The mind is a funny thing. With just a sniff of a fragrance or the tune of a song, the brain brings us back to another time or place as we recall a moment of our past. In an instant, we are back at the prom wishing someone would ask us to dance or we’re replaying that fight and wondering if the hurtful things said had any truth to them. It’s as though we’ve sat down in front of our television and started streaming a movie only this time, the movie is our own tale.
As I’ve gotten older, certain things have become more important to me than they were to my younger self. I no longer stay friends with people who treat me poorly. I no longer care about the latest trendy gadget on the market that everyone “has to have.” And I have learned that a life without passion is no life at all.
I have met many people over the years, and the ones who always stand out are the ones with passion. Now, I’m not talking about the push-you-up-against-the-wall-and-kiss-you-in-the-pouring-rain type of passion so common in romantic films (I’m looking at you, The Notebook!), but the yearning for something more than the ordinary life. This is the type of person who cannot go a day without playing an instrument, who stay in low-paying careers because they absolutely love what they do, and who light up when they talk about something that is important to them.
During our primitive school years, we get used to taking tests. Whether they involve using a #2 pencil to fill in little bubbles or getting each letter correct on a spelling exam, we learn quickly that we must pass in order to succeed. We can’t get our driver’s licenses without both a written and in-car examination. We can’t get through college without passing midterms and finals. And we get used to the act of taking tests.
As adults, the tests become about so much more than academia. We struggle through tests of willpower when coworkers bring in donuts and we are trying desperately to fit into that special occasion outfit. We are forced to hold our tongues when people test our nerves. Our patience is tested as we wait for good or bad news and when children push our buttons. Heck, we even test our own limits by jumping out of planes and taking professional and personal risks.
Several months ago, I did something I had never done before.
It was a sad Friday. The family dog, Killer, had died the night before after being a part of the family for more than ten years and I was fairly certain I had a difficult decision to make in the relationship department. Since it was my day off and I didn’t really feel like staying home to wallow, I packed up some tissues and headed to California’s Shangri-La otherwise known as Ojai.
You might recognize the name of the town as the setting for the Emma Stone comedy Easy A. Yes, it’s a real place and I hadn’t been there since high school. It’s a quaint little town with locally run shops and few chain stores. With my bloodshot eyes carefully hidden behind sunglasses, I wandered the main drag, popping into stores that had artisan crafts and produce picked from nearby farms.
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Fear exists in all of us. Every day, we are confronted with a dozen things that scare us. Maybe it’s the spider scurrying across the floor or the darkened room after the light has faded or the rejection if a first move is made on a date. There is a lot in this world that is utterly terrifying, but let me tell you a little secret, fear is a learned behavior.
That’s right, we learn to be afraid.
There are only two natural fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. It’s true. I forget where I learned this little tidbit, but I do remember raising my hand to answer the question about a natural fear in a school assembly when I was a prepubescent girl. Don’t believe me? You can test it out on any infant. When a baby thinks it’s falling, it will grasp for something to hold onto. When there is a sudden, loud noise, a baby will jump. Babies aren’t afraid of fire or small spaces or animals. The only thing that has been inherently passed down through generation and generation is fear of falling.
After schoolyard episodes of shouting and name-calling, often resulting in pulled hair and bloody noses, we have been taught not to fight. We should work out our issues with other people with our words and not our fists. Sure, it’s a great sentiment to use non-violent ways to defend ourselves, but what happens when we stop fighting altogether?
Plain and simple: we lose.
As adults, we juggle many responsibilities. Some, like managing finances or family, are a given. Others, like the ever-growing to-do list, come to light at a moment’s notice. In one day, we may attend back-to-back meetings, get our teeth cleaned, root for a child on the soccer field, share dinner and a movie with a loved one, write a blog post, and still find a way to sleep. With an act like this, let’s just run away and join the circus now.
Granted, we don’t do all of these things all of the time. We place value on the events, relationships, and goals in our lives. Watching your daughter’s first ballet recital may be more important than working overtime at the office. Saving money for a down payment on a home may be more important than a big, elaborate wedding. It’s really up to you to decide what takes precedence in your life. We order our preferences by their significance and place the priorities front and center.
Between all the juggling, we often forget one very important piece of the puzzle: ourselves.
How many of us huddled together on the playground and cupped our hands over a friend’s ear to whisper hidden words that we had never uttered before? We shared our innermost thoughts and dreams to our pals after they pinky promised to “never tell anyone so long as I live.” Perhaps we divulged our feelings for a classmate or confessed to something embarrassing. Whatever the reason, we decided to unleash the truth and almost immediately felt a weight had been lifted. There’s a reason websites like PostSecret are so popular. People need to let it out, to ease the burden of secret keeping and be honest, if not with others than with themselves.
As adults, we all keep secrets. It’s just the way it is. Some people hide feelings about their best friend’s spouse or what they did last Saturday night. Health conditions, past mistakes, and relationships are concealed under the cloaks of omission and lies. We portray rosy dispositions when we may be struggling with something that gnaws at our emotional core, but that we feel we must keep to ourselves.
We hide parts of our lives from those around us for so many reasons. We’re afraid of how people will react to the truth or how their opinions of our character will be changed once the secret is out. We worry that people won’t understand the truth or how/why we’ve tried to protect them from it. Maybe we’re even a little ashamed.
When we were young, particularly during those Terrible Twos, we learned to stand our ground and not yield to every request that came our way. We turned our noses at anything green on our plates. We ran the other way when it was bedtime, bath time, or homework time. We refused to make our bed and put our toys away.
We said no.
As we got older, something happened and we began to accept things that our toddler selves would never have tolerated. We tried new foods and learned that maybe we were wrong about what we originally rejected. We stuck to the daily routine of sleep, bathing, and work schedules, whether we liked them or not. We washed dishes, dusted furniture, and vacuumed, even if we hated every minute.
We stopped saying no.