The Ugly Duckling
May 24, 2021
For some reason, I was thinking about Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling story the other day. I’m sure you’ve heard it, the swan raised with ducks who everyone thought was an ugly duck, only it grew up and turned out to be a swan. Gosh, I hope I didn’t spoil that for you?
Anyway, I think one thing everyone misses about this story was that the swan, who was not a duck, was still ugly. Yes, he was surrounded by ducks and everyone thought he was a duck, but everyone knew he was ugly. Until he wasn’t...
The ugly baby swan grew up and became a beautiful swan. But before that, day in and day out, he showed up to be ugly until he was beautiful.
You’ve probably never thought of it that way, huh?
I’m telling you the other side of this fairy tale for a reason: Many of us want success, or we want to move well, or we want something when we decide that we want to. Meaning we create an expectation of imaginary ease when it comes to obtaining a skill, having success, or mastering the movement of our body. Not many of us want to “look like an accident” when we are trying to learn something new or remember how to do something we once did with ease.
I think we should give ourselves permission to start out “ugly.” In fact, we should expect that at the beginning of any new thing, we are going to look like a hot mess of an accident. But, if we show up every day, if we keep growing in what we are doing, eventually we are likely going to be the proud owners of an acquired goal, or we will have learned a new skill or mastered a new movement - eventually, we are going to be a beautiful swan.
We often put unnecessary pressure on ourselves over the silliest of things. We compare ourselves to others who’ve put in the work to be where they are and we make mistaken logic leaps that we can’t do those things or they are just lucky. We don’t want to try new things because we might look silly or we might embarrass ourselves. We often keep ourselves from becoming beautiful because we are afraid we are ugly.
I know you’re having a hard time following me right now but hang tight just a little longer.
We don’t want to look silly. We don’t want to fail. We don’t want our fears. And yet our fears are the very things that are keeping us from the things that we do want.
When you were a child, you looked silly. You did - and you made people smile. When you were a baby, every day you learned how to move by making curious mistakes or accidents. Every day you showed up, looking silly and looking like a moving accident. But eventually, over time, through the process of showing up, you grew and started to move gracefully. Your body grew and suddenly your watermelon head didn’t look so large anymore. You gained new skills, you could jump, run, climb and tumble. And all these new skills started to look like you were doing them on purpose, they looked smooth and poetic.
Do you remember learning how to read? It happened the same way. You tripped over letters and letter combinations. Then you tripped your way over words and then words were strung together. But somehow, through showing up and practice, you learned how to read smoothly and effortlessly.
I’m telling you this because for anything you want, whatever it is - to move well, to lose weight, to learn something new, to speak in public, to run a 5K, to ask someone for a date - it’s okay to look like an accident. It’s okay to fail or miss the mark. It’s okay to trip, stumble and fall. It’s okay to hear the word, “no.” But it’s not okay to let your fears keep you from doing what you were designed to do.
You were made to show up, every day, to stumble until you become smooth. By missing your targets, you adjust your sights. By stumbling, you learn how to fall. By falling, you learn how to get up. By crawling, you learn how to walk and then run. By hearing “no,” you learn how to reach and savor the “yes.”
It is by going through our awkwardness that we gain our abilities to orchestrate the lives we want to live. It’s through showing up, taking chances, making mistakes, looking silly - it’s through being ugly, that we learn how to be beautiful.
It’s okay and good to look like an accident. It’s not okay to not show up. You are here to live a life worth living. Don’t let fear trick you into being unnoticed, for to be unnoticed is to be unnoticeable. Stand out. Show up. Be ugly to be beautiful.