By: Julia Skeesick
As we go through our lives there are multiple opportunities we encounter that we routinely avoid, saying we do not like them or are afraid. This reaction is normal, we all have our own comfort levels, fears and preferences. But in many circumstances the things we avoid can be very limiting to the life that we lead. Sometimes we are certain we do not want any part of it if not always certain why. At times we may secretly want to try something but make an excuse out of discomfort or fear.
How often do you decline to try something big or small with the knee jerk response, “I don’t like that.” Honestly, how do you know? I think most of the time people say this they haven’t even tried what they are turning down or it has been a long time since they have had or done anything like it. Responding in this way presumes displeasure without allowing for the possibility of pleasure. How often do you say you are afraid and use that as a reason to hold back; “I am afraid of heights”, ‘I am afraid of crowds” and so on.
Why do we do that?
This is partly due to the affinity we have for familiarity and our mental programming to keep ourselves safe. People naturally have both a desire for familiarity and for variety and adventure. That is part of our human nature. At the same time we are programmed for survival and make choices to keep ourselves safe and comfortable.
As individuals the mixture of these components is complex. Many people are risk adverse and very narrow in the experiences they allow themselves. This can be a way to control things or even people and it can also provide security and comfort. It is not a problem unless it gets in the way of living fully and experiencing all that life has to offer. Many others are thrill seekers and passionate about experiencing new things and pushing their own limits. They feel most alive when filled with the rush of adrenaline and surge of excitement and even fear. We all lie somewhere on this continuum.
I find myself closer to the latter. I am a complete “experience junkie” although not necessarily a thrill seeker. I search out new experiences with a vengeance. I consciously expose myself to new people, art and performance, cultures, beliefs, knowledge, and flavors. Less often I will push my limits physically like last year’s 5k race or this year’s zip lining in the jungles of Costa Rica with my kids. This is one of my favorite aspects of my personality and has contributed to a rich diverse life full of texture, fun and discovery.
It is an aspect that all of my three children have as well. It was a joy for me to watch them on vacation immerse themselves in new flavors, culture, music and experiences as we visited my daughter who is serving in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. We listened to traditional music, sought out all types of foods and flavors, embraced the absolutely lovely people, and learned to make empanadas with my daughter’s wonderful host Mom. We stayed in rustic places off the beaten path and hiked the gorgeous trials, swimming in waterfalls, and soaking in natural hot springs. We also pushed our fears a bit and zip lined in the rainforest. Three out of the four of us seriously swallowed our fear to do the optional daredevil Tarzan swing, and we all spent all morning learning something new, paddle boarding on the Pacific Ocean.
Incidentally, the one that chose not to do the Tarzan swing was not me. Surprise!
I initially wanted no part of it; I am very afraid of heights, I don’t even like standing on a six foot ladder at home. I do not like amusement rides, never have, even as a child. I have been known to be upset on the Dumbo ride at Disney. Zip-lining high in the air was the biggest risk thrill-wise I have ever taken. I had battled my fears all day just to do that. So I walked down the hill, watched, and took pictures of the others in my group that were bolder than I, including two of my kids.
It was terrifying but fun to watch the others take the plunge on the Tarzan swing; screaming, laughing but overall, joyous. At some point I realized I was not fully being the woman I think I am and want to be just standing at the bottom and watching. I was aware I had only a few moments to decide who I would be and then this daring opportunity would forever pass. Shocking everyone, especially myself, I walked back up the hill. My son accompanied me and wisely distracted and encouraged me. I could not even look at what lay ahead or approach the gate till the last moment. I wanted desperately to change my mind, I was sure this was a bad idea, but was also not willing to let my kids down or look like a total wimp. I asked myself, what I was afraid of? I knew it was safe. I could not fall or be killed. I believe the fear was based on not wanting the rush of adrenaline, not risking, being overwhelmed, or the loss of control. Not allowing myself to travel outside of my comfort zone to experience something dramatically new and frightening. I was protecting myself from the intense emotion and feeling I might have not knowing how I would react more than protecting my physical safety. It was a brief flash of insight. I knew this was true for myself and others.
I did not want to make the choice to be afraid to feel.
So I let them hook me in to the harness I quickly jumped off the platform swinging out high over the trees, making awful noises, and closing and opening my eyes not knowing which was worse. For a brief moment after a couple of passes I let my body relax and soak in the beauty and freedom I felt; it was an instant of awe. Then I begged like a baby to be let down. After, as my legs shook on solid ground walking on to finish the last 3 zip-lines, my life was altered by what I had done.
My children saw a new bolder aspect of me and were proud, I was proud as well and felt that while I would very likely never do that again, I was grateful I did not let my fear stand in the way of the experience. I gained insight into the nature of fear and what holds me and others back and I took another step in revealing more of who I am. I am hopeful that in the future I will do the same and jump in despite my fears, choose to live fully.
I have not always been so bold. As a young woman less secure in herself and the world I tended to play most aspects of my life safe and small for a variety of reasons. This included not wanting to look stupid or failing at something. Also, protecting my inner self and carefully sharing who I was. Not knowing or trusting my capabilities and ultimately not realizing how much wonderful stuff was lying right outside my reach if I just stretched out my hand a bit.
As I have stretched and grown I have been richly rewarded. Every experience, whether I have enjoyed it or not, has added so much to who I am, what I know, and how I see myself and the world. As I have grown older I have learned to risk and share more of myself as well fighting back fears of being overwhelmed by emotion or not knowing what to expect. The same habits of fear and avoidance that keeps us from risking physically applies to risking emotionally as well. The parallels are clear for those that are careful not to expose and share themselves fully lest they be hurt or rejected and end up disappointed, hurt or rejected as a result.
We all choose how we live in the world, and we can choose where we are on that continuum I mentioned. As tempting, safe and comfy as familiar can be, variety and exhilaration can make life truly grand.
I encourage you to think a bit longer before turning something down. Taste the flavors, feel the texture, and experience the excitement of life a bit more. Risk more of yourself, trust your instincts and live and love more fully. Become aware of when you let fear stand in your way of rich, meaningful and fun experiences. Get in the habit of asking yourself if you are living life as the person you are and want to be. Seek out more in all areas of yourself and your world, I promise you you will find it. Life is vast, wonderful, and waiting for you to simply stretch out your hand a bit more.
Jump in… live fully.
Julia Skeesick is a Certified Life Coach, owner of LifeScape Strategies and official lover of life. Through LifeScape Strategies she provides private and group coaching services as well as workshops and weekend retreats.