Many years ago I had an employee at one of my frame shops, a kid in his early twenties and still a student. I was probably in my early forties so the kid and I had some things in common but not a whole lot. I liked this guy; smart, ambitious, could carry on a conversation in an adult manner….must of come from a good home. I mention this kid (I call him ‘kid’ because for the life of me I can’t remember his name) because he said something all those years ago that I’ve never forgotten. Wasn’t sage advice from someone twenty years younger, just an observation that I carry to this day.
The kid and I were having a conversation about his future desires, and number one on his list was to through-hike the Appalachian Trail solo. I’d heard of the AT but knew little about it. He filled me in on the distance, time it would/should take to hike, what month to start the hike and what direction to travel. I probably didn’t know that the trail started in Georgia, just a short hike from the top of Amicalola Falls, an hour and a half from where we stood talking. After this conversation I asked why he wanted to do it…..what was the motivation. His answer was what has stayed with me all these years. He said he wanted to do it because it scared him to do it, that anything life changing had to be scary otherwise it wouldn’t be life changing. Pretty smart for a twenty-something.
How true those words are. Most of us go through life taking the easy way, flying under the radar of challenge. We have jobs that are good but may have stopped challenging us. We go to the same restaurants, on the same vacations…we like the familiar as it’s comfortable. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But periodically one needs to shock the system to stimulate growth; we need to do something that scares us, that challenges us, that’s different from the comfortable. And that’s exactly what I did this past week…and it felt good.
I was invited by my friend Greg to participate in a ‘bike training camp’ organized by a local bike shop. I was apprehensive because I felt it would be beyond my ability and I’d be out of my comfort zone. But the little retirement fella on my shoulder said, ‘hey, you’re retired, you have no excuse….and the camp is in Florida where the forecast called for 80 degree days; GO!‘ So I did, and it was all of those things; beyond my normal ability, out of my comfort zone, physically demanding plus I was one of the slowest riders in the group. And to top it off I knew two people in attendance, one of them being Greg…and I didn’t have my highly social wife to make friends for us (her specialty in life…never met a stranger). I suffered, was dropped from the pack, got lost, suffered sun burn and heat exhaustion…I just plain wore myself out. And I had to introduce myself to these people…scary! But that’s what growth is about. The easy, comfortable options don’t help you grow…you stay the same. I came back tired, with sore muscles that barely allowed me to lift my legs up stairs…but that was physical….and just as one needs to physically tear down the body so it can rejuvenate itself (that’s what the research says) it’s good to force oneself to tackle situations that put you at unease to make you feel really alive.
I’m not saying we all need to attend bike camp to awaken the conscience. Do something simple (I try/struggle to do this as often as possible); see a movie that’s different from what you would normally see. Go to that hole-in-the-wall restaurant in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Talk to that colleague you’ve always wanted to know. Ask an acquaintance and their spouse over for dinner. Take a vacation where a foreign language is spoken. Volunteer your time. You get the idea. The reality is that people are nice, helpful. You may be self conscious about being the slowest cyclist but no one really cares….they’re concerned about where they fit in. And if you ask for help people will respect you and want to help. But most of all, regardless of ones age, it will help you grow as a person. Anyone reading this is fortunate to live in our world of privilege, so take advantage of it…the worst thing you can do is nothing.
And by the way, I had a great week at bike camp!