“Do one thing that scares you every day.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
I always knew Mrs. Roosevelt hadn’t meant “do scary things” like bungee jumping or parachuting; although, I’m sure both are exhilarating. I understood these words to mean we should step outside our comfort zone to capitalize on an opportunity that would make a difference in the world or someone else’s life.
Now, after living half a decade and scaring myself at different intervals, I feel like it means something entirely different.
I did my first really scary thing twelve years ago. My social work background is in long-term care. I understand Medicare, Medicaid, and the challenges the senior population and their families face. But after I went through Grief Recovery training, I wanted to try something different, so I quit my job at the retirement community and accepted a position as an outpatient therapist in community mental health.
I sailed so far out of my comfort zone that the elevator ride up to my inner city office scared the living daylights out of me. I had no idea how in the world I was going to help these people who often came to our office as a last resort to save their lives. After six months, I still felt like a fraud, grasping to help people when I didn’t have the proper training. So I quit.
I look back at those six months as one of the most intense, learning induced periods of my life. I wonder if it’s how soldiers feel about boot camp? I didn’t like feeling scared everyday. I also don’t think that’s what Mrs. Roosevelt meant. I went back to work with the senior population in my rural community and breathed in a deep sigh of down-home comfort.
“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.
My next scary move came four years later when we left for China. It’s one thing to be curious from within your comfort zone. It’s an entirely different beast to leap into a counter-culture where your intelligence is reduced to that of a toddler. How many times had I put pepper on my food, thinking the shaker with the most holes was salt? And how many times had I nearly killed myself stepping off the curb at a red light? In China, pedestrians do not have the right away, and cars don’t stop when turning right. In fact, I’m convinced traffic laws in China are merely guidelines for navigating the road. Everyday, I feared doing the wrong thing, offending someone, looking stupid…. (Who knew you bought eggs by the pound)? At least two months passed before I didn’t hold up a check-out lane in the supermarket because I failed to have something weighed.
I lived in Suzhou, China for two years. I look back, grateful for the opportunity because I learned and experienced so much. But just because a move is big and scary doesn’t make it the best decision. There was a definite trade-off that I’m not sure was well-balanced. Once I realized scary-change doesn’t always equal good-change, I began to view Eleanor Roosevelt’s words under a slightly different lens.
The reason I moved from China back home was because, after twenty-five years of marriage, I was going through a divorce. There is nothing quite as scary a the rug of life being yanked out from under your feet, tossing you into an uncertain future. Unless you grasp a hold of hope and have faith in something greater than yourself, fear will swallow you whole.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman who learned to navigate the unfairness of life when her mother and brother died from diphtheria. She was only eight years old. Two years later, her alcoholic father died in a sanitarium. The niece of Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor spent a great deal of time at his home, growing up with her cousins. Plain in looks and serious in temperament, she stood by FDR’s side through personal and political upheaval. If you’d like to read more about this great woman, click here.
“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.
When we experience a significant loss and our world shifts, we oftentimes wish things could have been different, better, or that we’d had more time. The pain can be overwhelming, but we always have a choice–right or wrong, good or bad. The decisions we make everyday determine the outcome of our future.
A friend once told me life is about making the next right decision. That may not be the choice that makes you happy. It might be the hard choice to say no or to stay home or to get on your knees.
“Happiness is not a goal. It’s a by-product.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.
I believe this is what Eleanor Roosevelt meant when she said, “Do something everyday that scares you.” She’s not talking about making big, adventurous moves that frighten us. She’s talking about facing everyday uncertainty. Whether you find yourself dealing with divorce, a death, a new relationship, starting a new business or job, moving to a new place, you will face uncertainty. And it’s scary.
But don’t let fear control your decisions. Face the uncertainty with the best you have to give. Make the next right choice that helps you to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. It’s who you were meant to be.
“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It can’t be done.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.
What is the craziest thing you have done outside your comfort zone?
Who is a historical leader you admire?