I don’t jump out of planes. I am not a world traveler. I don’t have any tattoos or piercings (beyond the basic holes in my ears), and for some reason, my wardrobe is filled with a lot of grey and black (I’m working on this one).
But I definitely believe in emotional risk taking – noticing myself on a daily basis – my challenges, my issues, my triggers. It’s not always pretty, but I notice.
I watch myself closely. When I feel fear, anxiety, defensiveness, envy, all the normal human emotions, my first question is, why? What am I afraid of, what do I think it means, where does it all stem from? And usually the answer goes something like this: I’m afraid of being rejected. I’m afraid that who I am is wrong. I’m afraid I’ll be alone.
Yikes, and yikes, but that’s usually the bottom-line truth for me. At the same time, I know it’s not “the truth” at all – these are just old wounds and pain that started as love and got all tangled up in misperception and misunderstanding somewhere along the way.
And then they became fear – fear that who I am is not good enough, fear of being disconnected.
We humans need connection – we want to feel connected to ourselves and others (see me, hear me, love me, and let me do the same for you!), but sometimes, when we are feeling disconnected, we pretend we don’t care, we pretend it doesn’t matter, we pretend it’s somebody else’s fault, we pretend, we pretend, we pretend.
Or, we want the connection so badly, we pretend to be someone that we are not – we say things we don’t believe, we say yes to things we don’t want to do, we pretend social perception is more important than self-respect.
And that pretending is so painful. It squashes what’s real, it ruins our moments and it gives away our power. This is what we do when we are not watching ourselves closely; this is what we do when we are moving through life on autopilot.
We have to be brave enough to take risks, and we have to trust that these risks will pay off. Not because everyone will like it, not because it’s always easy, and not because mistakes will never be made.
Risking to be yourself will pay off because you will feel good inside. You will feel calm, full and intact, rather than empty. That “hole” you feel inside? That “thing” you think is missing? That’s just the holey-thing that is trying to remind you to be yourself. Yourself is trying to help yourself.
And when you are taking the risk to be yourself, you not only feel good, people like your presence. They may not have words for why they like your presence; you are just a good presence to be around. So while it’s true that some may no longer “get you”, the ones who do “get you” will like you even more.
So why do risk takers take risks? Because there is a natural high that comes from risk taking – just ask the people who race cars or jump off cliffs.
Just the same, there is a natural high that comes from being vulnerable, taking responsibility, and telling the truth about how we feel or who we are in any given moment.
These are the risks we fear most – but when taken, we experience true connection and the natural high of being alive.
Cathy Cassani Adams, LCSW, CPC, is the author of The Self-Aware Parent, the host of Zen Parenting Radio, a columnist for Chicago Parent Magazine, and a blogger for Chicago Now. She’s a self-awareness teacher and yoga instructor in her community, and she teaches in the Sociology Department at Dominican University.
Find Cathy on Facebook (The Self-Aware Parent or Zen Parenting Radio) and on Twitter (@selfawareparent or @zenparenting) and on her website www.cathycadams.com.