At age forty-four I entered a marathon for the first time. I wasn’t a runner. It was just one of those bucket list things. I downloaded a free training app’ and began preparing my mind and body for conscription into an experience for which they had no reference point.
I spent about forty of those life-altering forty-two kilometers trying to appease an incredulous brain that screamed at me incessantly “WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL?” I have only my stubbornness to thank for my completion of that challenge, because every other part of me was pleading for it to end. That was ten years and 25 marathons ago.
Our brains are conditioned to search out familiarity and comfort: In our partnerships, our jobs, the things we eat, and our relationship with our bodies. If the womb is our primordial experience of that familiarity and comfort, then I’m pretty sure that running a marathon would qualify as the total opposite.
But the reality is that to grow and truly flourish, we must embrace newness and the unknown, just as we did when we were infants. This is how we expand our library of experiences and the knowledge, skills and wisdom we derive from them. And we draw upon these in our critical future decision-making, shaping the course of our lives.
Building a diverse library that will enrich our life is done one brick at a time. It might start with ordering an unfamiliar dish from a restaurant menu or initiating a conversation with someone we expect to have nothing in common with. It might require leaving a relationship that is holding us back from the fullness of who we are, or it might mean accepting an exciting new challenge without the faintest idea of whether or not we will succeed. And succeed or not, these choices will inevitably lead to growth and expansion, if we are open to their teachings.
In an era of instant gratification, we often expect a new experience to feel good straight away. We tell ourselves that if it doesn’t feel ‘right’ it must be wrong, and we convince ourselves to stop. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, challenged this, suggesting that our actions shape our character, rather than the other way around. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.
For the first forty-four years of my life running marathons was neither part of my character nor something that I did…until one day it was. And I did. And a new world of possibilities, previously unseen, opened up before me.
As a Life Coach and Workshop Facilitator, I have the privilege of supporting people through the kinds of conversations with themselves that lead to new beginnings and richer lives. I witness them making unfamiliar choices and stepping into unknown futures, with all the emotional courage that requires, and I watch them reap the rewards.
We can spend a lifetime waiting for the ideal moment, the right feeling, before we act. We might wait for irrefutable evidence or that elusive motivation. We might even wait for permission. Or we might choose to become infants once again, feeling fully alive as we step into the unknown, and discover its infinite possibilities.