When I was a little boy, my parents signed me up for swim lessons. And, while this might seem like a safe activity, it terrified me. I remember standing on the pool deck breathing the heavy, chlorine laden air, the pool spread out before me, placid and threatening. From my perspective, the pool might as well have been Lake Michigan. In that moment, uncertainty filled my little body. I had a choice to make, but fear gave me pause.
Nonetheless, as my dad took his hand off my shoulder, I mustered the courage to walk across the cool tile floor, and to eventually enter the pool with the other kids.
In grade school I would end up swimming competitively, and in college I would routinely swim in the lakes and two mighty rivers that ruled the geography of Southern Indiana.
Although I may not have realized it that day on the pool deck, my belief in facing fear and uncertainty was forged.
It’s easy to laugh about that childhood memory now, but at the time it was a challenge driven by fear. I’ve found that learning to embrace challenge, and allowing fear to serve as a guide, are necessary to living a fulfilled life. Facing challenges is a cyclical human condition–the better prepared we are to meet them, the more likely we are to find rewards in the process.
Twenty years later, I was again standing on a deck, but this time at Chicago-O’Hare Airport, waiting on my flight to Anchorage. All I carried with me was a book, and paperwork documenting that my dog Elsa would be on the flight. And there, as I was waiting at the gate, I was again staring across the vastness of the pool, only this time the scale had changed–I was leaving Indiana to travel 1000’s of miles to Alaska.
Two months earlier I had resigned from my teaching position, sold the truck I’d been driving for 10 years, packed my belongings, and decided, along with my wife, to face the uncertainty of moving to Alaska. So, just as my dad took his hand off my shoulder two decades before, my parents gave me a hug and silently wished me the best, as I walked through the gate.
Now, 6 years later, I can again smile in knowing that making a difficult choice, facing fear & uncertainty, and embracing the challenge of moving 3500 miles from home, was worth it. I’ve gained so much by the risk. Had I never decided to face the fear of uncertainty, I would have been fine, just not as alive.
The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson remarked that,
“We must accept life for what it actually is – a challenge to our quality, without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.”
As Stevenson so eloquently asserts, I believe embracing challenges & facing our fears is the surest way to a fulfilled life & growing to our fullest extent.