Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

Dispatches on life, love and the human condition by a wanderer and hopeful romantic

The Importance of Challenging Yourself Through Fear

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I’m no stranger to being single—having lived that way for many years–but there still has been a period of adjustment after this last break-up, perhaps because I had tucked in nicely to the idea of having a boyfriend and wasn’t expecting to be thrust back into my solo lifestyle so soon.IMG_8277

To help myself get my ex out of my head and distract myself from any negative thoughts, I’ve been trying to stay busy. So when my friend Emma spontaneously said she was going to the local wakeboarding park in nearby Lagos last Saturday, I decided to go along as well—although I was slightly groggy and hungover from a party the night before.

Although I am a surfer and relatively physically fit for my age through jogging, yoga and other activities, I don’t have a super-sporty figure, and I’m not particularly coordinated. I tried wakeboarding once about 15 years ago behind someone’s boat on a lake in Maine, with pretty much zero success, and didn’t really fancy trying it again.

However, surfing and yoga have given me a lot of core strength since then, and I have a far more adventurous spirit now. In fact, a surfing friend has been trying to get me to the wakeboarding park—which consists of a reservoir and a cable that pulls you along instead of a boat—for several years, insisting I would enjoy it and may even want to replace my passion for surfing with wakeboarding.

Wakeboarding, in my opinion, is far more similar to snowboarding than surfing. When I lived in San Francisco many years ago, I tried snowboarding for two days over a weekend with friends in Lake Tahoe, California. This was not long after the failed wakeboarding attempt and, like that experience, it also did not go well. (Try snowboarding, they said. It will be fun, they said.)

What I remember mostly from that trip is falling hard and repeatedly on the cold, icy snow, at one point literally crying in pain and exhaustion as I tried to make my way down a beginner run on my last day in a complete whiteout. (My friends, all better than me, abandoned my novice ass very quickly on day one–who could blame them?) Perhaps feeling guilty and imagining me lying in a broken heap somewhere off piste, one of them was waiting anxiously for me at the end of that final run, looking quite worried–as well he should have been–until he spotted me limping toward him.

After a brief instruction on land of what to do in the water, it was time to do this thing for real. I was understandably super nervous–shaking, my heart pounding, bile in my throat, that whole shebang–as I awkwardly edged my way off the dock on my ass into the reservoir where I would give wakeboarding a real try in front of a small group of onlookers.

I tried to console myself with the knowledge that water is an element I understand far better and in which I am far more comfortable than snow. It also typically a more forgiving place to land (though, not always, as I would find later.)

My first few attempts to get to my feet on the board were a bit more successful than my previous experience–ie, I got to my feet. The problem is, I didn’t stay there long, promptly face-planting into the water as I went boobs over board. So much for a soft landing–that shit stung! The water also, as I was warned, is unusually salty, leaving me sputtering the bad taste out of my mouth.

After a few embarrassing and somewhat painful falls, however, I started to get it. By taking my time as the cable began pulling me forward, I learned how to slowly rise to my feet and began to feel the groove of the glide over the water. It felt both similar and very different to surfing, but with that same rush of energy and adrenaline that surfing so satisfyingly provides.

By the end of my two 15-minute sessions, I was successfully getting to my feet and boarding from one end of the cable to the other, even sometimes with only one hand on the bar. My first attempts to turn were unsuccessful and ended with more ungraceful splats in the water, but I didn’t care. Expecting too much of myself is not my thing these days.

As I finished my second session and mustered my last reserves of muscular energy to pull myself onto the dock like a beached sea lion, I felt a mix of elation and pride. The thing is, even if I hadn’t gotten to my feet that day (but thank fuck I did), I would have something to be proud of–I, at nearly 46 years old and newly demoralized by yet another failed relationship, had the courage to try something new that I was quite sure would make me look like a giant asshole.

I also conquered some fears that might have prevented me from even trying in the first place. One was my concern that I would twist my already weak knees in the wakeboarding boots or otherwise injure myself, and the other was the much more common fear that we all have when we try something new–that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and people might laugh at or otherwise ridicule me.

Well, I did do it, and there was a lot of laughing that day, but mostly it was coming from me. My friend Emma even commented after that I was extremely good-natured after each fall I took, rising to the surface giggling at myself and making jokes and promises to my instructor that I would do better next time.

There are always things to be afraid of in life. But what I’ve found over the years is that most of them are illusions that we invent in our own heads.

I mean, sure, if you are in the African bush and you encounter a lion, it’s normal to be fearful that you might be eaten alive. And if you or someone you love have been diagnosed with a terrible disease, of course it’s normal to fear your own death or the loss of that person.

But most of our daily fears are much less dramatic than that. Some people are afraid to leave their job when offered a new one. Others are afraid to move to a new city or country even if the opportunity arises. Still others won’t leave a relationship in which they’ve been terribly unhappy for many years for fear of being alone or that they won’t find someone else to love.

These fears are not quite the stuff of life or death, but they are valid. However, most of the fear of these changes is not connected to the action or situation itself. It’s really the fear of the unknown that stops people from changing their lives by taking on new careers or adventures, making new friends or new lovers, or even doing something as simple as trying a new dish at a favorite restaurant or walking up to a stranger and saying hello.

I didn’t know what to expect that day at the wakeboard park, and so I was afraid at what might happen. Yes, I could have been injured. Yes, someone could have (and, let’s be honest, most likely did) laugh at me. Yes, I might have swallowed some salty water and made myself sick.

But none of those things happened (really). What did happen was that I walked out of there feeling good, a mix of adrenaline and pride coursing through my veins. (The full-body pain that the exertion of wakeboarding causes would come later, oh yes it would.)

I even felt, for the first time in the two weeks since my gut-wrenching break-up, one of the first glimmers of that carefree feeling–you know the one–that  everything is going to be OK.

But best of all, I didn’t feel so afraid anymore of the uncertainty that lie ahead of me. I mean, walking out of there, none of the circumstances in my life had changed–I still hadn’t heard from my ex, I still was back to ground zero in terms of my love life, and I still faced the prospect of another lonely night crying into my pillow.

But somehow, I felt changed, just by facing some small fears that arose at the prospect of strapping my feet to a board and being pulled by a tow cable to cruise over some water. I could still try new things that challenged me both physically and mentally, and succeed. I still could face uncertainty, breathe through it and come out the other side no matter what the outcome.

I was still strong, still capable, still smiling and still very much me, even if someone I loved didn’t love me back in the way I wanted him to. In that moment I felt so good, so capable, so thoroughly strong in body and mind that no one–not him nor anyone else who’s every rejected me, laughed at me, or told me I couldn’t do something that I thought maybe I could–could take that away from me. Nor, I vowed, would I ever let them again.







Author: elizabethmontalbano

I am a writer, photographer, lover, fighter, traveler and bon vivant currently residing in southwest Portugal.

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