If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.
— Neil Gaiman (in The Graveyard Book)
This book, by Neil Gaiman, was thoroughly enjoyable. It tells the tale of a toddler who, by misfortune of being hunted by the man who murdered his parents, ends up wandering into the local cemetery and being unofficially adopted and raised by an older couple — a dead, older couple. As he grows he becomes curious about his people (i.e. the living) and seeks to venture into his world, against the advice of his protectors as the murderer is still looking for him.
The main character, Bod (short for Nobody), shows a certain amount of stubbornness, a little social immaturity (understandable), a good deal of tenacity and 100% determination in his quest.
Above all, he dares to go out there and seek his own truth, which is something I would like to say I do, though it has not always been that way.
At school, we encourage our students to be risk-takers; we support them to have-a-go, make mistakes, learn from mistakes and keep trying until success is achieved. At school, this is easy — you are in a highly structured and supported environment. Out there in the big, wide world, on your own — not so much.
For a perfectionist, like myself, the struggle to take risks, to dare, is an enormous one. I spent the first half of my life not daring, not taking risks, for fear of failing. It is not worth it. I feel I may have missed out on a lot of opportunities by not daring to go outside my comfort zone.
I always say, ‘There is no point wondering, what if? Once you’ve made a choice, that’s it.’ But, sometimes, I do wonder — particularly when I have chosen the safer path.
I have dared to step outside my comfort zone on occasion.
Sometimes the ‘dare’ has seemed really minor … as simple as trying some exotic and weird-looking food I’ve never eaten before. For some people, this could be a huge risk, particularly if they are not overly adventurous with eating. Either way, the thought process is the same: What if I don’t like it? What if I make a fool of myself by spitting it out, or retching in front of everyone?
Don’t laugh! I’ve been there. I have tried some truly horrendous looking and smelling food in Japan and Korea. In a couple of instances I may have benefited from not knowing what they were (tongue — sashimi style, i.e. raw and relatively thickly sliced); a couple of times it was an absolute chore to swallow the food and keep it down (natto — fermented soy beans that smell and look like dog puke). But, more often than not, in going outside my comfort zone and daring to try something new, I discovered a new food I absolutely love now (eel, seaweed, any sashimi except tongue).
Trying unusual food opened up a whole new world. I am thankful I don’t take after my mother who, by her own admission, only likes ‘plain food’ and won’t try new things because, ‘I’ve never had it before, but I won’t like it.’
On a few occasions over the years I have taken some somewhat larger dares:
♦ taking a year out of my Bachelor of Education degree to go to Japan and study (I use this term loosely) at university there
♦ applying for the JET Program (and leave without pay from my Australian teaching job) to teach for two years in Japan
♦ taking a reduction in hours to pursue the development of my writing.
The first changed me in terms of confidence. Not only confidence in my language skills, but confidence in living and travelling independently.
The second was a huge move away from the security of my job, in a system I knew and understood, into a whole different lifestyle and professional life. But through this, I gained new skills, become more sure of my own teaching ability and learnt how to interact more effectively with colleagues.
And, the third was a monumental financial risk with the added burden of: What if I suck at writing? What if people look at my work and laugh? What if I fail my course? I am still plodding away at this, but loving it. I have had some successes, and a lot of rejections (which I have learned how to deal with in a more constructive way).
Each decision was a scary one … but in the long run, I have gained so much.
I have no idea what path my life would have taken if I hadn’t dared to do something different. I may be somewhere else, doing something else. I probably wouldn’t have met the people I know now.
But, the thing is, it doesn’t matter. There is absolutely point of wondering ‘what if?’. Just appreciate where you are now and, when you are ready for a change — whether it be a job, a move or something as simple as trying that new weird-looking squishy stuff on the plate in front of you — take the dare, travel a new road.
See what happens … and have no regrets. There is no point.