Trying Times: Braids and Basic Life Skills

Megan Orr, Opinions Editor // Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo

If I’m being honest, which I have been known for, I haven’t really felt like trying anything new lately. I’ve been bogged down in the ‘hump day’ that is mid-semester/February just like the rest of you. I haven’t exactly had the capacity to prioritize anything other than, ‘THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE YESTERDAY’ and saying things like, “Oh my God, I’m sooooo stressed” while binge-watching The Good Place on Netflix. Although the show was great, the past few weeks have generally been a bit of a bummer.  

What I have finally managed to try and not exactly master, but definitely improve upon, is the crown braid. Exciting stuff, I know. I have thick, unruly, coarse and generally unmanageable hair, so trying to do anything with it other than a sort of uninspired air dry or an ‘up-do’ such as a messy ponytail or a wispy bun is seemingly impossible, especially when I can barely find the motivation to shower.  

I have long aspired to be able to braid my hair well. I stare enviously at anyone I see pulling off a braided look. I love a good tight french braid, but also appreciate the messy boho fishtail that so many wonderful women can pull off. I have always jealously peered at their hair and then shrugged in defeat because I am just bad at braiding so what can be done? 

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, even though this is about a type of braid, it isn’t actually about the braid. Yes, I have been trying to master the crown braid for literal years, so the satisfaction I felt when I got it to look how it was supposed to and actually stay in place, not once, but twice this weekend, was immeasurable. However, the real takeaway from this whole ‘trying’ experience was that I am actually capable of not just trying new things but also improving my abilities and increasing my capabilities.  

I recently learned that I struggle with a huge mental block that is called a “fixed mindset.” The concept is something that was formulated by psychologist Carol Dweck in her research and book Mindset, which examines the ways in which people enable or limit their success. It’s a simple idea that essentially divides people into two mindsets: fixed or growth. According to Dweck, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits,” and that natural talent is what creates success. Conversely, a growth mindset acknowledges that “basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.”  

So, I have gone most of my life with a fixed mindset, just shrugging my shoulders and saying ‘oh well’ when I don’t automatically know how to do certain things. In some ways that has been beneficial, because it has forced me to focus on further developing the things that I am naturally good at, but in a lot more ways it has hindered my overall growth. This is something that I have been knocking my head up against for a long time and only just realized as I pinned the tail end of my dutch braid into a crown this last week.  

The reason that this was different for me, after years of braiding my hair and angrily unraveling it, was because I decided that I had to get better at it. I’ve always loved the look and wanted to be able to do it myself for a friend’s wedding this May. So I just decided to practice. Which, as it turns out, is actually the key like people have been saying. With a new found determination and a plethora of YouTube tutorials, I set off. I practiced looking in the mirror, while I watched The Good Place and meandered around the house. Then, I speed-braided as my ride to a friend’s kid’s first birthday party was on the way. With a final flourish of my fingers and about a dozen bobby pins, it was in place. I shrugged, satisfied, and rushed out the door. Reactions were positive, ranging from, ‘how did you do that with your hair?” and, “Wow, that looks really nice!” 

This rudimentary concept of ‘practice makes perfect’ is something that I haven’t really taken to be true until now, more than 25 years into my life of denial. I have often found myself at my wits end with different things that I wasn’t good at automatically, feeling discouraged that I just didn’t seem to get it. At least a part of the problem has been in my nature to constantly compare myself to other people, but the biggest part was how I truly believed that there were a bunch of things that I just wasn’t good at, so I didn’t bother trying to get better.  

Those girls with the perfectly styled braids: yeah, I bet they practiced a lot. They probably aren’t just naturally talented hairstylists, like I have been imagining. They probably watch lots of videos and spend lots of time looking in the mirror before they are confident enough in a particular look. This week I tried and succeeded in doing a crown braid, but really, the point is that I tried. I decided I wanted to do something, practiced at it and then did it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.  

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