Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What did you do today that scares you?

Eleanor Roosevelt famously gave the advice to "do one thing every day that scares you." That's a tall order, Eleanor. How is one supposed to carve out the time to make a daring decision, not just monthly or weekly, but daily? In our always-on, always connected world, it's easy to do something scary but ill advised: a dissenting comment on Facebook or an inflammatory tweet, perhaps. Surely running into oncoming traffic would get my adrenaline going, but I don't believe that is what the former First Lady had in mind. So I would add a huge caveat to this advice, to make sure that the thing you choose is not dangerous but useful. The greater challenge is not to make a scary choice with such regularity, but to carefully choose a task or step that will not just scare you, but bring greater benefits.

What might a scary but useful choice look like? Maybe it's a feat of strength that catapults you out of your boring gym routine. Or you could speak up in a meeting without having all of your points carefully crafted in your head. How about merely taking a detour from your usual route home to see if it's faster?

My perfectionist tendencies often get in the way of taking a calculated risk. In an uncharacteristic move, I took a chance last week and was pleasantly surprised with the results. One of the many amazing benefits my company offers is an indoor pool. I've been swimming laps at least a couple of times per week since I started. I never belonged to a swim team but I love the water, and was a lifeguard and taught sailing. So, with little formal training, my technique is a bit lacking. I'd gaze over in wonder at the more advanced swimmers doing the flip turns in the lanes next to me and wish that I knew how to do it.

Last week, I decided that I would give it a try, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I fretted as I approached the wall, wondering if I would hit it with enough force to bruise my face and my ego. Then, at the last second, I flipped over, kicked off of the wall, and surfaced, almost in one smooth motion! I grinned, well, as much as one can while rhythmically breathing, and tried it again. My turns haven't all gone as well as that first one went, but I haven't completely missed one, either. I'm enjoying the opportunity to improve my flips with each swimming session. 

Swimming-themed birthday card from my friend at work

Thinking back to the last time I took a chance in a physical sense, I was on a yoga retreat last autumn and did a supported wheel pose. It was the first time I'd gone into the position and the feeling of dropping back while my head was upside down was terrifying. I was grateful for my supportive yogis and instructor, but I was not at all comfortable with being upside down. However, I felt accomplished after I finished. 

I'm sure I didn't look nearly as graceful

These have both been such positive experiences. I hope that I the next time I try something new it will not take me nearly a year. I am sure that there are plenty of other opportunities to do something that, while a bit frightening at first, will turn out to be rewarding. 

What are you holding you back on based on some preconceived notion that you don't have the information, power, permission, or experience to do it right? Jump right in, the water's fine!

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