Tell Me, What Scares You?

by Niki on April 15, 2011

As I write this article from the extreme comfort of my couch, I am 184 days – exactly 6 months – away from my next adventure. My next adventure will begin in San Francisco and end in San Diego. I’ll be riding my bicycle 620 miles between the two cities. I’m doing this for two reasons; one reason is about me and one reason is about other people.

First, the other people. I’ll be raising money for The Challenged Athletes Foundation and Operation Rebound. You can read more about them here. I know there are a million non profit organizations out there, and I used to really struggle about which ones to support. Then I just decided to pick a few that align with my philosophies about life. Challenged Athletes does that, because they focus on helping people use athletics and racing to transform their lives. They are all about overcoming obstacles and inspiring others. Their tagline is “Changing Lives, One Athlete at a Time.” Operation Rebound is their specific program focused on helping our veterans. I feel good about supporting these groups, and I feel positive about using my energy to raise money for them.

The second reason is more about me. I know from the research about motivation that some people are motivated by things they want to avoid, while others are motivated by things they want to pursue. I am both. I want to avoid becoming a lazy complacent couch potato. I want to become someone who has fabulous and fun adventures. I want to create unique experiences and fabulous memories. Really what I want is to sit in my rocking chair when I’m 80 and tell some great stories about the epic adventures I had when I was younger. I want to think back on my well lived life. Riding my bike 620 miles down the California coastline sounds like a great way to spend a week of my life and it sounds like a great story to talk about when I’m in that rocking chair.

In my experience, adventures are inextricably connected with personal growth. When we embark on adventure in our life, we embark on the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell is the preeminent expert on the classical elements of the hero’s journey – if you are curious you can read all about him and his research here on Wikipedia.  What I take away from his research and writing is that each of us has a responsibility in life to find and express our truest, deepest selves. It is up to each of us to discover who we are, and follow our bliss. As Campbell summarizes:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

From this perspective, the purpose of every journey is to shed the old patterns, the old ways of being in our life, so we may become more of who we truly are. In essence, we must journey away from the typical status quo of our daily life, in order to explore deeper into our own true selves. Adventure helps us gain perspective on our daily life and on the deepest elements of our own character. Journeys help us figure out who we truly are.

“The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

We cannot grow if we stay on the safety of the couch all day. We cannot experience the world from behind the television or the computer screen. We must go out and experience our own growth, we must create the meaning we want in our life. Beginning any sort of adventure will assuredly trigger insights, growth and change.

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

There is a lot that is troubling about the world right now. There is a lot about the world I cannot change. But there are many things I can change, and there are actions I can take. What I want to do is create awesome memorable joyful experiences that make me smile. Because when I am smiling I can share that joy with others. When I am inspired, I can inspire others. Less fear, more joy – that would be a great bumper sticker.

When I think about embarking on this 620 mile bike ride that is only six months away, I feel a pang of panic in the pit of my stomach. I am panicked because of all the training I will need to do, I am panicked because of the time I will need to commit. I don’t know anyone else doing the ride, I have no idea what the weather will be like, I don’t know how hard the hills will be or how much my body will hurt. I don’t even know if my body will hold up. 620 miles is a long way. There is so much I don’t know about what lies ahead and the unknowing is what makes me nervous.

That is also what makes me excited. Because it is exactly that fear that tells me I’m doing the right thing. I need something that scares me in order to grow. I don’t need a truckload of fear, I don’t need to be paralyzed, and I don’t need to be overwhelmed. But I do need to be stretched beyond what is comfortable. I want to live to the edges of my life, because the edges are where I feel most alive.

We all need this. We all need something that scares us a little. Not a lot, but a little. We need something that will pull us away from the television and the computer, out into the world, out into our own adventures.

I believe we are all heroes. And every hero needs an adventure. Your adventure might be raising your children or starting a new business or planning your retirement. You might be scared to apply for a new job or a new promotion. I don’t know what your adventure might be, but I guarantee if you listen to your body and pay attention to when your stomach knots up, you will figure it out.

When you get that feeling of panic in your stomach, stop and listen. Listen to what scares you and listen to what excites you. Listen to what grabs your attention. Listen for where the edges are. Lean into the edges, peer over the cliff. There is a vast territory out there beyond the borders of your comfort zone. Exploring that territory is what being a hero is all about.

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