When I first heard this it was on a YouTube clip of a transcript of a graduation speech set to music and video. Man, those words just resonated with me at the time. I heard those words on a day when I truly needed to hear them. Then I went on with my life for a few years, those words left unheeded…until I hit a time in my life when I needed to hear them again.
Not to go off on a rant about divorce, but it is a horrifying experience. Your whole world is ripped apart, turned upside down, and it is up to you to rebuild everything from scratch. In my case, everything was an improvement. Sometimes these sorts of journeys are difficult, but worth the benefits. In my case, what I left behind was the end of a dark time in my life and what I gained was…salvation. Right around that time, I listened to this again, and as much of a wreck as I was, it still resonated with me. As with the song, I divorced at 40. I thought this was oddly prophetic. And now, everything scared me. Only now, there was something I could do about it. I had already done something which scared the hell out of me, which was to reclaim my life and sanity from an awful experience.
I had to start small. Scaring myself at this point was doing something little like going out to dinner by myself. Yes, it sounds cliche. The recently single person sitting alone at a booth at a restaurant, grazing on corn chips and salsa, chatting with the waitress. Feeling as though everyone is pitying you for being alone. You feel alone and yet conspicuous all at once. You worry what other people think. Until you don’t.
When I was married, I didn’t get out much. I certainly didn’t go to parties. I didn’t get invited to social events. I never traveled with other couples or even family. I had been locked in the strange world that is an occluded marriage. We socialized only with the nuclear family. Occasionally inlaws. I had let 15 years of my life pass me by. It would take a couple more years to let the bitterness of that fade. I felt like I had missed out on so much, hiding in a bad marriage. At the end of it, I had only myself to blame. After a while of that, there was no reason to keep blaming. But there were still things that were scary.
Asking someone out on a date was one. Submitting pitches and queries was another. Deciding to allow things in my life to change, to get out of comfort zones. Telling my kids “No” was tough too, especially when some of the biggest things that scared me in my life was being told no. You would have thought I would have gotten used to it, sending stories out to magazines and editors; when you hear yes, it almost smacks you in the face, the No’s are so abundant. And talk about scary: when you hear yes for once. It’s like “What do I do now!? They said yes?! I don’t know if I can handle this kind of pressure to succeed!” I mean, what the hell are you supposed to do with that!?!
Over the last three and a half years, I continue to push myself and everyday, I try to do something that scares me. Most of the time it’s something silly like striking up a conversation with someone, or trying out a new route to a place I haven’t tried. My old method used to be to visualize everything in my mind that could happen and then I would have some sort of idea what to expect. Lately I have discovered that nothing good comes from this. Either the reality falls short of your expectations horribly, or you have already set your boundaries on how much you get to enjoy something because you can’t go past what you have imagined. Oftentimes, the reality exceeds the fiction you have cooked up.
One of my favorite dates was a movie, people-watching in a downtown venue, playing air-hockey, and dancing to live music on the sidewalk outside of a bar. Better than Prom, better than a lot of things; yet simple. Easy, if I let it be. The scariest part was just letting me be myself instead of some schmoozy over-complimentary version of me that annoys the heck out of even me. It was scary.
I used to blame anxiety. Anxiety was a crutch. It’s like they say. “Everything you want is on the other side of Fear.”
Lately, I have been querying publications to get rolling on travel writing. It reminds me of the old days of submitting to fiction magazines. Either you hear back from the editors, or you don’t and the answer is oftentimes “No.” After a while of submitting, you wonder what kind of masochist you have become to set yourself up for rejection in this way. Over time you start to figure out that the worst thing they can say is “No” and it’s not so scary. A “Yes” opens doors, but in the meantime, you don’t have to let No stop you. It might be what you need to figure out a better way to bend, or to examine how you could have done things differently. Just keep going, and keep challenging yourself. Be open to new experiences. If the idea of doing something gets your heart racing, then there is an excellent chance that is exactly what you should be trying.*
In three short years, I went from timidly eating dinner by myself to skinny dipping in a hot springs around strangers. Hot air balloon rides. Mountain biking. And maybe worst of all, occasionally telling my kids “No. You can’t have that.”
Scaring the snot out of myself has become one of my favorite parts of the day. Nearly every time I have done something, it has been worth the fear and anxiety I have had to battle. Now eating alone is no problem, neither is mountain biking, kayaking, road-tripping, talking to strangers, making plans, reconnecting with old friends, asking strangers to take your picture, joining in on conversations, etc. etc. etc.
Pro-tips: Be kind wherever your travels take you. Don’t be obnoxious. Be open to good things. Put your shopping cart in the cart-corral when you are done. Learn how to say please and thank you for every country you visit. And don’t humble-brag. It’s better just to listen to someone else than it is to act like an experience they will never have is no big deal. Part of good traveling is telling a good story when you get back home. Good stories don’t ever make people feel inferior. They bring us all along on the journey.
*Within reason of course. Just make sure you aren’t hurting yourself or someone else.
**Sunscreen is advisable in nearly any adventure situation.