It was two Thursdays ago in Clayton, Georgia, where I was to teach writing and storytelling workshops at Camp Nerd Fitness, a gathering of over 340 self-proclaimed nerds with passions for health and wellness. And by 7:40 PM after the first day of teaching, I was exhausted and holed up in my room to rest.
Okay, I was actually working.
And by “working” I mean haphazardly designing landing pages.
Like, for marketing programs and such.
Whenever I go away to teach at a retreat or speak at a conference, I tend to have a mild burst of “not doing enough” syndrome sneak in. It’s a competitive attitude that I don’t often realize is there — not competing with anyone in particular, but like I’m trying to outcompete myself.
(When you’ve worked for yourself for 6+ years, you rely on that drive to keep you moving forward.)
The downside is, this sentiment can instill a bit of a neurosis when left unchecked.
So when I attend an amazing event like Camp Nerd Fitness and utterly love it, my gut instinct is, “I want to create something like this! I want to bring a bunch of people together for a great time where they learn, connect, grow and flourish…”
…so I rush back to my computer and start to fire away anxiously, as if I can conquer this new idea in a matter of minutes.
Eventually I realize that I can’t, and resign myself to give up, at least for a while.
Just as I was about to give up for the night in Clayton, I heard some commotion outside my door.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t think much of it. Being more of an introvert, and an exhausted one at that, I’d usually just stay sprawled out on my hotel bed and watch a quick episode of Family Guy to ease into the night.
But instead I did something different.
I opened the door.
Outside, a few fellow instructors — or Headmasters as we were called at Camp — were readying their plans to go to the Camp costume party in 15 minutes. I had already written it off, honestly. I didn’t have a costume for starters. I was already beginning to lose my voice, and I wrote off the idea of dancing. But in spite of feeling tired, and like I was already starting to lose my voice, and thinking ahead to my next 3 workshops for the following day, I said: Forget it. I’m coming.
I threw on my Spider-Man Under Armor shirt and said, I guess this could be a costume. Then Maddie hooked me up with her very own Spider-Man baseball hat — and, boom, there it was: a very street casual Spider-Man was born.
Kate G., Kate M., Rog, Maddie, Amy and I went over to the party, promptly moved into the front of the dance floor and danced our asses off. For real. Like, sweating through our costumes dancing. It was hilarious and amazing. I laughed harder watching Rog dance in his Scooby Doo costume (“I’m so cute you want to adopt me”) than at maybe any other time this whole year.
When we left for the night and I got home to sleep, I had a scary thought.
What if I never opened my door?
Not only would I have robbed myself of a night I’ll never forget, I wouldn’t have had the chance to bond so thoroughly with these great people, who are now friends and like family.
Realizing just how fine a line there was between staying behind that door and opening it was enough to stop me in my tracks to wonder: Which doors haven’t I opened? Which “doors” are there before me, waiting to be opened, right now? Which are still coming? Will I recognize them enough to know which to keep closed, and which to open?
And how do you decide?
I’m so high on self-awareness in all of my teachings — it’s the gateway to everything else. Action. Decisions. Ritual. Growth. Experience. Destiny.
And I always encourage my students and clients to make decisions aligned to their gut values: instinct, what feels right, and to trust that intuition.
As important as those ideas are (and will always remain) for me, I took home a different lesson from Camp this year.
To open the door, and let life surprise you.
To break your own rules once in a while. To question if habit, or comfort, or fear is masquerading as “instinct” and telling you to keep the door closed.
I thought my instinct was telling me to stay in my room and rest, but maybe it wasn’t “instinct” after all. Maybe it was habit. Comfort. Fear. Maybe that was what told me to just hang out, to rest, to keep the door shut and go to sleep early. If I was hoping to rest and recharge inside my hotel room before another couple long days of teaching, it was friendship, play, fun and adventure that I didn’t know were waiting out there in that hallway.
My new friend Kate put the importance of this into words well on her blog, Fit For Real Life, on life choices:
“When you try on new life choices, you figure out more of who you are.”
And I piggyback that thought, with this:
Choosing what you don’t know — or aren’t sure about — gives life the chance to surprise you.
What I took home from Camp is that I want to open my door more. I want life to surprise me. I want to see who’s on the other side.
For better or worse, who cares? Life will give you a chance to learn, to experience, to grow, to know. I want to remember that I don’t need to have all the answers ahead of time. I don’t have to have everything so perfectly figured out all the time. I can let myself be wrong. And, just as well, I can learn that I didn’t know what was right for me… like opening a door, meeting new friends and having the time of my life.
So, once in a while, let yourself be wrong. Extend yourself beyond the boundaries of what you know. Give life a chance to surprise you. Open the door even though you’ve said you’re staying in. Throw on a make-shift costume because it’s better than nothing. Dance like a fool, even though you’re exhausted.
Sure, I was exhausted the next day. And the next. And the next. And I got sick when I came home. But, what a small “sacrifice” to saying yes to just a single hour or two of fun that I’ll remember for a long, long time.
Who’s outside your door?
Photo credit: Will Byington Photography