I've always been a coward. For years I've kept hidden inside my head a numbered list of things I've always wanted to try but never found the nerve to do.
In my defense, I also have a list in my head of all the things I've wanted to try that I actually have done -- perm my hair, go to Europe, quit my job to be a writer. With the exception of the curly hair experiment, these are all big dreams, serious accomplishments. It's the little things I have trouble with.
See, I'm that curious brand of human being, little understood and much maligned, called the "introvert." Perfectly stable and coherent one on one, as soon as I'm in a group of more than three, I clam up.
Fear born from my introversion, namely my unease in groups, has kept me from some of my goals. But it's never good to be governed by fear. Often, it is irrational and the reward of pushing past it well worth the temporary discomfort.
Yes, folks, I've recently learned a lesson.
I met a local artist last month, a very nice man whose specialties include both photography and stained glass art. As luck would have it, taking an art class is on that neat little list I keep, and he was offering classes in stained glass. Some wild instinct came over me and I signed up without thinking.
I arrived in his studio a week later, a small room tucked away in an old building, feeling rather awkward -- I was the only student. The picture of two adults spending three hours on a Friday afternoon designing and creating stained glass art together was an odd one. But as we bent over some clean sheets of paper, pencils in hand, and together devised an abstract design of a bird, the weirdness melted away.
As he taught me how to cut the glass -- glowing sheets of bright yellow and orange and deep purple -- and carefully break away the shapes, I relaxed into the comforting rhythm. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience of creating something, and happy that I pushed past my fear to give the class a try.
Gradually, our pencil lines were filled in with cut and smoothed glass and our bird came to life. I chose a bird because it represents freedom -- not very imaginative, but very appropriate.
Letting go of fears is freedom. Reservations, hesitations and second-guessing all prevent us from living, experiencing and trying new things. Chances must be taken in life. Without risking our comfort, we're just stagnant and bored.
But dreams don't have to be big and dramatic. Dreams can be small things, achieved one step at a time: Losing weight, getting the dog you've always wanted, writing a short story, asking someone out on a date, auditioning for the local theater company.
Small dreams are within reach and when achieved, are just as rewarding as the big ones. There isn't just reward in the experience. There is reward is learning what you are capable of, in finding a new friend, in opening your narrow view of life to include something fresh and exciting.
Maybe you haven't headlined a blockbuster movie, written a bestseller or climbed Mount Everest, but any completed goal creates the same swelling of pride. And the knowledge that something scared you, and you decided not to care and go for it anyway, is something to be proud of.