Episode 18: Paddle Out

“Don’t give up in your mind something that your body hasn’t even attempted yet.”

That thought popped into my head this morning.  I was just sitting in silence, enjoying a quiet morning. Or trying to enjoy it, I should say. Way back, in the recesses of my mind, nagging fear was doing a number on my peace.

I took a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. I counted my blessings. I stretched. I even walked to the ocean and just marvelled at its beauty. I didn’t look at my phone. I didn’t check my emails. And all this before 8am. I’m telling you, I did everything right. Or rather, I did everything that today’s ‘mindfulness’ gurus tell you to do.

Yet there it was, the anxiety. The unknown. The dull panic that somehow, somewhere, in some way I was failing.

Now, I haven’t taken the Enneagram (I know, who am I?) But I Googled the different types, and if I were to hazard a guess, I believe I would fall into the “Three” category. (Don’t ream me out if I come back in a few weeks admitting I guessed wrong, just go with it, ok?) Type “Three” is also known as the Achiever. It’s pretty self explanatory, but basically the greatest fear of an achiever is feeling worthless. It doesn’t matter what definition of ‘success’ you adhere to (money, family life, travel, faith…), an achiever’s greatest nagging fear is that at the end of the day, they won’t ‘be somebody.’

I’m very aware that not everyone is wired like me. (In fact, I take great joy in the concept that no one is wired quite like me). But I do believe that all of us carry attributes of the Achiever, whether it shows up in large or small doses in your life. I think this mindset, while it has always existed, has become a full-blown trend with the rise of social media and online connection. Our world has expanded, and with it, the pressure to ‘be somebody’ has become an infinitely larger task. The definition of success has expanded: it now requires achievements based outside of your immediate peer group, social circle, and city. Success is global.

I’m not sitting here saying all of this is inherently bad. I think the upside is that our dreams have to grow. The only option is to continue moving forward and to keep dreaming bigger. But the part we often overlook, and the part that can take us out, is the beauty of learning not to look at others. Comparison is the thief of so much. It’s tied to jealousy, discontentment, anxiety, and eventually isolation. The idea that, in order to succeed you must “go it alone” and all that other nonsense.

So how does my “potential” Enneagram label relate to the thought that popped into my head this morning?

“Don’t give up in your mind something that your body hasn’t even attempted yet.”

The downside of my desire to achieve: the pressure, the comparison, and the fear of failing were all planting seeds of self-doubt in my head. In other words, I was giving up on a dream before it even left the dreaming stage – before it even left my mind! All because of fear.

To give more context, I have a big dream that’s been residing (mostly in my head) for about a year now. It’s going to be really exciting, but at the moment I just need to start on it. And the problem, as I’ve explained to some friends, is this dream is going to require a lot of dominos to fall over in the right timing. Let me explain further: in order for this dream to succeed, I can already see all the things that need to happen (just right) in a certain timeline. It’s all laid out in my mind, like a dominos track some kid spent hours tediously aligning. Here’s the fear: I lay out all my dominos, invest all my time, and it fails. I, the Achiever, become “worthless.” (According to my Enneagram, at least).  So what’s the safest bet? I put it off. I ignore the dream. I stick to “what I know” and I protect myself from failure. Yet, in that process I also perform the ultimate act of self-sabotage. Because, let’s be honest, who ever heard of an achiever who never achieved something?  I would be crushing the very identity inside of me, and all because of fear!

The funny part is I have done this before in my life, but before it was all subconscious. So, as I’ve gotten to know myself better (something I highly recommend) I suddenly saw what I was doing. I wasn’t even giving myself the chance to fail.

This is why I like surfing so much. Or rather, trying to surf. It’s beyond humbling every single time I paddle out. (I wasn’t raised near the ocean, and there is so much to learn it can feel overwhelming at times). I’ve had frustrating, embarrassing days where I just want to stop trying all together. And then I’ve had days that encourage me – maybe I’m not the worst surfer after all. The point is, if I surfed only for the ‘good days’ or for the validation from others, I would definitely have quit by now. Because those days don’t roll around all that often. In the description of an Achiever, the Enneagram talks about how often we pursue things we are already good at, because of the validation factor. Which I’ll admit, feels good. But here’s the thing: if I never pursue something new, I’ll never achieve anything new. No duh, right?

Stay with me, because I really believe that even if you don’t describe yourself as an ‘Achiever,’ the description of the “Three” Enneagram hits home for all of us.

“The problem is that, in the headlong rush to achieve whatever they believe will make them more valuable, Threes can become so alienated from themselves that they no longer know what they truly want, or what their real feelings or interests are. In this state, they are easy prey to self–deception, deceit, and falseness of all kinds. Thus, the deeper problem is that their search for a way to be of value increasingly takes them further away from their own Essential Self with its core of real value. From their earliest years, as Threes become dependent on receiving attention from others and in pursuing the values that others reward, they gradually lose touch with themselves. Step by step, their own inner core, their “heart’s desire,” is left behind until they no longer recognize it.”

Abandoning my ‘heart’s desire’ for my entire life sounds like the worst kind of punishment imaginable. Yet here I am, taking careful, cautious, fearful steps to ensure my true self never sees the light of day!

