Why a Little Risk Is Good for You

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By SELF Staffers

Original Source: self.com

Pushing your physical and mental limits makes you stronger in every way, so make it a goal this year to try something new. Let these women’s stories inspire you, then go out and create your own adventure.

Grab Your Board

Whether you’re skimming across a wave or paddling out to catch one, surfing is a thrilling combination of fun and fear. Just like life.

By Molly Young

Some families play board games and do crafts. Mine surfed. I grew up in a tiny Northern California beach town known for its gentle waves and territorial residents (every time the county erected a sign to the town, the locals tore it down). My quintessential sense memory is not of a fragrant madeleine but of the taste of salt on my lips after two hours of oceanic aerobics. Our house was littered with bars of surf wax. As a small child, I once mistook one for vanilla taffy and took a bite out of it. In response, my mother got me a hand-me-down wet suit and borrowed a board. I paddled out the next week, my arms as thin as capellini noodles in the water.

By 16, I was at the beach every day. I’d traded my small wet suit for a teen-sized one, my borrowed toothpick for a 7-foot board. Surfing had changed my body, too. Strange contours—which I eventually recognized as muscles—appeared in my upper arms, enabling me to carry luggage and grocery bags with ease. My soft, round tummy had hollowed and developed the tensile strength of Kevlar. (Yay.) The sun bleached my hair and dusted my skin with gold. I hated high school—so much that I dropped out before sophomore year ended—but I loved zipping into my neoprene armor after school. I sat on my board, facing the horizon, legs twirling in the kelp-green water, catching waves as they came. Harbor seals bobbed above and below the surface, offering unexpected therapy (it’s impossible to feel anxious when you’re making eye contact with a seal). Surfing, in a word, was safety.

It’s funny I saw it that way, because surfing in Northern California is far more treacherous than going to high school in Northern California. It is one of the few hobbies that feel proximate to actual peril, even death. Every day I could have drowned, could have been conked in the head by my own surfboard (or someone else’s). Sharks were a daily possibility. (I quickly learned the difference between a shark fin and a dolphin fin when spotted offshore, and I never, ever went surfing when I had my period. Just to be safe.)

But until I surfed, I never understood that fear could be pleasurable. Maybe not the fear itself but the willful conquering of it. Surfing still scares me every time I do it, even 15 years later. Yet it thrills me every time, too: the sheer velocity of it, skimming across a wave faster than I could ever run on land with nothing but a board (coated in that oh-so-tasty wax) beneath my feet. I’ve even developed a strategy for handling the inevitable wipeouts: I pretend I’m a pebble in a rock tumbler—remember those?—being polished by the surging water and sand. Like any good mental trick, it quells the panic.

Because that’s the thing about adult life. It’s filled with things—possibly even defined by things—that are initially frightening but ultimately invigorating. Job interviews, first dates, big moves. Things you can neither predict nor perfect. Things for which surfing makes good practice.

Climb On Up

Muscling your way up a steep, craggy cliff may be exactly what some of us need to reach new heights.

By Jardine Libaire

I started hiking the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, Texas, a year ago. I wasn’t alone: At one juncture in the trail, if you look up through the brush to the limestone cliffs, you’ll catch impressions of movement—bare backs, rope, tattoos. I was never sure what those people were doing. But I was curious, because they seemed like a tribe, and I assumed all tribes were closed.

I was taking these walks during a transitional time in my life. I’d recently sworn off drinking and Austin’s dive-bar scene to discover what went on in the daylight. But so far I was just lonely, having given up one world without locating the next.

It was by pure chance that I eventually started dating one of these tribesmen—a rock climber who would come home, hands battered with cuts and sticky with chalk dust like powdered sugar, practically high from climbing. He told me that women are natural climbers because we tend to use our legs rather than our arms for strength, and we’re typically more nimble. He wore me down enough to buy climbing shoes—hard-rubber things like ballet toe shoes—and lured me to those cliffs I’d seen.

At the site, I received quick tutorials on teamwork (I would clip into a safety rope that a partner on the ground held in case I fell) and technique (use your core, be patient, say “Falling!” before you fall). Then I stepped up to the wall of stone.

It was a funny moment, my first confrontation with the rock. I felt like someone was asking me a question, and I couldn’t even fathom what they wanted to know, let alone come up with an answer. But I did ultimately learn this: There’s a lot to be said for starting something you don’t know how to finish, something you can’t fully control. Climbing for me was not just shaking hands with fear but pressing my whole body against it.

Midway up, I was hanging in the sky, legs quaking with fatigue and anxiety, a condition that climbers call “the Elvis shakes.” Once climbing, it’s easy to rush each move, as if pursued by vulnerability itself, but it’s an invaluable experience to stop, quiet the mind and look at the situation. Each time I did that, I would suddenly see a way that had been invisible, a viable combination of hand grips and footholds that I could use. My muscles felt depleted as I reached for the top. But the strangers below, standing in sunshine filtering through the tall trees—people I’d skeptically eyed months before when I hiked past—cheered me on as I pulled myself over the rock’s sharp lip.

On the way up, I’d avoided looking down, too terrified to see how far I could fall. But now, from the cliff’s crown, I did look, and seeing the distance I’d come—sobriety, finding new friends, ascending this rock—provided its own beautiful, wordless answer.

Take Aim, Let Go

Few things in life require such singular focus­ as hitting that bull’s-eye.

By Lisa Lutz

A few years ago, I uprooted my life in San Francisco and moved to a small hamlet in New York’s Hudson Valley. After the confines of city life, I just couldn’t resist the space. The creek and waterfall in the 2-acre yard clinched the deal. I was seeking quiet and beauty, and I got both.

There wasn’t much to do, I soon realized, especially in winter. I couldn’t walk to a coffee shop or see a movie without a significant drive. I turned inward—too inward. So I began to think about activities to take me out of my head.

I often drove past an archery store in town. I liked the idea of having a target, honing a craft. One day, I stopped in and requested a lesson. A lean, weatherworn guy in his 50s took me to a long room in back of the store. He showed me how to draw the bowstring and where to keep my sights. Within a few tries, I was shooting in the vicinity of the target. I left with my own recurve bow—almost as big as Katniss Everdeen’s—and quiver of arrows.

Back home, I hung a target on a tree and strung my first arrow. I drew the bowstring back and focused on the bull’s-eye. The pull felt easy at first, but soon my arm began to strain and shake. Even through my leather glove, I could feel the string cutting into my fingertips.

An arrow rest is as precarious as a foot on a ledge; any extra movement and the arrow will fall out of form. You can’t overthink it. You simply have to draw and shoot. Archery may seem like it’s about precision or aim, but really it’s about trusting your first instinct. I began to shoot quickly. My aim improved as arrows vanished into the snowy yard.

I hung up my bow in December and rattled around my house (and my head) for the duration of the brutal winter. By spring, I was anxious to get outside again. I found an arrow in my yard. Then I spotted another—as if I were on an impromptu Easter egg hunt. I grabbed my bow, quickly strung a new one and let go.

Photo Credit: @corey_wilson. Kurt Markus. Lucas Visser

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