Putting ourselves out there and trying new things can be painful. Like excruciating even. It feels awkward, it’s unnerving, and it can be hella intimidating. But it’s a huge part of life that, in one way or another, we all have to face.
Whether it’s because of a new job or a new relationship or a new community, the only way any of us can really connect with the people and environment around us is to take a leap of faith sometimes and jump off the cliff.
I mean, as parents, we all teach our kids that branching out and exploring new challenges and meeting new people helps enrich our lives. And God knows I hear myself saying it to my own kids on an endless loop. But how often do any of us do it ourselves, as grownups? How many of us really, truly enjoy exposing ourselves to new, and potentially scary situations? Not many.
We also don’t want to be faced with that inevitable awkwardness that can often sour new social situations. You know, that feeling of uneasiness that makes us sick to our stomachs. (Although I just think that’s just the taste of vomit welling up in our throats). We want to make connections with people, but we often just don’t know how. And believe me, I know, I’ve been there too.
Look, I know that most of us are just too inherently insecure and don’t want to look like an idiot struggling to learn something new in front of other people. Like nobody wants to be that Joey screaming out of control down the ski trail or the awkward friend of a friend at the dinner party or the newbie trying to tee off the back nine with a putter. But sometimes we just are. And we need to get over it. Which is exactly why I try really hard not to let those fears keep me from going for it.
In hindsight, when I look back at a lot of the scarier things I’ve done—like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or ziplining over the rainforest or running my first road race or initiating a conversation with a total stranger—I realize the lifechanging experiences I would’ve missed if I had given in to self-doubt.
That’s because there’s a very definite vulnerability that comes with allowing ourselves to be truly exposed to the people and experiences around us. Most of us don’t want to fail or look like idiots or be The New Guy.
But that’s just part of living, though. In fact, it’s a key part of the process of growing and adding depth to who we are as people. It’s a necessity, even though it’s not always easy or comfortable.
Yet, when we do put ourselves out there just for the sake of broadening ourselves and our immediate world—with modest expectations—we’re often surprised by how genuine our experiences are. Because when we’re truly open to something new—and I mean truly open—those new things (or people) usually end up blowing our mind.
Like I often think about the friends I probably wouldn’t have in my life if one of us hadn’t made that first, awkward move. Or the memory of riding that horse at full gallop up the side of that ravine in Costa Rica, that wouldn’t exist in that little lockbox inside my head if I hadn’t said WTF.
The way I see it, life is meant to be lived. And the way we do that is by connecting with the people and experiences around us. Even when we’re petrified or embarrassed or indifferent.
Perfect example is something I finally bit the bullet and did last week. It was something on my bucket list that I just kept making convenient excuses to ignore—too early; too far away; conflicts with work. Because this experience was about more than just meeting someone new or doing something outside my sweet spot; it was about meeting hundreds of new someones and doing painfully hard physical things with a guarantee of a massive ass-kicking on the back end. (I know, it’s super enticing the way I frame it.)
But my very tenacious friend Adam never gave up on trying to get me to check out his fun, (big air quotes around fun) eccentric group of fitness lunatics who meet three-days-a-week before dawn in Boston (and 33 other cities around the world, by the way) to do insane workouts. And because my subconscious is always elbowing me in the back of the brain to get off my ass and mix it up, I finally said yes. In the spirit of trying something new.
Now this melting pot of workout junkies, ranging from Olympic athletes to couch potatoes, is called November Project. And they can be as hardcore as it gets. Because even though they’re a fitness movement designed to get everyone and anyone at any fitness level moving, they’re also notorious for bringing the pain to any badass who thinks they can handle the challenge.
Honestly, they’re intimidating as hell from the outside looking in. But get even a tiny taste of their fitness juju, and you’re hooked. Cause these beautiful people do way more than just reach back when anyone reaches out…they swallow you whole.
I mean, for a lot of people, this kind of thing is waaaaaaaay outside their comfort zone. Like miles. Because everyone hugs it out whether you know each other or not. There’s crazy amounts of bouncing up and down super-close together. And there’s chanting. Tons of it. And really loud. With a few choice swear words sprinkled in to punctuate the workouts.
Their motto is Just Show Up, which immediately diffuses the whole intimidation factor and reassures everyone that it’s all just about giving our own best effort.
Needless to say, it was terrifying and inspiring and primal all at the same time. A pretty unique combo.
And that mentality of just showing up hooked me from the first bounce. Because if we just show up, people will almost always be there with open arms to receive us. And not only is that the mantra of November Project, but it’s a poignant truth about life in general.
See, most of the time, if we all just bit back our fear of trying something new or reaching out to someone, we’d realize that our greatest friend or our most meaningful experience might be waiting on the other side.
We just have to push ourselves to go for it.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores.