When I was sixteen, I took tae kwon do lessons. I really liked it but the only thing I was good at was hitting with all my might. Speed, coordination...those things were not for me. But I enjoyed it anyway until one day I got injured.
I want to tell a story about how I totally got wrecked during a 10-man kumite or something like that. "Yeah, dude had a special kick that he called the Widowmaker. I woulda had him but he got me."
No, the one who hurt me was me.
We were learning how to take a fall and the teacher showed us how to do a drop roll. It was an easy enough maneuver, something that looked like a fancier somersault. Now the fact that I hadn't done a somersault since kindergarten didn't factor into my choice to give it a try.
The teacher had all of us line up and one-by-one, we would do a drop roll. The kids before me were much younger and lower in rank and yet they pulled it off effortlessly. I started feeling apprehensive as my turn approached. I didn't want to be a coward and not try. So when the teacher came by behind me and shouted "Go!" I went.
I managed to get upside-down, which was a good start, but then everything fell apart after that. I ended up putting all of my considerable upside-down weight on my neck and left shoulder. There was a series of popping and cracking noises. Somehow I got to my knees and...
Have you ever felt a pain so bad that you felt you were going to throw up? I sure did. I got dizzy and my teacher said, "Oh god, you're green." I don't know how but I managed to not barf all over the dojo but my arm was screaming bloody murder. My neck was in even worse shape. A few days later, when 'walking it off' wasn't working, I went to the doctor. He gave me a sling to wear and some painkillers, telling me I had torn all sorts of helpful things in that area.
It never healed up right. Even today, if I hold my head at an angle for too long, my neck will feel like it's locked up. Watching movies in the theater can be awful because of this. Cold weather can induce the pain, and so will brushing my hair too hard. It'll feel like I'm being stabbed behind the ear every thirty seconds until my nerves get tired of rioting. Not fun.
I'm telling you this not to talk about how I fought myself and lost. I just want to emphasize the point that if I had listened to myself and taken a moment to say "I'm not comfortable with this", I wouldn't still be feeling the pain of the clumsiest thing I've ever done. Go beyond your limits, sure, but never because of peer pressure or wanting to save face. Do it because you know you're ready. Do it because you want to. This goes for all things, not just sports or physical activity. Take your time and listen to yourself when met with something new. Maybe it's a new task at work. Maybe it's a lesson you didn't quite get. Maybe it's a relationship going to 'the next level'.
Don't let external pressure be your guide. Listen to your gut above all else. You're smarter than you think.