Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Scare Yourself. Everyday


I was speaking with young woman the other night at a loud 20-something bar in Kansas City, a friend of a friends daughter.  Women are infinitely more interesting to talk to because they will tell you their fears and fantasies and listen to what you have to say, unlike men who are guarded, boring and bad listeners.  Women also usually look and smell better than men.  This young woman was proudly telling me how she was the first person in her family to go to college, to move to the city and to get a white collar job.  She had faced her fears and limitations and had risen above her background to achieve the American dream of upward mobility.  She felt she had arrived and felt self satisfied.  Now, she said, she wanted to travel to see the world, other cultures and lifestyles but she was afraid of the unknowns such as language and currency and customs and feared she didn’t have enough time or money.  Of course I encouraged her ‘go for it’ since I had just returned from a long trip that was empowering and enlightening with the perspective that it lent me (lent because that perspective fades quickly).  I told her that she should ‘do something everyday that scares her’ if she wanted to continue to grow, progress and experience all that life holds secret.  It builds character, it builds confidence. 

A light bulb seemed to go on in her head as she bought me an obscurely pornographically named shot for my advice, because that’s what the kids do these days.  Advice is free but good advice costs.   She enthusiastically agreed that she should continue to face her fears everyday and push the envelope of her comfort zone.  She was going to take her trip and many more trips after that so she could grow and mature.  She said that this was the best advice she had heard in a long while, gave me a big hug and as she walked away she challenged me to write an article about it.  So I did.

I have noticed lately how so many decisions and choices we make are driven or limited by blind subscription to the status quo, self doubt, fear or lack of confidence.  I see an epidemic of anxiousness and anxiety in young people, perhaps spurred by great expectations, an overabundance of self esteem or their constant need for instant communication and information.   This seems bizarre to me since youth is almost defined by the allusion of indestructibility that provides a varying amount of fearlessness.   As we grow older we gain experience and wisdom but our physical infallibility fades.  When we have suffered the bumps and bruises of outrageous fortune, we learn, and generally become more cautious. All school costs something.  It’s a defense mechanism, survival of the fittest, evolution.   It starts with the loss of physical alacrity and it extends to doubts about our mental, social and emotional ability.

I have noticed this change in myself and older friends.  We wake up in the early early morning trying to figure out how we are going to face the challenges of the coming day, weather they be great or small.  We usually figure it out and go back to sleep.  By dawn our problems don’t loom so large and seem routine or inconsequential.  Where does our confidence, intelligence and creativity go in these pre dawn hours.  Perhaps we have been beat down too much.  Perhaps we have been too safe and sheltered in our cushioned modern life and they have not developed, maintained or strengthened our confidence. 

The mountain lifestyle we live is conducive to challenging our abilities and pushing the comfort zone envelope.  There are the physical challenges of dynamic sports that depend on skill and courage as well as extended execution in clutch situations.  There are natural challenges from the weather, the terrain, the biota and gravity.  We learn to put it out there, rise to the occasion and perform when we have to out of choice, necessity and self preservation.  Many situations are an education, a challenge and an opportunity to scare yourself
.  Most of the times we are successful and our small victories endow us with good feelings, a sense of accomplishment and renewed self confidence.  You hardly ever meet an outdoors adventurer with low self esteem.

I noticed after a while that confidence is not completely an inherent trait, although some people have more natural confidence than others.  Confidence does not just come from blind belief in ourself and spouting positive mantras.  Confidence is learned and earned and also limited by the times we get burned.  Every time that we face our fears successfully is a confidence learning opportunity.  The next time we are not so fearful and we raise the bar a little higher.  If we succeed, we earn even more confidence, until there is a balance with our ability and our expectations of our self.  This lends itself to realistic self esteem.  Confidence is like a skill, it must be learned.  Confidence is like a muscle, it must be exercised.  It is akin to intelligence, social grace, mental health and emotional stability.  It is inherent but it must me learned and maintained.  The way to build and improve it is to exercise it everyday.  Therefore we need to challenge ourselves everyday, to push the envelope and expand our limits – physically, intellectually, socially, mentally and emotionally.  Scare yourself.  Everyday.