“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neale Donald Walsch
There was a time when piano recitals were one of the most dreaded things in my life.
I hated them, hated everything about them. First of all, preparation for them involved learning the most difficult composition of the year — some piece of classical music designed to show off all I had learned through 50-some weeks of lessons. And it was rarely a song I enjoyed playing…in no small part because I didn’t enjoy playing things that didn’t come easily.
Kind of the way I didn’t like Calculus. Or physics. Or football.
None of it came easily, you see.
And my parents, teachers, and coaches were so good at noticing all the things I did well that they really didn’t worry themselves about the areas where I struggled and then, usually, quit. Like piano. My mom said if I really hated piano lessons, I could stop when I turned 13, and I did.
In retrospect, it was one of a host of stupid decisions I made in my life out of laziness, boredom, self-consciousness, and an unwillingness to expose myself to the possibility of failure. Today I sit down at my piano and stare longingly at sheet music I wish I had the depth of skill to play.
Looking back, I can easily say I have lived more than half my life in fear.
Fear of how stupid I might look in trying something new.
Fear of being judged.
Fear of being ridiculed.
Fear of not being understood.
Fear of suffering.
Fear of being alone.
Fear of being abandoned.
Fear of not being smart enough, strong enough, good enough….
Fear of being KNOWN.
I couldn’t tell you when I finally snapped out of this. I don’t believe it happened in an instant. It was a process, a long and sometimes painful one.
I just know I was hiking one of the steepest trails I’d ever hiked (yes, this was before the Grand Canyon) with a friend and his son, the uber fit youngster looking like he was out for a Sunday stroll while outpacing us by several hundred yards. My friend turned to me and asked if I needed to rest.
“Nope,” I replied, though the sweat was pouring down my temples, “I’m good.”
And he grinned a little at me and said, “You know, you’re a really good sport. You’ll do just about anything, and you don’t complain about it either.”
I’m sure I looked at him a little sideways. I’d certainly never thought of myself as a good sport even though it’s one of those phrases parents bandy about, perhaps out of some obligation they feel to at least attempt to instill values of adventurousness, courage, and comfort with struggle or failure in their children.
But when I thought about it, my friend was right. Somewhere along the way, I had indeed become a good sport. And more than that, I’d gotten pretty fearless.
Sitting in a front row pew at church, anxiously waiting my turn to race through my dreaded recital piece on a clunky church piano as quickly as possible, I’m pretty sure I never dreamed in a million years I’d have the chutzpah to go mountain biking with one of the nation’s top racers (and yeah, it almost killed me) or to sit on the ocean floor, removing and replacing my dive mask at 60 ft. below the surface without launching into a full panic (and yes, I laid awake the entire previous night with anxiety about it).
I also never imagined I could love so deeply and be battered so wickedly and have the guts to go in for another round, and another. Or that I would be the kind of person who could pick up stakes and move every couple years, switch jobs every few months, and then finally throw up my hands and go out on my own without the slightest idea if I could really make it work. And I still haven’t proved if I can….
Somewhere along the way, I’d started trying to be like the famous Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger. I just did not give a shit.
I did not care if friends or relatives thought I had lost my mind. I did not care if it was dangerous to walk the streets of South American cities alone. I did not care if a piranha might eat my arm off. I did not care if I toppled off my standup paddleboard into the freezing Tennessee River. I did not care if anyone else was watching me dance or hearing me sing. I was learning to push my own envelope and in the process learning that it was outside my comfort zone that real life begins.
While you’ve undoubtedly watched the viral honey badger YouTube video and snorted laughter, how deeply have you considered the honey badger’s philosophy on life? Yeah, I’m being serious. Don’t forget that National Geographic has called the critter “the most fearless animal on the planet.” It will do, chase, eat anything.
And while it’s doing all this wild living, scavenging birds and foxes follow it around, too lazy (suggests the narrator) to go fight for their own meals, waiting to get the leftovers from this badass rodent. “The honey badger does all the work while the other animals just pick up the scraps,” notes the narrator.
I start thinking about these scraps. And people I know who survive on them. Getting by. Marking time. Watching life from a safe distance. Going in only when they’re absolutely certain the coast is clear.
And, of course, when you wait too long, curry safety over experience and security over destiny, scraps are what you will get.
If you ever thought “being a good sport” was about “settling,” reconsider. It’s really about getting out there, being willing to go for the biggest prize, and being able to feel good about yourself even when you don’t land it…because you know you tried, you know you lived, you know you pushed through fear.
What’s pushing through fear worth? Well, you certainly aren’t going to know until you’ve done it. But I will say the other side of fear is pretty euphoric…and worth giving a try.
A close girlfriend of mine once said to me, “You’re the bravest female friend I have who isn’t a lesbian.”
Well, she didn’t call me the “honey badger.” But close enough. I’ll take it.