06/30/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 'I Am Not' Challenge


Years ago, when I first graduated from university, I was inspired by a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: Do one thing every day that scares you.

At that time, I embraced that challenge and set out to do things that previously scared the bejeezus out of me. It was a wild and crazy time, full of new experiences. As I grew older, I found myself becoming less and less willing to step out of my comfort zone to try new things. Being a member of the international teacher world, I was surrounded by people who were always rising to the challenge of doing new things, but I found myself only willing to do this in a limited capacity. I would definitely move to a new country, but I would immediately set out to make my life familiar and routine, even within these new settings. In the past few months, as I heard people describe me, I realized that I have been selling myself short. I haven't given myself the opportunity to fully embrace the opportunity for new and different to come into my life. This realization didn't sit well with me, and so I have given myself the challenge to embrace Eleanor Roosevelt's decree.

In my efforts to try new things, I have come to realize that, as we strive to define ourselves, and create the labels for who we are, we also create labels of who or what we are not. The labels can be both liberating/healthy and limiting. In the past few months, I have been attempting to challenge my personal list of things I am not. Up until a month or so ago, my list looked like this:

I am NOT :

1. A runner. Unless chased. Or late for a very important event -- and even then, I walked briskly. This identification of self was challenging because, on my bucket list, I stated that I wanted to someday run a marathon. NOT A RUNNER + ONE WHO WANTS TO RUN A MARATHON = Disaster.

2. An ocean swimmer. Or a lake or pond swimmer. Not knowing what lingers beneath me, and therefore could eat me, kinda' eeks me out. A few years back, I wanted to learn to surf, so I had to overcome this a bit. I did. But still. Unless there is good reason, I don't hop into the ocean thinking: "Hey! Let's swim a few rounds!" Seriously, people, there are things deep below that could eat me.

3. Utterly spontaneous. In fact, I am the opposite: I am a PLANNER. I like to have schedules and events in place. I have always had a theory that, by having order in my schedule, I was free to say "YES!" should the unexpected arise, but in reality, I liked to have that scheduled in, as well.

4. An athlete. I'm not. I love yoga and Pilates and dance and these sorts of physical activities, but give me a basketball and I will immediately give it back, probably with a look of dismay on my face. (Come on, I am 5'2" on a good day. Do I LOOK like someone who knows what to do with a basketball?) I have ZERO interest in organized sports. Never have.

A few years back, my list was longer: I said I wasn't a camper, a hiker, a teacher. Years going before that, I said I wasn't not -- and would never be -- so many things that have now become core essentials for who I now say that I am. Every time I challenge my self identity and try something new, I am surprised by the sense of joy that comes. I am also surprised by how much broader my sense of self can be than I had previously assumed. While I stand strongly with certain core values, I have also come to embrace the idea that it is better to say: I am not YET this that or the other, but ya never know what could happen!

And what could happen is this: A woman later in her 30s could buy a pair of running shoes and begin to -- hang on -- RUN! That's right, friends who know me to be a high-heel-wearer, I am now a running-shoe-wearer, and I actually run when I have them on my feet. Fairly often. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that my first run was comical. I was pathetic. And this realization rattled me -- how can I call myself fit yet unable run a mile? So I have started to read blogs about being a better runner and have asked friends who run for advice. I have been challenging myself and am amazed by what my body will do when I let it.

Oh, and while you are recovering from that one, try this one on for size: I wore goggles, in the middle of the ocean, and stared at amazing sea life while -- hold on, it is coming -- SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN! It happened a few days ago, when my father rented a glass bottom boat to tour the Gili islands. Our boat tour was amazing, and I saw gorgeous things from the safety of my boat seat -- I'm talking sea turtles, cobalt blue fish, coral, and star fish. We cruised for a while, then suddenly, the driver stopped, anchored, pulled out snorkeling gear, and said, "OK. Who is jumping in?" For a minute, I wanted to say "Not me!" But then I realized that my "NOT ME!" would have me missing out on the chance to see so much beauty, and suddenly "I DO!" came out of my mouth. I jumped in and nearly had a panic attack. Then I looked down beneath me and saw a whole new world that I might otherwise have missed. Stunning. Breathtaking. And I could have missed it.

Both experiences, running and snorkeling in the deep blue sea, have been absolutely exhilarating. As I did both, I thought: "This is what others have known all along! What other amazing things have I been denying myself?!"

Utterly spontaneous and an athlete are next on my list to challenge, and believe you me, I will challenge them. I will challenge them because, as I get to know who I am, I am realizing that I all too often limit my own possibilities by declaring who I am not louder than declaring who I could possibly become. Going against the grain of "who I am" (ahem), I am not going to plan these things (that wouldn't work well with utterly spontaneous, after all!) but rather, I have decided to open myself up to the possibilities of the universe. This is my year of saying "YES!" to things I might have previously said no to, because, why not? Who knows what I might discover on the opposite side of a great big YES?

How about you? What limits have you set for yourself that you are now challenging, and what have you discovered on the other side of yes?

Yours in taking the challenge,


The Snorkeling Runner

This post originally appeared in Erin's personal Blog, archived here.