Every once in a while, I get an existential wake-up call. I’m reminded to take more risks – to live outside the norm more often.
Who’s giving me this kick-in-the-pants?
My past self.
I Wish I Was Still That Girl
Here’s an example. A friend recently retold one of my stories to a new acquaintance. “When Kim here was in high school, she used to play hooky by hiring a limousine to take her into New York City.”
“Really?” the new person said, turning to me with wide, incredulous eyes.
Yeah. I did. As often as I could afford to.
It was the ‘80s. I hated school but loved art, and I worked hard at the Ponderosa Steakhouse nights and weekends. Each time I saved enough to pay the fee plus a tip, I hired a limo to transport me 45 minutes into Manhattan where I would hang out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then I’d eat a burger in the backseat on the trip back to Long Island where I’d have the driver drop me off near school. I’d board the bus back home, waltz through the front door at the usual time, and my mother was none the wiser.
A true story, and one I’d shared before. But it had been a while since I’d thought about it, and as I stood there flashing back, I had a fresh appreciation for my sixteen-year-old self. Man, that was gutsy – especially considering that I liked to avoid trouble. But at the time, I felt my life would be richer for the choice I was making. The risk felt worth it. And I was right.
To my companions I said wistfully, “I wish I was still that girl.”
The one who knew me best replied, “You are.”
Then she reminded me of other things I’ve done – recently, in adulthood. Weird experiments. Quirky approaches. Creating things because I felt they should exist. Flat-out asking for what I wanted – not matter how outrageous — and getting it.
So why did I believe for a moment that I was no longer that gutsy girl?
Because like everyone else, I get into ruts. In between occasionally going bold or breaking all the rules, I fall into a routine.
And routine has its value. Things get done that way, from putting nose to the grindstone to complete client work, to the laundry.
But it’s important to take risks, too. Fortunately, I’m reminded of this each time I recall some wacky chance I took that paid off.
I just wish I could remember to go rogue more often. That’s my challenge.
For others, the challenge is in getting comfortable with risk – being willing to go there at all.
There are still a lot of things I won’t do. (Don’t ask me to bungee jump. I’ll be perfectly happy going to my deathbed never having done it, thankyouverymuch.) However, I understand the risks of not taking risks, and they’re unacceptable.
Some Risks of Not Taking Risks
1. Never knowing our full potential. Humans are amazing. We’re brimming with potential, especially in our areas of inherent strength.
And being complimented for our talents is nice, but it can also be haunting if we never push hard enough to see what we’re really made of.
That’s an icky feeling worth kicking to the curb.
2. Suffering depression and/or apathy. Depression sucks. I know first-hand.
Sometimes it’s a chemical thing and we may need medication. Other times it’s emotional and behavioral. It can settle on us as a result of the way we live – a way that brings us no joy, no exhilaration.
When a risk pays off, we enjoy a natural high. Plus, we get to enjoy the “pay”, whatever that may be – a fulfilling new career path, an enriching relationship, a free bike, who knows?
3. A gray, plodding, uninspired life. If the idea of a bleak life turns you on, then by all means, don’t live it up. Seriously, who am I to judge? Some people genuinely seem to get off on curling up and waiting to die.
But if you’d prefer a life that’s rich and delicious, be willing to put yourself “out there”.
Delightful things can sometimes happen upon us, but a truly exceptional life requires us to actively avail ourselves to magic.
I learned this when I was ten years old. I was fascinated by the idea of receiving mail – real, physical mail, sitting in the mailbox, with my name on it. I asked my mother, “Why don’t I ever get any mail?” Her advice: “Send someone a letter, and you’ll probably get one back.”
So I did. I wrote letters to my grandmother and my uncle.
But I didn’t stop there. I noticed an ad in the back of my mother’s favorite magazine. “Call our toll-free number and we’ll send you a booklet about our beautiful hot springs!” It launched a new hobby: calling any toll-free number I could get my hands on and asking, “Do you have any free stuff you can send me?”
After that, our mailbox was overflowing. Letters from relatives, travel brochures, free consumer information, sweater catalogs, bumper stickers advertising orange soda, you name it. After a while, my mother made it my job to collect the daily mail, since most of it was addressed to me anyway.
So if we want cool things to come to us, sometimes we have to make the first move. A colorful life means making lots of moves – and the braver the move, the bigger the reward.
The thing is, there are so many different kinds of risk, but most of them aren’t life-threatening – they’re just uncomfortable.
They’re things like introducing ourselves to strangers – things about which we imagine terrible scenarios, but they’re highly unlikely scenarios. We’re afraid of being sneered over and asked, “Why on earth would I want to talk to you?” And how often does that actually happen? And even if it does, that’s valuable information. It lets us know that this person is a colossal jerk who doesn’t deserve our attention.
So let’s make a pact, you and me. Let’s do more things we’ve never done before. Let’s be braver. Let’s be that gutsy girl or guy we always wished we could be, or may have been at times but who doesn’t show up often enough.
Our lives depend on it.