In the great tradition of those before me, I gradually gave up a few city extravagances in favour of local ones. High heels were traded for hiking boots. Haircuts, once scheduled at six week intervals, were put on a once-a-year rotation and all my spare money became a fund for the local endeavors of ski touring and mountain biking, two new-to-me sports.
For my first day at the mountain bike park, I was riding an 11-year-old full suspension mountain bike, and I was clad in pink Victoria Secret shorts, an old t-shirt, and pair of fingerless gloves leftover from when rollerblading was still a thing. I was three turns into the first run when I heard the clang-clang of a fast-approaching rider behind me. I nervously braked, pulled over, and dismounted just in time for the rider behind me to yell “You doing great!” as he whizzed by.
In my early days of ski touring, I was the last one up the mountain. Hatless, gloveless, and jacketless, I huffed and puffed up the trail feeling like the skis on my feet were significantly heavier than when I started my trek. I would casually glance behind me, half hoping that something was caught on my skis, something that would really justify how slow I was walking. Sweat accumulated on my skin with a complete disregard for the sub-zero temperatures, and when I finally reached my friends –casually gathered, brows dry, halfway through their mid-morning snack– one of them would always announce “You’re doing great!”.
Begrudgingly, I found those three words followed me from sport to sport. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers tried to be supportive and encouraging. I was obviously struggling and they tried earnestly to raise my spirits and give me a reason to carry on. But here’s the thing — no one says “you’re doing great” to anyone who is actually doing great.
Imagine, Martha Stewart placing the last perfect marzipan rose on the top tier of a impeccable wedding cake. “You’re doing great!” the production assistant cheerfully announces.
Or imagine a damsel in distress, strapped to the rail tracks with an oncoming train fast approaching. Superman flies in at the last second completing another flawless rescue. “Hey Superman, you’re doing great!” a bystander yells.
Stephen King, writing the final paragraphs of his soon-to-be best-selling novel. “You’re doing great!” his editor emails him.
It’s like “you’re doing great” is reserved specifically for those who are clearly not doing great. For the hyper-conscious novice it’s not encouraging; it’s the verbal equivalent of an “underage” wristband at a bar or an “N” for new driver stuck to your bumper. Whenever I hear it, I know the jig is up, the clock has struck midnight and I’ve failed to look like I actually know what I’m doing. I’ve turned from what I hoped was passing for competent mountain biker back into an obvious newbie, someone who it appears will benefit from the three words usually reserved for six-year-olds at a soccer practice.
I’m hoping one day I’ll achieve a level of competence that means I can ski tour or mountain bike without a single person telling me I’m doing great. Then I know I’ll actually be doing great.