Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 14, 2005, Herald Journal

Find a way to scare yourself

By LIZ HELLMANN

Do one thing every day that scares you.

These words graced my desk about a week ago, attached to a thank you card, but they have been around much longer than that.

The quote on the card is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but the idea did not begin with her.

Today, emphasis is placed on our fast-paced society, which has many people going from dusk past dawn.

We find ways to fill our days with projects, causes, work, and play.

Sometimes, when we try to simplify, we create even more work.

We fancy our schedules are so hectic a plain paper calendar will not suffice. No, our complicated schedules must be kept on a PDA (a fancy, usually handheld electronic device that keeps track of appointments, dates, phone numbers, etc.)

As our lives become stuffed with appointments, to-do lists, and projects, it would seem we are living our lives to the fullest. Any more full and we would burst.

But full lives don’t necessarily translate into fulfilling lives.

When was the last time you did something that scared you?

I’m not sure what Roosevelt meant when she spoke these words, but I can tell you what I think.

Doing something that scares you does not necessarily mean putting yourself in danger, or suddenly making choices that can only be described as idiotic.

For example, I don’t recommend standing on an airport runway with a 747 bearing down on you.

Would it be scary?

Yes.

Would it be a blundering, life-costing mistake?

Probably.

Would you have succeeded in fulfilling Roosevelt’s imperative?

No.

The kind of scare implied in this quote is the kind we have all experienced at some point. It is the scare of the unfamiliar.

This scare comes from stepping outside of our calendar-filled, PDA-dialing lives.

It is the feeling one gets when trying something new.

A child going to school for the first time.

The first day on the job. Moving into your first apartment, or buying your first house.

All of these milestones in life come with a scare factor. These situations are exciting, but also filled with uneasy anticipation.

Every moment is an anxious one, until you begin to become familiar with your surroundings, and slowly regain your comfort level.

Now, the situation that once scared you is part of your routine.

I’m sure you didn’t need a columnist like myself to explain to you that such life-changing moments usually bring with them excitement.

But the quote asks us to do one thing every day that is scary.

I do not recommend daily changing your job, or school, or buying a house.

On a daily basis, such experiences would not be excitement-inducing, but chaos-producing. Nor would such things be feasible to change every day.

Is it even possible to do one thing every day that produces the same kind of feeling, without becoming an impulsive neurotic?

Yes.

But not without some effort.

We are all creatures of habit. We like to park in the same spot at work every day. When we are at home, we like to sit at the same spot at the dinner table.

Even when teachers don’t assign seating charts, most students will sit in the same desk, or near to it, all semester long.

Such repetition allows us comfort.

I’m not suggesting that if you park one spot over at work tomorrow you will relive the feeling of buying your first home (at least I hope not, otherwise, you might need to get out more).

But taking note of our every day routine, and changing it, can make a big difference.

I recently heard a lady remark that she has been living in this community for almost 10 years, and has had trouble meeting people. Apparently, they simply don’t say “Hi.”

Our communities pride themselves on their friendliness. But are we simply friendly to the people we know? And it just happens to be that we know most of the people? Do we still snub unfamiliar faces?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. But, by judging from the lady’s comments, we aren’t as friendly as we think.

So, what does that have to do with doing one thing that scares us?

Well, why do things scare us? Because we feel self-conscious doing them.

Why do we feel self-conscious? Because other people are watching, and possibly could make fun of us. We feel vulnerable outside of our element.

On the other hand, life is short. We are the ones who have to be happy with what we’ve done with it, while we have it.

Sure, there are ways to be adventuresome. We can take a safari in Africa, backpack through Europe, climb Mount Everest, or volunteer our time to feed starving children.

These things would certainly take most of us out of our everyday routine. But they also can serve as a shield to hide behind. After all, who has the time or money to do any of those things?

The answer becomes, “sure we would love to do one thing that scares us every day, but we don’t have that luxury.”

How about saying “hi” to the neighbor you pretend you don’t see every morning when you get the paper.

Or how about volunteering even an hour of time at the local food shelf, city hall, or local organization?

What about signing up to host a foreign exchange student?

Striking up a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store?

Standing up for what you believe when someone starts criticizing a viewpoint you agree with?

There are a million big and small ways to scare yourself every day.

Instead of gliding from one carefully programmed calendar month to the next, take notice of each day before it slips into another yesterday.


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