These days, I am preaching Eleanor Roosevelt to anyone who will listen:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
It sounds harder than it is. Doing something that scares you doesn’t necessarily mean strapping on your parachute and jumping out of a plane or hitchhiking after dark. It doesn’t have to be “scary” as in you-might-have-to-change-your-underwear scary. Eleanor simply meant: take a risk and venture out of your comfort zone. This could be as basic as driving a different route home, talking to someone who intimidates you, buying the generic brand of peanut butter, or signing up for a race that gives you butterflies. The point is to that you continue to experience your life in new and different ways.
Some may ask, “Why bother? Why be uncomfortable?” It is a valid point. While I do not pretend to know what is in people’s hearts, I do believe the human spirit wants to explore, to experience new things, to move forward. A series of rationalizations and excuses swirl around our brains and make us masters at talking ourselves out of things. The fact is it is easier to not take risks. It is easier to not be scared. It is easier to not stand out.
Something profound happened to me when I entered the golden years of my forties. I would not label it a mid-life crisis, nor would I say sat down in the hammock one day and decided to live life to its fullest. Rather, it was a gradual opening up of myself to the world. I wanted my life to be full of that which made me feel alive. I trimmed the fat, meaning I eliminated the ho-hum elements of my life. Naturally, not every unpleasant activity can be removed. However, I found there were plenty of optional things (like being the PTA President) that took up a lot of my time, but that I did not particularly enjoy.
My attitude became one of acceptance and openness. Instead of talking myself out of things, I talked myself into them. Anytime I felt afraid to take a risk, I evaluated if my fear was based on reality (e.g., chances are good it would cause bodily injury or death), or merely my own fear of failing, looking silly or being uncomfortable. If my anxiety was based on the latter, I wouldn’t let myself off the hook. Every single time I got ready to engage in something that scared me, I wondered, “Why do I put myself in these positions by choice?.” But, I never backed out.
Being bold has its payoffs. Over the past three years, here are a few things I did even though they scared me:
- Completed my first half Ironman
- Went skydiving
- Attended hot (107 degree) yoga classes
- Zip-lined in Costa Rica
- Taught a running clinic at a local fitness center
- Entered and won a contest to run the Hood to Coast Relay with a sponsored team
- Tried Vegemite
- Ran over the Rocky Mountains with Dean Karnazes
- Was part of a flash mob
- Became a certified running coach
- Overcame a hip stress fracture by running in the deep end of the pool everyday
- Completed 3 marathons, including Boston
- Met my best friend from 7th grade again for the first time in 30 years
- Joined a women’s cycling group
- Ran with my son’s cross-country team
- Wrote a blog with fourth graders to help them find their writing voices
- Asked for help from family and friends when times got tough
- Became an Athleta featured athlete
- Taught yoga to third graders
- Rented an RV and drove around Colorado
Like many people, I have a job that on good days can drain and bore me. I am married with two children and have dinners to cook and a dog to feed. I have a mortgage and my house needs dusting. I have found that the required day-to-day minutia is made bearable and even enjoyable when complimented by adventure and exploration.
The difference between living fully and existing passively is making a decision. It doesn’t require money, fame or fortune. It requires you to welcome what you love and what you are passionate about. It requires eliminating the optional “shoulds” that bore and stifle you. It requires the courage to try things that scare you and to risk failing. It requires you to believe, even just for a moment, that your life can take an exhilarating turn for the better. Like the song says, “We are born to be alive.”
What did you do today that scared you?