A couple of years ago, a friend took me parasailing. I don’t know how to swim and I don’t particularly care for heights, so I was terrified. It didn’t help that I didn’t feel secure in the harness when we blasted off into the sky from the back of the boat on Biscayne Bay. I spent the entire experience clutching the ropes and praying that I wouldn’t slip through the harness before plunging to my death. But I didn’t fall; I didn’t die. I actually kind of loved it. I don’t know that I would do it again, but I’m glad I did it at least once.
I don’t regret it. You know what I do regret? Going to Jamaica and not hiking up Dunn’s River Falls because I was scared to slip on the wet rocks. That was foolish. And if I had the opportunity to go back, I would get in that cold water with everyone else instead of watching curiously from the sidelines. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Jamaica, so I may have missed my one opportunity to do that. All because I was uncomfortable with it.
But I was young and full of inhibitions in Jamaica. Now that I’m older, I’m much more interested in pursuing experiences that are uncomfortable for me. I do so almost exclusively, in fact. Because I’ve realized those are the only experiences that allow you to grow. They expand your way of thinking, your own capabilities, your interests, sometimes your entire identity.
I used to be so driven in my career and so anxious about money. So I forced myself to do something uncomfortable. I quit my job. That was the only way to learn that it’s silly to spend your life stressing about money. I’m a different person now – a better person. I can still be responsible and thrifty but I don’t worry about it as much.
I firmly believe that when all is said and done, our lives are nothing but a collection of actions and experiences. It is the roads we took no matter how short or misguided. And you can choose to be the person that takes the same, safe street to work every day, who only spends time with people who agree with your own views about life, hanging out at the same places. Most people are. I can admire that, if only because I am incapable of it.
Or you can do the uncomfortable thing. You can quit your job just to see what it feels like. You can move to a place where you don’t know anybody, just to see how you’ll handle it. You can do the thing that you’re not sure about, that makes you nervous, that could be a disaster. It might change your life. But you wouldn’t know, unless you try it.
I hate hearing people talk about what they would do “in another life…”
In another life, I would travel the world.
In another life, I could be a great musician.
In another life, we could be great friends.
Well… we only have the one. Why waste it? We love to read books and watch movies about people who are living life just outside the realm of what we consider reality. But reality is what you make it. You’d be surprised just how remarkable real life can be if you don’t settle for anything less.
So pack up your doubts. Table your inhibitions. If you have the opportunity to do something unique and potentially edifying, take it. If you don’t have that opportunity, create it. Even if you’re scared of it. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. Try something different. Do something insane. Give yourself the chance to grow. To learn something new. To become a better person.
What’s the worst that could happen? You fail? You skin your knee? You get rejected? You feel awkward? You embarrass yourself?
In the grand scheme of things, who cares? The worst experiences are the best stories anyway. And you know what’s worse than all of that? Never trying and wishing you had.