When’s the last time you voluntarily put yourself in an awkward, rookie position that made you feel incapable? If you’re over the age of twenty, I’ll bet that you, like most of us grown-ups, rarely find yourself in such a position. When we’re young, it’s inescapable and we do it all the time. From learning to walk to learning to ride a bike to the first time you asked someone on a date, these first time moments are such a routine part of a young person’s life that we bound from one comfort zone-expanding activity to the next with little trepidation. By the time we’ve reached adulthood, however, life settles into a much more predictable pattern. What a shame.
Granted, as adults the stakes are higher. We cannot afford daredevil stunts that put our careers or families at risk. But oh my, how risk averse we become! Outside of required changes related to starting a new job or adjusting lifestyle to accommodate family, we rarely seek new experiences just for the hell of it. When we’re young, on the other hand, no one demands us learn to ride a bike before we can pass the fifth grade or get a promotion. Rather, we figured it out simply because it looked fun.
As adults, we still learn new things – how to hook up a printer or write a computer code or calculate retirement savings – but they’re necessary (and boring) skills that life requires. Even our hobbies, it seems, are usually rooted in fundamentals we picked up as youngsters. In my case, I enjoy running and cycling but they’re continuations of my childhood skillset. Ask me to walk a tightrope or do a back handspring and I’ll run for the hills. Not only do I have zero ability but I also lack any desire to figure it out. Yet challenged with those acrobatics as a kid I’d likely have given them a shot.
As we head into a New Year and set another round of resolutions, can I challenge you to set a resolution that’s childlike? What would your ten year old self want to accomplish with a fresh start and, I hope, a few more dollars in the piggy bank than you had back then? I guarantee your resolutions would not have been obligatory or based on your doctor’s recommendations. What do I mean by that? I mean grown-up resolutions are a bore; they read like something a nagging parent or supervisor would jam down one’s throat:
- Eat more vegetables
- Go to the gym
- Read the newspaper
- Count calories
- Read more self improvement books
- Watch less TV
- Earn a professional certification
Sure, these are worthy resolutions that earn you brownie points with your doctor or boss or financial planner but they’re no fun. None of them will awaken your enthusiasm or make you whoop with joy upon the first taste of success.
This year, set your sights on something that.. A) seems to you like a fun adventure, B) scares you, and C) is unrelated to anything you’ve done before.
Why am I recommending such imprudent guidance? Because over the years I’ve occasionally ventured to those eyebrow-raising edges and in every instance it’s rewarded me in more ways than my responsible, adult brain predicted.
In my 20’s I learned to fly airplanes.
In my 30’s I learned to swim competitively.
In my 40’s I learned to sail.
And now, on the cusp of decade #5, I’m learning to telemark ski.
Last weekend I once again felt those nervous butterflies as for the first time I strapped on a pair of “free heel” skis, clambered over to a very patient instructor, and sprawled onto the bunny slope like Bambi on a frozen pond. As the lesson began I kept asking myself, “What the heck are you doing? This is hard. You look like a fool. You’re gonna break your leg.” A few hours later I still looked like a middle-aged Bambi but I was laughing out loud as every jaunt down the bunny slope became a little more manageable.
That was yesterday. Today, my body is sore in ways it hasn’t been for years but I’m as giddy about the next telemark outing as you and I were following the first time we rode a bicycle.
These seemingly self-serving, unprofessional pursuits have benefited me in ways that doctor and financial planner recommendations never could. Through flying and sailing lessons I learned to stay calm under pressure and trust instrumentation over my gut. With swimming I discovered a form of meditation and exercise that snaps me into focus in totally different ways. And telemark skiing? The verdict is still out but I already have smiles, laughs, and a new group of friends that never would have crossed my radar.
Let’s face it, the last couple years have been rough. This pandemic has snuffed sparks within us all, and the last thing we need this New Year is another set of stodgy, uninspiring obligations, er, resolutions that are no fun to pursue and likely to fail, anyway. In its place, join me on a frivolous, semi-risky journey into learning a new skill that excites you to consider, challenges your comfort zone, flexes your mental and physical muscles, and brings a smile to your face.
See you on the bunny hill.