We are creatures of habit. We slip readily into routines, from the paths we take to how we make tea. For many, it is because it is comforting and reassuring giving us our sense of self and identity. For some, it is because of their aversion of risk and reluctance to try out new things in case of undesired outcomes. We tend to stick to what we know, preferring to remain in our comfort zones.
At the same time, many of us would like to be happier, more creative and live more fulfilling lives. But wisdom and words suggest that entails us taking risks and doing something different. We’re told part of the trick is to set grand challenges and life goals that we can then aim for. Self-help books and websites push the language of the journeys we need to take to attain them and the steps along the way. There are lots of lifestyle apps, too, that promise to help you live your dreams and be happy. One I just stumbled across is aptly called, Everest, claiming it can help you “break goals into small steps, build step streaks, learn from others, and beautifully capture your journey from dreaming to doing.”
Seeing one’s dreams and aspirations in ‘step streaks’ is like ticking checkboxes or crossing off lists. There is a degree of satisfaction in doing this. But, as I have discovered on my travels, there is another side to living our dreams – not the small steps up the mountain but the big ones down it. That includes facing our fears.
When I was in Cape Town, I finally overcame a lifetime fear of putting my head under water. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve associated it with terrifying feelings of suffocating and drowning. It comes as no surprise that my idea of hell is scuba diving. I remember the mushroom swimming floats we were taught to do at school. I could never quite grasp my legs and let go in the way my schoolmates did so effortlessly. The same with sitting on the side of the pool when learning to dive. I was hopeless, not even managing a belly flop. After school compulsory lessons, I simply avoided putting my head under, opting instead for the tortoise head swim.
So how did I get over it? The family I was staying with had a swimming pool and each day, 8 year old J, would jump in the pool and swim like a porpoise, encouraging and cajouling me, “Hey Yvonne, come on, put your head under water.” He showed me how to do it. And each day I did it for a little while, even when it gave me ‘stinky’ eyes due to too much background chlorine. Somehow putting my trust in someone much younger seemed to do the trick. Then during my last week, a group of us (adults and children) went to a stunning beach for a final swim and snorkel. I bravely put on my goggles and made a few efforts to hold my breath and look underneath at the seaweed. It was quite choppy because of the wind so I kept popping my head out when no-one was looking. I followed them up onto the rocks, and suddenly I found myself on a precipice that felt like it was 4 meters high. The rest had all jumped in, with the exception of J., who was behind me. I looked down at the swirling seaweed beneath me and the taste of metal tin fear entered my mouth. J. could sense my terror and softly said “Come on Yvonne. Jump.” – I hovered, quivered and mumbled for what seemed like an eternity.
Then I jumped (that is not me but it is the rock!).
I felt a tremendous rush all around me, my body accelerating downwards, sucked into a vortex, and a swishing loud noise in my ears. An enormous fear of drowning enveloped me. I did not know when or how I could stop my body being propelled at top neck speed downwards. I had to wait for my body to stop and reverse back up. In that moment of eternal speed I understood my fear. As I plunged deeper and deeper I wondered if I could hold my breath for much longer. And then I missed the moment of turn. When, finally, my head whooshed out of the sea there was a mighty roar – not from within but from my friends cheering me on.
For days afterwards I marveled at what I had done. Overcoming and understanding the reason for a lifetime fear – however, trivial to others – is like climbing Everest. What next?
My next is to overcome a fear of heights. Many of us suffer from some form of vertigo. It goes against our natural instincts to go near an edge we could fall off and yet others love it – base flyers, bungee jumpers and sky divers crave that adrenalin rush. You wont get me doing any of those extreme sports – not just yet. However, on arriving in Melbourne yesterday, as the next stage of the dream fellowship, I discovered my apartment is on the 61st floor of a modern high-rise block, called Eureka Tower. It has a balcony with stunning views. The concierge who showed me how everything worked in the apartment opened the door to the balcony but would not step out himself. I gingerly did but came straight back in. Since, I’ve made about 20 attempts now to go back out there and hold on. Today I even held onto the glass at the edge of the wall and looked down a crack that goes all the way down. Somehow, it does not seem that bad.
There is a skydeck much higher up the tower on the 88th floor, with a glass box hanging over the edge. You walk out on your socks and look down beneath your feet at the world below. For many, it is yet another thrill but for the concierge and myself it will take a lot of nerve to ‘step streak’ that one. I have two months to do it in.