What I’ve Learned Along the Way

Blog, Vicki's Column

When you’re told you get to write your own column and you begin by talking about agility with dogs, you wonder if you’ll get the go-ahead to write a second column. Promise you, I’ll make this worth the read.

The smartest dog on the planet is my shadow, a 9-pound Japanese chin named Romeo. If you know anything about agility — most people don’t — it’s a companion sport that involves dogs leaping over jumps, running through tunnels and navigating weave poles all in an obstacle course setting. As a handler, you learn to use your body language to control every move your dog makes.

Unlike Border Collies, Japanese chins aren’t natural agility dogs, and my own movement, described at times as wooden, doesn’t exactly flow rhythmically.

Romeo and I went to our first agility class on a chilly fall night in 2019. I was no natural and neither was he. Agility looks far easier the rare times it’s on TV. I wasn’t sold. I’m self-conscious about anybody watching me do anything, let alone critiquing how I move. When the instructor mentioned competitions, my instant reaction was: I’ll never do that. I didn’t talk to any of my classmates beyond a quick hello.

But the next week, we returned.

Two years later, Romeo has earned agility titles, novice ones. I speak a language with a vernacular of terms that includes front cross, threadle and Q for qualifying score.

Best of all, I’ve made meaningful connections with dozens of people I otherwise would never know. Over classes, trials and road trips, I’ve learned about this world that two years ago I had no idea existed.

I’m reminded of a time when as a newspaper reporter I spotted a bridge tournament happening in Virginia Beach. I cannot for the life of me figure out bridge beyond knowing it’s played with a deck of cards. I raised my hand to write a scene-setting story and grew fascinated about that world the moment I stepped into it. I had no idea bridge players can earn upward of $300,000 by teaching “clients,” often seniors serious about bridge, the nuances of bidding and proper defensive strategy.

Oh how our own world opens up when we leave our comfort zones behind and set out simply to learn.

Despite the unlimited choices around us, it has never been easier to be comfortable. Think of how we tailor our newsfeeds and timelines to our interests — I now get popup ads trying to bait me into buying agility equipment.

For business reasons, we instinctively mingle with like-minded others a lot, whether it be via LinkedIn or at professional functions. We come home with business cards that we stash somewhere.

Traditional networking has its benefits. But so does investing a portion of our time in something far removed from our comfort zone and giving ourselves to it minus any agenda. I didn’t take an agility class with the inkling that it would someday lead to my taking over a professional social media account and yet that happened.

When we get out of our silos, wonderful things can follow. We connect with people who aren’t on our radar and learn what makes them tick. It’s possible to discover an untapped community by interacting with people who aren’t in our inner circle, who we wouldn’t find on Facebook or naturally connect with on LinkedIn.

Engaging with an entirely new audience isn’t just eye-opening. It’s invaluable in the way it expands your perspective and your reach.

You can stray from your comfort zone by ice skating, hot yoga or ballroom dance lessons. Kayak fish or decorate cakes or join a roller derby league. Heck, try agility with your dog.

Whatever you set out to do, embrace it. Maybe it’ll be just OK, or it might not be for you at all. As a new mother two decades ago, I was determined to make friends by joining a moms of preschoolers group. I eventually found myself dreading meetings and dropped out.

Or maybe it will lead you to a place, introduce you to a new audience, broaden your scope in ways you never imagined.

Vicki L. Friedman writes for Consociate Media after spending the majority of her career in sports writing, journalism and professional communications. She is a mom to two grown sons and three Japanese chins, including novice agility champion, Romeo.