I’m a day off from halfway through this self-imposed daily adventure challenge, and it’s getting real.
One of the side-effects of a good challenge is that it’s actually challenging; as in, it makes you reflect on what your status quo was, pre-challenge, and pushes you in a slightly different, hopefully better, direction than wherever you were headed before.
What I am realizing is this: I’ve been getting pretty comfortable in my little life here in the city. In a lot of ways, this has been a good thing. I spent years not being comfortable in my skin, feeling like I didn’t quite belong in my own life. I’ve worked hard for a long time to make a cozy, me-shaped space in the world to come home to at the end of the day. I love my little nest. But nests are not where birds learn to fly. You still have to step off the ledge sometimes.
During the difficult periods of my life, I sought out ways of being happy, and I think, as a result, I was more open to new, sometimes questionable, experiences and ideas. I went travelling on a whim, without worrying about not having any money. I went hungry sometimes, but I survived. I strapped tele skis on my feet without knowing how to ski, because, why not? I wrecked my knee for a few months, but it healed. I got cold and wet and miserable trying to ice climb because it was new and interesting and took my mind off some of the internal misery that needed staving off sometimes. I got my ass handed to me trying to do all sorts of mountain things I wasn’t in the least qualified to do because I wanted to learn how to do those things, because being in the mountains made me feel things, and not much else did.
Since the miracle of everyday happiness showed up and made it possible for me to feel things all the time, anywhere, I haven’t needed that escape so much. This is great, because escape isn’t always possible, or desirable. But I’ve been coasting on what I learned during that time. And I still feel things better, especially joy, when I’m in the mountains (and lately, increasingly, in the ocean) -I just forget so easily when I’m cozy at home.
I’ve been surprised this month, as I look for my daily adventure, to discover that I’ve become pretty risk-avoidant. I’ve finally gotten comfortable, and I don’t want to rock that boat. I learned about balance the hard way, by not having any, and once I found some, I became terrified of losing it.
I’m afraid of nearly everything. Every morning I wake up with the fear that I might not get out of bed. I’m afraid of being late for work, of all my students before I meet them, of having to ask for anything from anyone, ever. Today, I had Pho for lunch, and, like every Pho restaurant, the one across the street from the school was cash only. I saw a convenience store across the street that I thought might have an ATM, but I didn’t want to go in and find out there wasn’t one. I was afraid the convenience store employee would be upset at me for going into the store and not buying anything. So afraid, in fact, that I almost changed my lunch plans.
On the weekend, my friends and I went to an open mic night. For some reason, these ‘friends’ decided to gang up on me and force me to sing a song. The thought was overwhelming not so much because performing would have been scary (it would have, with no practice and a foreign guitar and a bar full of drunk strangers), but because I would have to ask somebody to put me on the list. For some reason, that act felt more risky than the performance itself.
I feel a similar level of fear asking a cashier for change for a five as I do on a moderate backcountry route. My fear has a hard time prioritizing, which used to mean that truly scary things seemed less scary, but lately has meant that I aggressively avoid doing totally not-scary things.
What I’m learning by challenging my fears is this: for sure some activities are riskier than others, but just living is risky. I broke my back walking to the beach.
This past weekend, I twisted my knee surfing. As I was hobbling out of the water, and awkwardly wrestling my longboard to shore in the whitewash, I had a brief consultation with myself: was it worth it? A few minutes of beautiful sunset surfing, fresh ocean water, the thrill of actually (sort of) standing up, the adrenaline when you’re facing the beach, waiting for the wave, and suddenly the low-slung sun is shaded out and you know the wave is coming up fast, and you’ll either catch it or tumble with it. Only a few minutes of this traded for weeks or possibly months of recovery, when I only just stopped feeling broken.
I’m not sure why this was the question I asked myself, before I had a chance to wonder or worry about my knee. But the answer was quick and calm, the way truth and falling in love sometimes are -of course it was worth it. It was so worth it that the question almost seems ridiculous. Nobody asks a child who’s skinned their knee if riding a bike is worth it. It’s just life -the pain for the joy.
Completely worth it.