I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Yes, there are things about my life I’d like to change, but resolutions don’t work for me. My goals were always too high, and the guilt of non-attainment crushed me.
My thinking changed about 20 years ago. I discovered that new experiences, rather than New Year’s resolutions, were a better option. I’m a bit of an introvert and risk-avoider, and consequently, I’ve missed out on some great life experiences because of fear. Therefore, every year I set out to try something I’ve never tried before; nothing immoral or illegal, just stuff that personally terrifies me.
A few of my new experiences have addressed genuine life-and-death fears like water and falling; I conquered those with swimming lessons and a bungee jumping. However, most of my new experiences deal with my fear of failure. In addition to being an introvert and risk-avoider, I am also a recovering perfectionist. I’m afraid to try new things simply because I’m terrified of failing in the attempt.
During the past few years, I put on my big girl panties and met a few of these fears head on. They include:
My mother’s family is Puerto Rican, and rhythm seems to be an intrinsic part of their DNA. My father’s family is Polish, and the white-guy shuffle is part of every chromosome. Genetics screwed me over; I can’t dance. Heck, I can’t even clap in time with the music.
So what did I do? I tried out for a musical, and I actually got a part. (The director had no choice. The show had an ice-skating scene, and I was the only actor who could skate.) My acting and skating skills were pretty good, but my dancing was abysmal. During a hat and cane number, I whacked a fellow performer in the back of the head. I stepped on toes, I tripped over my own feet, and I forgot the choreography, but here’s the awesome part – I didn’t run offstage in tears. I toughed it out. In the end, I danced in front of roughly 6,000 people during the show’s run, and none of the critics blasted me for my choreography carnage.
My children wanted to walk through the zoo’s aviary, but I refused to budge. Behind the screen door were dozens of birds flying freely through a rain forest exhibit. They chirped, squawked and defecated with reckless abandon. I told my kids I’d meet them at the exit, and I left the building. Not a good decision when your kids are seven and three.
I’ve been afraid of birds ever since I caught five seconds of crows attacking kids in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” It didn’t help when barn swallows built a nest in the eaves of my childhood home and dive-bombed me on my way to and from school. Things got much worse when a freaky mockingbird attacked my dog ten years later. I let her outside to do her business, and the bird decided to go kamikaze on her furry butt. I ended up swinging a broom at the bird and screaming to keep her away from my dog. This went on for weeks. My neighbors never talked to me again. It’s no wonder the poor dog was constipated for years.
So what did I do? I found lorikeets, the cutest birds on the planet. Years after my aviary abandonment, we saw the birds at a South Carolina zoo. People walked into the enclosure and fed them little cups of fruit nectar. The little birds gently flitted from person to person. We were about to walk past the exhibit, but I declared it was time to face my fear. I purchased my over-priced paper cup of nectar and walked into the enclosure with my family. A lorikeet was on my hand within seconds. I trembled a bit, but then I focused on the bird’s beauty. Soon more lorikeets perched on my hand. One landed on my head. I stopped shaking. The birds didn’t kill my children or gouge my eyes out. They were cute little freeloaders who just wanted some juice and a place to poop. I left the enclosure with a new sense of accomplishment and a streak of recycled nectar on my back.
I firmly believe what Mufasa said about the Circle of Life, and I refuse to become a part of it. Sharks live in the ocean; therefore, the ocean is not a good place for me to hang out. I’d wade into ankle-deep water and then trudge back to shore to watch for dorsal fins while my husband and kids played in the waves.
My husband took me to Puerto Rico two years ago and booked a snorkeling trip for us. My plan was just to stay on the boat and read a book, but $75 a person seemed a bit much for reading time. I reluctantly agreed to get in the water. The captain gave me my snorkel, mask, fins and floatation belt. (Yes, I was the only adult with floaties. I can swim, but I don’t swim well.) I swam out with my husband, and the water was blessed with a new warm spot. Below me I saw beautiful coral and small fish darting in and out of the ocean plants. I had a death grip on my husband’s arm, but I splashed around for a few more minutes. That’s when I saw it gliding through the water. I made another warm spot and contributed some chum for nearby fish. It wasn’t a shark, but rather one of those Steve Irwin-killing sting rays. I was out of the water within 15 seconds. My husband later told me the sting ray was roughly two feet long from tip to tail and hid itself in the sand after I darted. Failure? No way. Even though my time was limited, I actually joined the ocean ecosystem for a few awe-inspiring minutes.
I had to face a lot of unexpected fears in 2013 – my son’s cancer scare, my brain lesion, threats and hate from my blog and the Piers Morgan show. (Piers was by far the scariest.) I haven’t decided what fears I’ll tackle in 2014. I may try a sport that involves hand-eye coordination, or I may get over my “getting my butt kicked” fears with some Krav Maga self-defense lessons or tae kwon do classes. The only thing I know for certain is that I’ll end 2014 the same way I ended 2013 – with fewer fears, a little more self-confidence and a much richer life.