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Goeun Park: Try new things, despite possible failure

So this is what mediocrity feels like, I thought. An 11-minute mile in the prime of my youth and ratty gym shoes soaked in rainwater.

Here’s the thing — anything further than the distance between my couch and my refrigerator and physical movement breaching two miles per hour is a bad omen in my book. I know that exercise will make me a “better person” and it’s supposed to release endorphins and whatnot but can I just…not?

Running (if I can even call it that) for longer than five minutes exhausts me. It makes my insides twist and my outsides ache in a way that can’t possibly be healthy. Running is probably the bane of my existence.

And I still do it. I went for a run around the neighborhood this morning knowing fully well that it would be slow and pain-inducing. I huffed and puffed back to my front door, clumsily splashing all the way. I can still feel my lungs heaving and my ego writhing at how completely pathetic I must have looked.

Not to brag or anything but I’m quite spectacular at being completely unspectacular.  Physical exercise only skims the list.

For example, I joined tennis junior year because I thought it would get me out of taking a quarter of a gym class. It didn’t. I was arguably the worst player on the team. I joined cross country skiing senior year because I thought it’d be fun. It was. I was definitely the worst skier on the team.

Somewhere along the way, I must have missed the memo saying that 18 is too late to start. Don’t I know there are 15-year-old Olympic medalists? Don’t I know these people have been in ballet or chess or vocals since they were 4? Sure I do.

Of course they’re remarkable and it’s a given that I’ll look like a fish out of water in comparison. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually get a kick out of making a fool out of myself. However, I do enjoy trying new things — failing miserably just happened to be a common side-effect.

Please know that I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is literally my life. I could write a whole autobiography based on failing physics tests, slumming in a third-chair clarinet status and spelling “hammock” wrong in the eighth grade spelling bee.

Yet, there are victories in all these failures. Yes, I failed physics tests, but at least I had the guts to take them in the first place. Yes, I sat at the end of the band food chain for years but I could still do something most people couldn’t. And yes, I spelled “hammock” wrong in front of the whole school when I was 14 — much to my undying chagrin — but English isn’t even my first language. (Take that, Spelling Bee!)

There is no shame in starting slow. One of the most important lessons I learned in school was embracing mediocrity.  In first grade, the teacher had us read from a list of 100 words we were expected to know like “box” and “cat.” I could read one word and that was a letter “I.” The next two years consisted of being excused for ESL lessons and faking my way through grammar.

When I started inhaling books and exhaling ideas, everything came out wrong. I was awful at writing and I knew I was awful at it. I knew this but frankly, I was too young or too stupid to care.

I made up stories faster than I could write them down and eventually, they weren’t so horrible. It took me over 12 years to be able to craft sentences into paragraphs and then string paragraphs into this. Twelve years to tell you that it’s perfectly alright to start late because it doesn’t matter as long as you start.

One of my favorite people in the entire universe, Ira Glass, once said, “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. … It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

You just gotta fight your way through. I just have to crawl my way to the finish line over and over again and eventually, I’ll be running that 10K. If I could go back 10 years, no, three years, and tell myself one thing, it’d be this: “Try something new. Be embarrassingly bad at it. Slowly rise to mediocrity. Practice, practice, practice. Become a star. Rinse and repeat.”

Goeun Park is senior at Detroit Lakes High School.