Every few months, I pack the boys into the minivan and we make the trek from the suburbs into the city to visit my husband at his office. The boys love these little adventures. They watch movies in the car while I try not to cuss too much at the horrible traffic. They dine on Portillo’s hotdogs in my husband’s office and take turns spinning in his swivel chair. We tour the cafeteria, the law library, and pick out treats from the vending machines. And we stare out the large floor-to-ceiling windows onto Lake Michigan, watching the cars and people below scurrying around like ants at a picnic lunch.
On our last visit just a few weeks ago, we were able to watch the ice skaters glide across the seasonal rink at Millennium Park. We all stood at the window, straining our necks to see the skaters off in the distance, and we stared, mesmerized, at these artists painting streaks across the white canvas.
I have never been ice skating so I don’t know what it feels like to glide across the smooth surface on a tiny silver blade. My lack of coordination, my wimpy tolerance for cold weather, and my twisted sense of humor when it comes to seeing people fall down are all good reasons for foregoing this seasonal pastime. Ice skating, to me, is just too risky and uncomfortable that I have little interest in pursuing it.
But, what if I were to give it a chance?
Maybe I’d discover that I am not as unskilled as I suspect. Or maybe I would be just as untalented as I think I am, but enjoy myself immensely. Or maybe, at a minimum, I would be able to provide my kids with exposure to a new recreational activity and demonstrate the importance of trying new things. Maybe I’d teach them the importance of swallowing your fear, taking a risk, and feeling uncomfortable for a few minutes.
You see, I am a fairly risk-adverse person. Security is preferred over possibility. Protection is more important than vulnerability. Anticipation is safer than curiosity.
How often have I resisted a new undertaking because I might not be perfect at it? How often have I avoided a quest under the pretense that rejection is worse than lost opportunity? How often have I taken the safe route because its potential rewards outweighed the theoretical drawbacks of the unexplored route?
How often have I hummed along to a song instead of belting out the lyrics? How often have I sedately swayed along to the music rather than exuberantly twirling and shimmying, with arms waving and legs bouncing slightly offbeat?
How often have I left a compliment unsaid due to the fear of an awkward interaction? How often have I left an “I’m sorry” or an “I love you” muted because I didn’t want to swallow my pride or face potential embarrassment? How often have I forgotten to thank someone, failed to praise someone, or abstained from telling someone just how much they mean to me because of the intense emotions and vulnerabilities that it might stir up?
And who knows what has been lost as a result. Who knows what adventures have gone ignored, what accomplishments have gone unfulfilled, what learning experiences have gone unnoticed. Who knows what quarrels might have been quashed, what relationships might have been reinforced, what pleasures might have been produced.
Chuck Palahniuk wrote in his book Invisible Monsters, “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.” And maybe that’s the only way to really feel alive too. Cut open and occasionally falling down.
Do you have a hard time taking risks? If so, how do you overcome your fear of being cut open or falling down?