I once asked my good friend Liz Clark http://www.swellvoyage.com/ if she ever found herself afraid when she was alone in the middle of the ocean, forced into a difficult situation or when she realized she was literally, all alone. Her answer was quite simple, but left a deep and impactful impression on me. She told me she was “often scared, but never afraid”.
I’ve thought about this a lot, not because I find myself in tenuous or life threatening circumstances very often, but more so in the context of how I live my life.
I think everyone probably has an ideal life they envision for themselves. Having gazillions of dollars and the house on the hill, living out of a backpack while indefinitely roaming the world (guilty), solving one of life’s great mysteries or even just a notion of being able to truly live in the moment with a life full of simple pleasures (again, guilty).
While we all have dreams of what we want life to be, there oftentimes seems to be a cavernous disconnect between having the dream and executing the steps to actually living that dream. Maybe part of that is being afraid to take the first step due to fear of failure. Those fears naturally come from many sources such as negative peer pressure, societal pressure, religious pressure, monetary pressure and probably more often than we’d like to admit it, our own internal pressures.
What makes it worse is that our society relentlessly pounds on us to be insecure. Think not? Listen to any advertisement and they’ll tell you how the car you’re driving is not as good or safe as it could be so you should buy theirs. Your current product doesn’t do what theirs does so you are grossly inferior to your peers. The list of examples is literally infinite. With so much constant negative stimulation, I think sometimes we probably lose confidence in ourselves to make and trust our own decisions.
I love to ski, mountain bike, trail run and climb. There was a time though when the numbers game of the these disciplines dictated how I pursued them. I felt constantly pressured to reach and maintain certain benchmarks or risk not being included in the micro-society of each of those things. After a short amount of time, the initial lure of spending time feeding my soul was replaced with having to compete to maintain. I sadly began to lose sight of the true heart of the things I love. I fortunately reversed that situation long ago and now do all these things simply because I love them.
I have a few friends who understand the value of just being outdoors and enjoying the gift of where we live, the value of spending time with each other and the importance of living according to the rhythms of the earth. They aren’t afraid to not be the best, the fastest or the burliest. They enjoy life because of the true gift it is and find importance in time shared with likeminded people who are perpetually looking to feed and expand their soul through simply living and experiencing.
One day last season I met my friend Jesse, an incredibly good athlete, for a day of backcountry skiing near his home in Vail. The snow and weather were both amazing and the day was near perfect for ringing up “big numbers”. Because of the relationship Jesse and I have, I think we knew from the start that that was not the day for “big numbers”. Instead, we spent most of the day talking while we casually climbed, took lots of “philosophy breaks” when necessary and never once felt compelled to ski harder or think about one other thing than the very moment we were in. Though we climbed and skied a lot, we enjoyed the day simply because we put all of life’s constraints, expectations, distractions, inhibitions and limitations aside and let life happen at its own pace. So simple, and to this day, it was likely one of the best days I’ve ever had…on or off the snow.
It’s unfortunate we can’t always have those people in our lives readily available 24/7 to share in life’s natural rhythms. And it’s even more unfortunate that most people won’t, or aren’t willing, to go find those rhythms on their own. If everything is not perfect, or have all the proper restrictions and constraints in place, well, then the entire outing is a bust. Sound familiar? When is the last time you just did something and did it without having one restriction or expectation? How many times have you said, “I’m going to do this thing and I’ll just see where it takes me, however long it takes?”
And then how many times have you said, “Good grief, it’d be a helluva lot easier if I just did this by myself”.
It can be a daunting task to do anything alone, especially when it comes to things like adventuring or putting yourself into an uncontrollable situation when traveling internationally. But as Liz said, it’s okay to be scared, just don’t be afraid. And looking back, every time I’ve been in situations where I found myself alone and a little uncomfortable, I’ve learned more about myself than at any other time in my life. Personal growth and confidence never come from living safely.
When I do find myself going it alone, I always cherish the time to think about why I’m there and slow down to look at the natural beauty around me instead of getting into that “mach it from the car” mentality. I love climbing on my skis in the frigid, wee hours of the morning to a high ridge where I can sit and watch the sun rise and know there is a world of endless possibilities out there waiting on me. I then love skiing down by myself at my own rhythm, savouring each and every turn to the fullest extent, as if it may be the last turn I ever get to make. I love climbing on my mountain bike and finding that perfect pace between physical desperation and euphoria, eventually arriving at a point where the world falls away in every direction and I know in my heart I can conquer whatever life throws at me. I love living at my own unfiltered pace and having the time to appreciate being small in this big world, embracing the imperfections, being a little scared, and even a tad out of control at times — and to realize that that’s okay. Scared, but not afraid.
I’ll always treasure those days with friends like Jesse, but fortunately I’ve learned to never be afraid to just go it alone when all the clutter and distractions start getting in the way of how I want to live my dream.
Walk confidently along the simple road.