The other Saturday I surfed with two friends who are infinitely better at it than I am. We went out in bigger waves than I was probably ready for, and I spent the majority of the morning paddling away from the giant waves and trying not to be crushed. I paddled up to my friend, laughing at my own incompetence, and admitted that I probably couldn’t catch these waves. The best part of this story is that some of the locals I was surfing with were talking to me like I knew what I was doing. I asked my friend why the heck they thought I looked experienced enough to be here. She laughed and said,

“Because you’re out here.”

My point is this: you’ll never succeed if you don’t put yourself out there. Even if it feels like you’re in over your head, even if you don’t have a “next step” planned, and even if you think everyone will watch you fail. Get out there. You may be surprised by how people react to the simple fact that you were brave enough to paddle out.

And as far as this ridiculous tendency of listening to comparison as the voice of reason in your head goes? Just stop. Stop looking at the things that create those emotions inside you – yes, this may mean cutting back on social media. There’s a fine line between inspiration and comparison, and social media dances on it all day long. I follow a lot of entrepreneurs on Instagram, and one posted a quote about “living the life no one wants now, in order to have the life everyone wants 20 years from now.” (That’s a huge paraphrase, but you get the gist).

That quote actually helped me a lot. It got me thinking about my life, and I want a really big life. Whatever that looks like, I won’t deny the fact that I’m an achiever at heart, and I have some big dreams. But that quote gave me peace and contentment for the moment I’m in. Because, while I desire a big life, currently my life feels very small. I mean, the glamorous hidden world of a single young adult who works from home truly just involves a lot of pyjamas and coffee. Not too many ball gowns, consistent glamorous events, or even travelling (currently). It looks like saying no to some things I want in order to work for the things I want more.

A small life looks like sacrifice.

But for me that’s ok. You know something wild? I know someone else who lived a small life with great impact. Jesus never traveled more than two hundred miles from his hometown. He never owned a home, never held an office, never went to college. He had 12 followers, not a church of 12, 000. He loved the people he came in contact with, the people he literally bumped into, or the people who touched his robes.  He didn’t do one of the things that we associate with greatness. He wasn’t ‘somebody’ on a global scale. Something tells me that if he were here now, he wouldn’t give much thought to social media. He wouldn’t rush away from the crowds that surrounded him in order to get to the trendy place to be. He wouldn’t let the fear of missing out or failing direct his path; Jesus only ever did what His Father did. He didn’t set out to become a household name; he set out to love people really well. The same way the Father loves us.

So that’s what it boils down to.  On the days when the weight of anxiety, fear, and my desire to know where I should line up each domino crushes me, I remember to love. I remember to look outside myself, and try to become love instead. That doesn’t mean I don’t dream big. It doesn’t mean my time, my goals, and my work are things I give away freely (sometimes I wish I was better at releasing my hold on these things).

It just means that my stress has no permanent hold on me. I don’t live in a bubble of anxiety, both excited for and fearing what the future brings. Because if I follow along where the Father leads, then all my future accomplishments or failures have been known by Him all along. And I’m good with that.

And if I’m following His footsteps, my life gets to be full of freedom, community, and love. It has room for breaks and rest stops, and it includes people I meet along the way. Not a solo, anxiety-ridden race to the top that I see people striving for on the daily. My life becomes one that gives and receives love. Bob Goff puts it best:

“People like me who overstate the good we’ve done usually do so because we’re looking for validation. We’re ticket counters. People who are ticket counters are insecure about how much God loves us, so we mistakenly try to quantify how much we love Him back by offering Him success or accomplishments or status or titles. Here’s the problem: these are just a bunch of tickets that mean nothing to Him. He wants our hearts, not our help… People who are turning into love don’t need all the spin, because they aren’t looking for applause or validation from others any longer. They’ve experienced giving away God’s love as it’s own reward.”

Whether or not you believe in God is irrelevant here. All of us, to some extent, count tickets. Whether we trying to show them off to God or others isn’t the point. The point is that these tickets, just like the ones you won at carnivals as a kid, have no real value in the real world. In the grand scheme of things, our accomplishments, success, and titles aren’t worth much. Giving away love, though, that is it’s own reward. I think most of us believe this deep down, but the problem is we think giving away love is going to hard and uncomfortable and messy. Here’s a secret: sometimes it will be. Our society isn’t used to receiving love without a price tag. But here’s another secret: the more you give love away, the easier it becomes. And there’s more of it that comes back to you.

To me, that’s the real beauty of a small life. Earlier, when I said it looks like sacrifice, I didn’t intend for the word to sound painful or harsh. Sacrificial living can be the most fulfilling experience in the world. So my challenge is this: escape anxiety by focusing less on you, and more on those around you. Chances are, the people around you may be exactly who you needed in order to make your dream grow.

So let your dreams escape your mind, and actually let them loose in the real world! Trade selfishness in for sacrifice and watch the difference it makes. And do it all, knowing full well there may be moments of fear, but you don’t have to stay in those moments. In fact, there is a life of abundance just waiting for you outside of your fear.

“The greatest problem for God is not sin….. he has dealt with that already in Jesus. It is finished! His greatest problem is that we are afraid.”

So get out there and take a risk.