Falling Down

There was a lucky break in the rainstorm when I showed up for the slacklining workshop.  But the line strung between two trees was still intimidatingly high: it was almost at my waist.  I had no idea how I was going to get on it—let alone walk across it—without falling onto the wet grass below.

My friend, Alex Milaychev, was hosting the slacklining workshop.  I was nervous to attend.  Slacklining, or walking across a suspended rope, is notoriously difficult.  I’m good at looking graceful in pictures—namely, when I’m standing still.  But my balance is not exactly great.  I knew I was going to fall on my ass.  A lot.  And I was scared about it.

But I enjoy trying new things, especially things that scare me.  So I decided I had to give slacklining a go.  

Alex didn’t give us much time to worry.  She started us off immediately: our first step was just getting on the rope (a feat in itself) and walking with a partner.  We balanced by putting our hand on our partner’s shoulder, making it much harder for us to actually fall off.

It was still incredibly difficult.  My legs were shaking like I had a muscle spasm.  I gripped my partner’s shoulder for dear life.  And I still fell off after only a few steps.  

Falling that first time was terrifying.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Would it hurt?  Would I injure myself?  Would I look like an idiot?  I couldn’t believe the number of panicked thoughts that ran through my mind as I felt myself tip over.

As it turns out, falling actually wasn't that bad.  I managed to land on my feet, and get back on the line immediately after.  

Falling also became less scary with repetition.  The more I did it, the more tricks I figured out.  I learned that it was easier to commit to the fall than hesitate.  And I quickly learned that I got smacked by the line if I didn’t go with it.  

And then Alex gave me another exercise.  I had to learn how to fall.  But wasn’t I already falling?  And not eating grass in the process, thank you very much.  

As it turns out, I had gotten comfortable with falling because I had learned one way to do it.  I fell one direction, one way each time.  I had practiced it, just like I was practicing walking the line, and I had gotten good at it.  But that was no way to progress.  Alex had me alternate which side I fell to, so I never fell the same way twice.

Falling was good practice for failure.

As I practiced falling left, right, left, I realized falling was good practice for failure, or making mistakes.  And that what Alex had taught me about slacklining applied to other fields as well.  

First, falling (and failing) is scary, especially when I’ve never done it before.  But it’s actually not that scary once I've experienced it.  Yes, there are unlucky worst case scenarios.  But I’ll generally land on my feet—even if the line smacks me in the butt a time or two.  Failure is not as bad as I think it is.  And risking it and making mistakes is the only way to progress and learn.

Second, sometimes I get too comfortable with my mistakes.  It’s easy to do the same thing wrong, over and over again, because I’ve become accustomed to that particular failure.  But it’s important to make new mistakes.  If I fail differently, I’ll learn faster.  

These two lessons solidified for me something that’s been bothering me about my modeling.  I adore my work, but I feel like I’ve developed a style that people expect and hire me for.  So in the past year or so, I’ve been branching out my modeling.  I’ve been experimenting with poses.  I've wanted to create interesting shapes and explore new ideas.  I just wasn’t quite sure how to succeed at it.  

Slacklining, of all things, showed me how to move forward.  Since that workshop, I’ve been making a lot of mistakes in my photos—purposefully.  Because they’re interesting mistakes, and because they’re different mistakes.  And guess what?  A lot of those experiments have paid off, in some great photos that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the courage to create.  

I will definitely be going back for more slacklining: I can’t wait to see what I discover next.  If you want to try your hand at slacklining too and see what lessons you learn, you can do so here.