Friday, April 06, 2007

Releasing the Inner Tiger

TigerThis one is a bit more personal than usual, so feel free to skip it if it makes you uncomfortable.

Today I was reading Pamela Slim's blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation. In the article I was reading, "Is your inner tiger choking on a short leash?", she was talking about how many people suppress their inner passions and end up suffering for it. She struck a chord in me when she wrote about watching a child, who others perceived as quiet and almost emotionally stunted, suddenly came alive when offered an opportunity to participate in martial arts.

Why should this touch me? After all, everyone who knows me, knows that I am a rampant extrovert who loves to show off in front of a group. I travel all over the world. I started my own business. How could I identify with a withdrawn child? In fact, I always get a laugh when I tell people that I'm working on getting over my shyness.

The funny thing is, for the longest time I was the quiet one. I always played it safe. I never stepped outside my comfort zone. I dreamed of being an adventurer, but somehow that always seemed to be sometime in the future.

Then, on my 30th birthday, even though it wasn't my idea, I joined Keith Hafners Karate. I'd love to say that a miracle occurred and suddenly I was ready to sky dive and bungee jump, but that wasn't the case. I still pretty much played it safe, but something was changing inside me, almost from that first class.

One night, about a year after I had started, I was preparing for my promotion to Green Belt. As a part of our promotions, we had to do a "line drill" -- a series of free-style moves (punches, kicks, etc) moving in a line across the floor. In the past I had always practiced my series of moves over and over and always made sure that they were moves that stayed well within my capabilities. I wasn't worried about hurting myself. I was just afraid I might fall on my face -- figuratively.

Suddenly, as if a door had opened, I realized that I didn't have to play it safe. If I tried something a little more challenging, I would still have my audience's respect, even if I failed. No one would laugh, but I knew they would cheer. So I tried something a little harder. And you know what?

I succeeded.

And with that one success, I was able to fuel larger attempts. Soon, I overcame my fear of needles and now I give blood regularly. I, who used to stay home, rather than deal with the uncertainty of going someplace new, have traveled to the Cascades in Oregon, hiked the Cinqua Terra in Italy, and visited the Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan.

And, of course, most recently, I've given up my stable job at the University of Michigan to pursue my dream of having my own business.

So, what's my take-away from all of this? I guess I'm not sure. Maybe part of it is that you can have all the desire in the world, but if you don't take that one step, you are worse off than if you had never had the desire in the first place. Passion is not enough. You need action to make it come alive.

I think the other part is that in order to be successful, we have to build our muscles slowly (whether they be physical, mental or emotional). If, instead of just trying a tricky Karate move, I had instead tried my hand at Formula One racing, my resulting "crash and burn" would have been more than just physical.

And likely I would have written off the whole "try new things" idea as a Bad Plan.

So, what do you think stops you from pursuing your passions?

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