When I was in college, I read a poem by Emily Dickinson that spoke of those who had not lived while they were alive and, only in their death, did they become alive. It was one of those poems that made me look at the life I was living and this was a turning point in my thinking.
After I thought about it, I decided that I was going to fill my days with the things that gave meaning to my life. It didn’t have to meet with anyone’s approval or standards for how my life should be lived. In fact, I told no one about it. I didn’t want anyone else’s opinions to cloud my decision. I wanted to do this for me.
So there I was, in my mid-teens, making a decision for how I was going to live the rest of my life. I made a commitment to learn something new every day, even if it was only looking up a new word in the dictionary and using it in sentences all day. And, except for the days when I was sick, I’ve managed to do that.
I also decided to take emotional risks. As long as no one knew about this commitment to my personal development, I felt comfortable setting this as a goal. And one of those emotional risks was trying to overcome whatever obstacles were in my life, which, to this day, is always terrifying at the beginning.
Phobias are extremely difficult to overcome and I didn’t attempt to overcome my largest one until well into middle age. It was my acrophobia (a fear of heights) that almost did me in. I gave myself different assignments to help me deal with it.
I made myself go up in a few helicopters (ugh!! it was horrible). And I made myself climb a pyramid (even worse than the helicopter rides), and then I made myself accomplish the goal I had set for myself which was standing on an eight-foot ladder to put an ornament on top of my fourteen-foot Christmas tree.
That was as much as I was willing to do to confront my acrophobia. The assignments I gave myself never got easier and I’m not a glutton for punishment; I decided to quit while I was ahead. But I still push the envelope because I don’t want to think I was already dead while I was still alive.