Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Doing the Unknown

You may find this hard to believe, but I actually dread doing the unknown. This coming from the person who permanently moved to a different country at the tender age of 21 and decided to major in computer science without knowing anything about computers other than Juno email and Microsoft Word. But when it comes to everyday life, I generally shy away from new activities if I think there is a chance that I will mess up.

Back in college, It took me months to work up the courage to step on a treadmill when I first started going to the gym. It looked fun and all the really fit girls were on the treadmills, but there were just too many possibilities for me to mess up. After too many workouts on the elliptical machine, I finally decided to try this unknown contraption. I didn't fall off. In fact, I never have.

The other week, Todd and I went to Whole Foods in Milwaukee. It's a fantastic store with an underground parking garage (which is especially awesome in the dead of winter!). When we were done shopping, we needed a way to get our cart down to the lower level. I started walking toward the elevator (I know how to operate an elevator), but Todd suggested we put our cart on the newfangled cart escalator and ride down next to it. My first instinct was not to do it. What if I did it wrong and the cart tipped over?? What if somebody saw me doing it wrong??? Todd convinced me to try it and the cart made it down safe and sound (as did we).

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in the "doing the unknown" department. I had just reached the workout room and was about to fill up my Klean Kanteen bottle at the water cooler when trickle, trickle, trickle, gone! Here's the kicker: I have never replaced the water jug in a water cooler. I have encountered many empty water coolers at work, hotels, gyms, etc. But I have never replaced one, because I don't know how they work and I might spill water all over the place. This time (since there were no witnesses), I decided I would give it a try. I removed the empty jug. No problem. I removed the cover on one of the jugs sitting on the floor. Aha, I was starting to get it now… when I placed the jug onto the water cooler, the tip on the water cooler would punch a hole in the top of the jug and water would start to flow. Ingenious. Five gallons of water is pretty heavy, but I managed to hoist it up there and soon I had fresh water from Mountain, WI pouring into my water bottle. What a success!

Fortunately, my struggle with doing with the unknown seems to apply mostly to small, everyday activities rather than big, life-impacting endeavors. However, imagine if this applied to all aspects of your life. How limiting it would be. It may tie you to the same job forever or to a city that you hate. An interesting "take-charge-of-your-life" book that I just read, Career Renegade, speaks to this topic and indicates that fear of the unknown is often a factor that prevents people from realizing their dreams and doing what they love. Leo at zenhabits wrote a similar post today talking about facing your fears. It's so liberating.

Now that I am aware of this limitation, however small, I am going to be a lot more cognizant of my attitude toward doing the unknown. It will be an interesting journey with some "mess-ups" along the way.

Wonder what I'll try tomorrow…

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