my depth.
For weeks I had been looking forward to starting SFI; I didn’t arrive this morning feeling nervous or worried. But my first day, as it turned out, was scary. It was terrifying. I left the building wondering how I would be able to face it the next morning, and every morning every weekday for the weeks to come.
But already I’m feeling hopeful that tomorrow won’t be so bad. Today was the first time, and everything is scary the first time.
Before long, I assume, it will just be part of my daily routine and I will wonder how I could ever have found it so unsettling.
If there’s something to be learned from all of this, I guess it’s “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Everyone probably has something you’ve never done because you weren’t sure how to do it – maybe something that it’s embarrassing to admit you’ve never done. Go do it. Google it or ask someone how or just figure it out and do it. There’ll be one less scary thing in your life at the end of the day.