One of the many strange things about being in the field of psychology is that despite an ongoing effort to open thoughts and emotions up for exploration, sometimes the clinician’s perspective can actually become quite narrow. I understand that reads like a paradox when so much of the profession is about opening things up, providing space, perspective and potential. But sometimes in the pursuit of opening things up, we can unintentionally close things off. 
I was reminded of this paradox a few weeks ago when I met up with my kiddo’s pro at our local skatepark.  She needed some help problem solving around lines that had her at a standstill. A line is basically how you see part of the park and decide to skate it. Skateboarders will point out lines to each other, and ask each other about lines regarding different transitions or parts of the park. Sometimes no matter what you do, and how much feedback you seek from other skaters you just end up stuck. You cannot find the speed, foot position, or finesse to finish the line. It kind of feels like when you get close to finishing a puzzle only to discover there is a piece missing. 
The kiddo has been working on a particular line for over 2 years. About five days a week, all year long for two full years. She has sought feedback, advice, pointers, just about anything and everything to get this line. At one point she stopped trying altogether, so overcome with frustration, she just couldn't even watch anyone else do it. She took about a month off of even trying, which seemed like forever after working on it for so long. 
Toward the end of our morning at the skatepark last week, she and the pro started working on it. He skated through the line, stood at the end, thought quietly for a moment, and said, “Okay, now you.” The kid went through and continued to come up short, unable to pop out and stay on her board.  It’s been like this for two years. Agony. The pro stood back, took it all in, and said, “Alright, here’s what you have to do.” He gave her a few quick pointers. More pressure here, move your feet here, lean here not here, pop up this way. “I’ll stand here. If you need me, just reach out and grab my hand. But you got this.”
My kid stood at the edge of her white whale. Took a deep breath and pushed. 
She came up short. 
Overwhelmed with frustration, she growled. Shoulders hunched up by her ears. Fists clenched. We could feel the guttural grunts bounce off the concrete walls and crash into the air. The pro said, “Okay. You are really close. But do not get frustrated. Just don’t do it. You got this. Here we go again. I’m here if you need me.” 
And again. 
She came up short. 
Her board took flight cutting across the sky. “Damn it,” she screamed. “I can’t keep my feet on the board.” 
I watched from a distance. Nearly holding my breath. I’ve seen this anger in her before. This frustration. It becomes alive. It is its own animal. And sometimes she just cannot come back from it. In my head I thought, she's done. Session over. But I sat back and let her and the pro work it out. 
Again, the pro totally unphased by her frustration, approached the kiddo and said, “Yeah I see that. Do not be frustrated. Just do not be frustrated. All of this is frustrating. So what’s the difference? Decide not to be frustrated. You got this. I'm here.”
And just like that.
The kid decided not to be frustrated. Her shoulders relaxed. She took a deep breath. Something opened up. 
She got back on her board. Got in position, took off and nailed it. 
The park erupted in screams of delight. My husband let out a “fuck yeah” and pumped his fists. The pro ran over to the kid lifting her in the air. Then she ran to me crying. And collapsed to the concrete. I could feel the block, the stuckness rise from her body into the air like beautiful snakes. She let go. She phoenixed. And it was magical. 
The kid got up, grabbed a drink, and did it about 10 more times, celebrating after each completion. Then retired to the shade and took off her gear. 
We were all shaking. 
And I got curious. 
After years of validating the kid’s frustration, seeing her in all her anger, and assuring her that she is allowed to be frustrated, what actually worked to pull her through was naming the frustration, but paying it no mind. And that was a new kind of genius. I’m not sure if it was a closing off or the idea that things could be different and she could control that, but either way, the suggestion that she just decided to not be frustrated worked and I was mesmerized. This was a different kind of acknowledgment and I needed to know all about it. 
So I asked the pro. And I got a really interesting answer. 
“Basically,” he said, “it comes down to skateboarding being totally frustrating.” Forever. To the point that it is just a natural part of the sport. Failure too. If you get on a board, you accept that you will fail and be frustrated. A lot. 
“So if frustration is a constant, how much does it really matter?” 
I love this question. 
And it really got me thinking. 
For one, if frustration has already been accepted and in some small or big way we have decided that regardless of the risks, frustration, steep learning curve, etc., that the joy something brings outweighs the frustration, we have already made the decision that frustration matters less. The pro’s point was that the kid had already accepted that truth. To be frustrated, like forever. He did, I did. Everyone at the skatepark had already accepted that. So how much did it really matter? Frustration had been acknowledged long ago. And the minute frustration disappears, the nature of skateboarding is to try something new and be vulnerable to frustration once again. Frustration remains no matter how much it is explored or insight is gained about it. Perhaps the greatest insight around the frustration is that it will never go away. 
I felt a tremendous sense of freedom in this permanence. A freedom to just let something be what it is. And not dig deep, dive in, or even get curious. What is there to be curious about here? Sometimes, maybe not much. And this seemed to go against every instinct I have as a therapist to work toward opening up, peeling back layers, and diving in deep.  And I kind of loved that.
I’m not saying of course that deep introspection is not valuable. I think you all know me well enough to assume that I remain the biggest fan of introspective work. The difference here is that maybe not everything needs to be explored so deeply. Sometimes a thing is just a thing. Or as Freud famously reminds us, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” More than that though, this experience was a lesson in opening up your process to others. Especially when stuck. This is the ALCHEMY of perspective. 
And yet again, thank you skateboarding and RH, who I never seem to stop learning from. 

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