The Most Dangerous Thing You Can Do: Stay Safe

Something funny happened to me a few years back. I was living in Flagstaff at the time, and contemplating a visit to the Grand Canyon. But the idea of standing at the lip of that mile-deep crack in the ground gave me fluttery feelings in my belly and repeatedly spooked me away from actually going there and exploring it.

I realized what I was doing, and thought it would be interesting to make a list of things that had scared me in the past.

Bull riding scared me. Skiing off Rock Jump scared me. Asking Scarlet Jones for a date back in high school scared me (so much that I never did it). Speaking in public scared me. Parachuting out of a plane scared me. Asking for a raise scared me. A big, ugly biker guy once threw a head-sized rock at my dogs and I called him a bully and a coward in front of his girlfriend – and what happened afterward REALLY scared me.

But all those things had been years ago.

The question that came to me was “When is the last time I did something I was really afraid of?”

Wow. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been afraid of anything in a long time. I’d been deliberately living well inside the boundaries of my fears. Rather than pushing beyond the edge, trying something new, I existed in a perpetual Safe Zone, staying well back from that dangerous edge. I simply had not tried anything potentially scary. In YEARS.

I was … well, disappointed in myself.

This was not long after that woman sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee in her lap, and I’d even written something at the time about all the attorneys, judges and lawsuit-happy whiners who were gradually closing us all in with safety barriers, glass enclosures, velvet ropes and a vast body of unwritten law that basically says “Your life is your own only until you enter the statistical no-man’s-land of You Might Get Hurt, but then your butt belongs to insurance companies, courts and government agencies. We can’t let you risk it.”

And here I’d been, all unknowing, doing the same thing to myself. Cowering safe inside the velvet ropes, failing to venture out into the wider world where I might learn something. Where I might grow.

I made some changes, and started getting scared again.

I took the mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and was so scared in places I felt woozy. (Picture a 4-foot-wide path, a 500-foot-cliff under your left stirrup, a smooth rock face just off your right, and nothing between you and a LONG screaming fall but the sure-footedness of an animal whose IQ can’t even be measured on the human scale.)

I went on one of those treetop ropes courses and got pretty spooked at walking a slender cable over a 65-foot-deep gully. I signed up for a class in stand-up comedy and ended up clutching a mike for 5 minutes in front of an expectant audience of about 70 people (they laughed!). I went parasailing. I put myself in vulnerable territory by writing, publishing and promoting my book. I also gutted up and started telling people – most of them, anyway, and whenever the subject of religion came up – about being an atheist.

So. How about you?

When’s the last time you thought seriously about reciting your poetry in front of a crowd? Singing karaoke in a bar? Slipping off all your clothes and sinking down into a natural hot spring with strangers? Jumping out of a plane? Starting to learn  American Sign Language and striking up conversations with deaf people? Coming out to your friends and family as an atheist?

If you’re tired of living your life, and nothing better than your life, take my advice and do this:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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(By the way, if you’re interested in CONTINUING to live your life, take this other piece of advice too: The next time you get annoyed with one of those big, ugly biker dudes, stand well back behind the velvet ropes and forget everything I just told you.)

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This was cool: Pictures from a fear-related Halloween story.

 

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