I’ve never been a fan of convention.
It’s not that I’m intentionally trying to throw myself off the well-worn path, it’s more that I find growth and happiness in the ditch alongside the trail, or in the woods away from the guideposts that will ostensibly tell me how to get where I’m going. I know I’ll get where I need to be, and following such markers increases the chance that I’ll end up at a destination, but not my destination.
This mode of operation has led me from challenge to challenge, new experience to new experience, and the resulting prospects and conflicts have been interesting, if not always easy. I constantly find myself in the position to fail, knowing that although failure is very much an option, doing so would be a stumble, and I pride myself in being sure-footed even when I’m unfamiliar with the race I’m running, composition of the trail, and everything else related to what I have to do, and do well.
A practical example of this is the first time I gave a talk to a group of university students. I’d never given a formal talk of this sort before, and I never really paid attention to similar talks while I was a student, so I was kind of flying blind. I knew generally what I needed to do, how to present, and what to talk about, but it was very foggy. I was concerned that the administration’s faith in me would end up misplaced and that I would bore the class for an hour, rather than adding something positive to their lives.
It was an opportunity to fail.
But I didn’t. Not entirely, at least. There was plenty of room for improvement, of course, but I perked myself up by mentally muttering a mantra that has become my go-to in unfamiliar situations that I have to figure out or fail: This is what I do.
This is not to imply that public speaking is my prime stream of income, the thing I enjoy doing most, or even something I do all the time, but it is something that I do. It’s telling stories, sharing my passions with others, doing my best to inspire those who need a push or catalyst to take their next steps, and doing so in a public forum so that the information is available to take or leave, depending on the needs of the recipients.
It’s also putting myself in the position to fly or fall. It’s a challenge. It’s a new experience every time, and it’s something that, if I gave in to my gut response to being asked to speak in front of a crowd, I wouldn’t do. It’s a stretch for me, and I find it’s only in stretching that I stand a chance of growing into a better version of myself.
When I first started traveling, I didn’t care for travel by plane. Being a well-read and slightly neurotic kid, I was acutely aware of all the ways I could die mid-flight. Though the numbers were in my favor, I still felt it was an unnecessary risk. I didn’t see the point.
But my priorities changed, and I realized that if I was going to travel frequently, make it part of my lifestyle, I would need a change in attitude; in how I perceived the situation.
“This is what I do,” I told myself. I travel, I fly, this is part of what I love and will continue to be. There may be plenty of reasons to be uncomfortable or afraid or upset or awkward, but I won’t be.
Because anything I need to accomplish to get where I want to be is something that I do. And like anything else, I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can.
Update: April 12, 2017
This is still a mantra I’ll mentally mutter when in a novel, seemingly crazy situation that at first seems too much for me. It’s amazing how positioning yourself, if only internally, as someone who can tackle anything can bolster your confidence in such moments.