“A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.” – Unknown
Two years ago, I was sitting in my car thinking just after being laid off from the job I thought I'd probably spend the rest of my life doing. According to how these stories usually go, I should have been mad; I should have been scared; I should have wanted revenge.
But I didn't feel any of these things. Instead, I felt an unexplainable happiness—like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. When the shock of the moment wore off, I realized why I was so happy; all of a sudden, anything was possible!
It had been years since I'd tried something new. It'd been years since I'd taken a risk on myself. It'd been years since I'd actually felt alive. And this moment had snapped me out of it.
So, sitting there in my car that day, faced with no idea what my life was going to look like starting tomorrow, I asked myself a simple question:
What would my life be like if I did something that scared me every single day?
Two years later and I'm relatively convinced it's the best question I ever asked. It's lead me to new and interesting relationships, up mountains, to strange countries, and into self-employment.
None of these things were comfortable—quite the opposite, actually, but they were all worth the effort.
Giving Stress a Good Name
I think it's been a while since stress has gotten a fair shake. It's no four-letter word—literally or figuratively—and for the bad rap it's gotten in ruining lives, it's also reaffirmed just as many.
Stress doesn't come in just one flavor; it comes in two. Most of us are keenly aware of the kind we feel when we're under pressure to do something we don't want to do for people we don't want to do it for. It makes us lethargic, tense, and irritable.
But we're not always as quick to recognize when that same force is making us happy, energetic, and healthier.
Stress isn't good or bad, it just is. What we need is less bad stress and more good. But where does good stress come from?
In my case, it comes from doing difficult and uncomfortable things that also make me happy. It comes from a curiosity about things in my life that take hard work to learn about and explore.
What I've found is the difference between good and bad stress depends entirely on the direction it's applied.
When I work hard and worry about something that isn't important to me, it takes a lot out of me. But when I work hard and apply myself towards something I care about—when I take a risk on something important to me—it adds a great deal to my enjoyment of life.
What I've learned, ultimately, is that stress can be a positive thing, and the times that I learn the most and am the happiest with my life are also the times when I step outside my comfort zone and take a risk on something that's meaningful to me.
Serenity and the Pursuit of Big Things
Last year I took a tour through Africa and Europe where I ran a marathon, climbed two mountains, flew back and forth across continents, slept in airports, and stood in long lines at visa counters in various countries.
There were lots of complications along the way, but I never felt like I was in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing.
Should a life well lived always be in a state of quiet serenity? Or should you always be in pursuit of some kind of challenge? Those questions seem like opposites, but I think they actually go together.
To me, a life well lived strikes a balance between both of those worlds. And I reject the idea that you have to choose one over the other.
My trip last year was big, and at times chaotic, but I felt a sense of serenity throughout it because I was challenging myself with something I love. The stress was welcome.
More importantly, I tried to take each piece of that trip for what it was—one small but manageable risk that was important for it's own sake, able to show me something special about life regardless of what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow.
When you embrace the idea of risk-taking and what it can do for your life, regardless of success or failure, scale becomes mostly unimportant. What looks insignificant to everyone around you can be quite life altering. And many small steps tend to add up to big ones.
The Tiny Risk-Taking Challenge
If you believe, like I do, that stepping outside of your comfort zone on daily basis and trying new things is a good way to live, then I'd like to challenge you to ask yourself the same question that I did two years ago:
What would my life be like if I did something that scared me every day?
And I'd like to challenge you not only to ask the question, but to live it for seven days and see what happens.
Get seven note cards, and put them by your bed. Every morning when you wake up, write down one tiny risk you'd like to take that day—something that scares you but would make your life better.
Then, go and do it! Find a moment in your day, every day, and dedicate it to taking that tiny risk.
If you need some ideas to get started, here are a few:
- Talk to a stranger on the street
- Speak your mind to someone you work with
- Travel somewhere new
- Ask for something you don't think you'll get
- Give an impromptu public speech
- Negotiate with someone
- Give away something you can't afford to lose
- And 20 other ideas to get started
Before you go to bed, turn the card over and write down how you felt when you took that risk. When the seven days are up, look through the cards again. Read your responses, and ask yourself:
Is my life better today than it was seven days ago?
If the answer is no, then feel free to stop; nothing more is required. But if the answer is yes? Welcome to an exciting new world.
Photo by Kenski1970