Be bold. Be brave. Take action. Even if you’re scared shitless while doing it.
A few years ago, I decided to try whitewater kayaking, since so many of friends seemed to prefer that to the mellower version of lakes and slow, meandering rivers that I preferred (known as sea kayaking or touring kayaking).
I gave whitewater kayaking a real try: bought my own boat, helmet, paddle, and PFD (personal flotation device), all the specially designed gear for whitewater. I went to practice to learn how to roll my boat at the local pool. I paid for lessons to learn to read the water and run rapids. And I did it.
And I did okay. Except I was scared shitless almost the entire time, every time I was in my boat.
I finally realized it was not fun for me.
So I quit.
Thus, when the call came to raft the Grand Canyon, it was a terrified YES that came out of my mouth.
I was terrified during our first big rapids. I was terrified in the mornings as we re-packed our boats and everyone talked about the day’s rapids. I cried as we squared up to enter those rapids.
And then something remarkable happened. Just before one enormous, roaring rapid, Nelson came back after scouting it looking pale and pinched. All he said to me was, “Don’t fall out of the boat.” I saw how scared he truly was this time.
One passage from the journal I kept during my trip through the Canyon:
“I’m scared! Scared of scorpions, snakes, rapids, and group dynamics. I also really see I have control issues. Being a passenger on an 18 foot inflatable rubber raft being rowed by my beloved (who hasn’t rowed a raft in nearly 20 years) does not lend itself to feeling ‘in control.’
I began to cry quietly as we approached the first set of big rapids. The terror and the tears continued even as Nelson successfully navigated us – upright and alive – through them. At some point in the trip, in order to stop focusing on the terror, I started counting. Running most big rapids took all of fourteen seconds.”
Fourteen seconds of fear. That was it.
Fourteen seconds of being scared shitless but doing it anyway.
And just like that, my fears became smaller, more manageable. I realized fourteen seconds goes by in a flash, even though when I’m in a rapid, time slows down considerably, to the point that splashes of water happen in slow motion, as the boat rises and dips like a swan, in and out of the churning waves.
Fourteen seconds was long enough for Nelson to lose an oar, holler at me for help, and for me to reach way off the side of the raft into the seething waters to retrieve the ejected oar. We made it through that rapid upright and successfully, too.
Even getting dumped out of a raft (which thankfully never happened on this trip but has on other whitewater trips), appeared to happen in slow motion.
Thus, I learned how to be bold and brave in fourteen second intervals.
And I believe you can, too.
Beyond the Canyon
“Make a dent in the Universe.” Jason Fried
I want to begin with something called the “Hero’s Journey.”
A mythologist named Joseph Campbell first identified the Hero’s Journey back in 1949. There are typically four parts:
- The Call
- Refusal of the Call
- The Journey
- The Return
The Hero’s Journey matters because sooner or later, each of us will be called to one (if we’re paying attention).
The Hero must accept the call and step into the journey of adventure. The journey is full of obstacles and tests the Hero must overcome. It’s hard, grueling, and at times feels impossible.
Making it through the Journey is the reward. For after the journey, the Hero can look back and see the lessons, feel the strength he or she has gained, and now has the opportunity to take this newly found knowledge out into the world.
The Grand Canyon trip was a big “calling” for me. Would I accept the call to the adventure? A big part of me wanted to refuse. I was scared. Not sure I could do it.
But I accepted the call, nerves and doubts and all. I went on the trip. It wasn’t easy. At the beginning of the trip, I didn’t take care of myself and suffered from edema in my legs and migraines all due to lack of water. I was exhausted through parts of the trip from the relentless schedule of packing and unpacking our gear. I got sick of the sand and the heat. I cried at times in fear and frustration. I even had doubts Nelson’s skills when we got to first few really big rapids.
In the end, though, this small journey was a Big Calling for me and for Nelson. It gave us a new perspective on life. It re-invigorated us. And it helped us change everything for the better.
Examples of Hero’s Journeys in pop culture
Did you know some of the most successful movies ever have a Hero’s Journey in them?
- Luke Skywalker in Star Wars
- Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games
- Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips in Captain Phillips
- Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart
- Daniel Day Lewis’ character in Last of the Mohicans
- Jake Sully in James Cameron’s Avatar
- Main characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories (author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy)
- Chronicles of Narnia book by C.S. Lewis
- Many children’s fairy tales/stories
I’m deeply inspired by people who answered “The Call” by following their dreams or by making a difference in the world. I find them to be bold and brave, using their unique voice, and living life it in their own special way.
Here are some examples of people I admire on the “Hero’s Journey”:
Danielle LaPorte, author of The Fire Starter Sessions and creator of The Desire Map is a strong example of someone doing life her own way. Danielle’s spirit is fierce and feisty. Her story is inspiring, her writing lights me up, and she freely admits to her failures, her fears, and her faults. But she’s out there changing the world and doing it on her own terms.
Jonathan Fields, author and creator of Good Life Project is another. Jonathan’s rise to fame has been paved with bold decisions (that some viewed as crazy), big transitions, and a lot of passion. It’s his compassion though, that really inspires me. His goal is to help people create businesses that nourish them financially AND spiritually. He sees a new and better way to do business.
Leo Babauta, blogger at Zenhabits.net and author of the Power of Less belongs on this list, too. Leo’s thoughtful and honest blog helps people make small changes that lead to big shifts in life. His insightful writing and living as an example of what he preaches makes his a favorite for me.
Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Nonconformity (Set your own rules, live the life you want and change the world) charted his course by traveling to every country in the world. He created the World Domination Summit, a series of Unconventional Guides to help people chart their own paths, and wrote two books (The $100 Start Up and Born for This).
Kim and Brian Dinan saved up money for two years. They sold everything they owned to travel the world. They write individual blogs at www.So-Many-Places.com and www.WanderingSasquatch.com and are creating courses to help others go explore the world, too.
Srinivas Rao, creator of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast. Srini is so open about his struggles while simultaneously finding the most interesting people to interview. Their conversations are raw, interesting, and I learn a ton listening to them. He’s also got a book coming out in 2016 that I’m eager to read.
I’m sure there are plenty of other folks who inspire me and who have supported me in helping me to be bold, brave, and take some action (even if I’m scared shitless while doing it).
ACTION: make a list of people who inspire YOU. Read their stories again and see if you can discover the steps in their hero’s journeys. My bet is you’ll feel more connected to and inspired by them.
Ways to make some room
So let’s talk about being scared shitless (or what more refined people might call FEAR).
Most people admit to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I have recently learned the most successful ones learn to manage their breathing.
You can too.
Step One: Breathe! I heard a saying that fear is simply excitement without breath. Turn your fear into excitement by remembering to breathe!
Step Two: Act! I subscribe to the Ready? Fire! Aim! way of living life. Decide what you want to do and simply begin. One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, talks about making your art and shipping it. And doing it over and over whether you fail or succeed. Nike tells you to Just Do It.
Step Three: Be present to the moment you’re in. Don’t remember the past with fear. Don’t future-cast by telling stories. Focus. Pay attention and act.
Practice these three steps daily. Or moment-by-moment if you have to.
With practice, you will soon find yourself about to be “in the present moment” more and more often.
Have you missed any chapters?
Also, stay tuned for Chapter Eight (Laugh often and loudly) next week!
[All content and photos are (c) 2016 Angela Mattson Stegall and Nelson Stegall for the book, Make Some Room: Powerful Life Lessons Inspired by an Epic 16-day Colorado River Rafting Trip Through Grand Canyon.The book will be available mid-June through Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.]