…Even though it usually hurts.
‘Stranger danger’, ‘Stop, look, and listen’ – there are a lot of slogans out there that teach us about the dangers of the unknown. Keep an eye on your drink when you’re out in public because someone might spike it, make sure you lock your doors and windows, be careful about where you use your credit card.
We live in a culture largely guided by fear for our safety and fear of the potential repercussions of taking risks. And when the Patriot Act, 9/11 and constant news announcements about cops murdering unarmed civilians is the norm, that kind of fear makes perfect sense. Our media is working hard to make us afraid of change.
Change is hard to do, especially when we constantly get mixed messages about whether or not we should be embracing it. Depending on what it is we’re supposed to be altering, we’re either brave or reckless. If you challenge yourself when it comes to your career, you’re a go-getter, but if you don’t stay the same size you were in highschool. you’re a lazy slob. You should absolutely go back-packing in Europe to open your mind and flip your steady desk job the bird, but make sure you don’t come back too liberal.
As if change wasn’t hard enough all on its own, these conflicting judgements are often scarier than change itself. It takes guts to pull yourself out of a comfortable position and launch yourself into the unknown, and when that’s compounded by wondering whether or not you’ll be hated for it, making that possibly necessary change often doesn’t seem worth it. Even if you’re miserable, staying where you are may seem preferable to braving that strange unknown that we’ve been warned against our entire lives.
I stuck with my fair number of jobs because of that same fear. One boss in particular seemed to be well aware of that fact, and he repeatedly used it to his advantage. It was a bad economy; he could get away with all sorts of things before I’d run the risk of quitting. Any menial task he didn’t want to do himself he assigned to me, including things well outside my job description. During a hurricane that knocked out the city’s power for over a week he required that I drive through flooded streets to work out of his home so he could get some advertisements out that would allow him to profit off of those suffering from that same hurricane. Eventually I hit my breaking point; the fear of change no longer outweighed the benefit of a semi-regular paycheque. I quit.
It was both terrifying and liberating. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Within a month I found a much better job that landed me where I am now, but more importantly, it lessened that fear of the unknown. I’d now faced it, at least in part, and I knew I had the strength to push through it. I knew that if things were bad, I had the option to change them.
Change is not only an option, it’s absolutely necessary to grow.
If you’re sad and miserable with where you are in life, you can’t just wait around and hope that one day things will magically improve. You have to change them yourself. Abandon your career path, change your major, buy an impulse train ticket to another city for a weekend. Do something that scares you. Take risks.
And sure, not all the changes you make are going to be a good idea, but you’ll always learn from them. When I can sense that fear is stopping me from making a change that could make my life better, I remember what it was like being a kid. I remember riding my bike fast enough that it skidded across the pavement and left me with bloody knees. I remember climbing resolutely across monkey bars despite the fact that I almost always fell off and knocked the wind out of myself. I remember knocking on strangers’ doors to see if kids I didn’t even know yet could come out and play. I remember the courage of being a child and taking those risks.
I also remember dealing with the pain of a bloody knee cap and lying flat on my back on a playground gasping for breath; but the challenge was worth it. I made it across those bars, I learned how to ride a bike, I made more friends.
So challenge yourself. Push your own boundaries and leave your comfort zone. Learn to live with risk. You’ll be amazed by what it’ll do for your confidence and how many doors open up for you when the fear we’ve been instilled with for decades begins to melt away.
Images via favim.com and giphy.com.
Comment: What’s the biggest, scariest change you’ve ever had to make it your life? Was it worth it?