Like everyone (I hope) I have some really inspirational friends. One of them often talks about 'throwing a shape' when it comes to trying new things. What he means is that we all need to expand ourselves and what we think we are capable of, so we throw a shape in front of ourselves and then do our best to fill it. I love the metaphor and often think of it - and him - when I am faced with a new challenge.
I write this as I am sitting in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Travelling has opened my mind in so many ways, and really transformed my life. It has often posed new shapes to be filled and I hope that, most of the time I have faced the challenge. Last year, for instance, I found myself strapping on a life-jacket and a helmet and choosing my oar of choice on a river bank in central Costa Rica. For 90 minutes every day, the dam of Lake Arenal is opened to allow the River Balsa to surge and create the 'ideal' conditions for white-water rafting. For aficionados, the trip we undertook was a level 2-3 (of a scale that reaches up to 6).
Mark and I were teamed with a family of four from Israel and a guide called Susan. After a very brief training, we were assigned seats at the front of the craft and headed off downstream. It was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done and I even managed to stay in the boat the entire time. Being at the front meant taking the full brunt of the white water which was surprisingly cold, even on a hot day.
Negotiating Colombo traffic is another big shape, zipping in and out of lanes in a tiny (crushable) tuk tuk can bring life into sharp focus, as can a night-time drive in the hill country when rounding a corner and facing a family of jay-walking elephants. Food too can be interesting - my policy is never to ask what it is until I've actually swallowed it! It's surprising how tastes can change with knowledge of contents.
I lived for the good deal of the first part of my life on a very small map. Whilst I always had an inkling that there was more to life than this, I was too anxious/nervous/terrified to check it out. Fear can be so restrictive, especially fear of disappointment: what if I try and fail? What if it hurts? What if ...?
This fear, I am coming to see, arises from a perfectionism that has too much sway in my life. I can become so afraid of failing that I refuse to try, or set standards so high that they become ludicrously unattainable.