As kids, we’re supposed to believe that we can do anything. The old adage, “You can do anything you set your mind to,” grows as familiar as a favorite pair of Levis after hearing it repeated by our teachers, church pastors and, if we’re lucky, our parents. But no matter how often we’re reminded of our unbridled potential, some of us still grow up to believe that there are limits, boundaries, and road blocks in life. And by the time we reach young adulthood, our bones reverberate with either self-fortitude or self-doubt—and it’s difficult to reverse the process once it’s set in motion.
I’m one of those who reverberate with self-doubt. Around every corner, I anticipate an obstacle; beyond every horizon, I forecast a storm. One, or many, might call me a pessimist, but I don’t see myself as such. People are too often packaged into boxes and sealed with a label: she’s an over-achiever; he’s a type-A personality; she’s shy; he’s ADHD. I try not to distill myself down to an oversimplified “disorder.” But I can tell you that it’s hard for me to relax because I’m busy trying to anticipate the future; and I have trouble stepping out of my comfort zone because I expect dead-ends and potholes on strange, unfamiliar roads.
So now that Brian and I have decided to untie our dock lines and sail into unfamiliar waters, I find myself asking on a daily basis: why the heck are we doing this? I know the hazards of being out at sea, and I’ve experienced first-hand the frightening power of the ocean. I understand how unpredictable the weather can be, and how small and fragile one can feel in the face of a storm. But I also know how rewarding it is to watch the sun rise over the water, and to be the only boat anchored in a beautiful, tree-lined bay. And how thrilling it is to watch marine life swim just feet from the boat when the only sound you can hear for miles is water lapping gently against the hull.
Thoreau said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. And he said this after living a year at Walden Pond, full of solitude and asceticism. He hadn’t missed his creature comforts, and it was this break from society and materialism that really cracked him open to the beauty of life and all the wonder it holds.
Because by nature I’m filled with self-doubt, fear is so familiar to me that I’ve taught myself to trust it. Rather than fight it, I tend to give in to it and believe that it will save me from hardship, failure, and embarrassment. The road of my life is littered with opportunities lost, moments wasted, and talent undiscovered. I can’t help but wonder how badly I’ve broken my spirit by trying not to break my heart.
Even as Brian and I embark on this journey, I don’t think my fear will ever go away, nor should it. The ocean is fierce, life is filled with sorrow, and having a healthy respect for both is just good sense. But I also don’t want to fear life so much that I never untie the dock lines, and miss the beauty of it all. It’s a daily struggle, but one that I hope allows me to, as Rumi said way back in the 13th century, “Let the beauty of what I love be what I do.”