I need my foundation to be shaken. I’m a pretty routine person when my environment lets me. I need opportunities that unsettle my footing. I need to face experiences that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar and challenging. That unfamiliar can be starting a business, taking a class, experiencing new people, places or experiences. Last year was a big year of endurance races for my wife and me. In 15 months we did 2 full Ironman triathlons, 5 half Ironman races and 5 half marathons. It was pretty busy, but it was very structured, very disciplined. It was a good year. A very good year for health and achieving goals, but it didn’t unsettle me. It’s not that it didn’t challenge me, but it didn’t take me out of my element. I’ve been racing marathons and triathlons for years. I know the drill. Even when trying a new training program or a different race distance the process is similar, the discipline is similar, the routine is familiar. So, even though 2014 was a great year in our married life, we missed something. We missed being unsettled.
I need to be in the unfamiliar. Not necessarily every moment, but I need it with some frequency. And, many times, I don’t want to do it. It stretches me. I remember the first time I went to Africa. My friend, Daniel, and I got off the plane in Dakar, Senegal for a 9 hour layover. Immediately, I was out of my element. The airport was different, the security was different, the taxis were different, the landscape was different. It was completely foreign. The two of us took a cab into the city to do a bit of touring. The old faded green cab with a shabby yellow “taxi” sign on its roof died twice on our way to town. A couple of random horses and donkeys were walking through the middle of the city. The air smelled different. Driving was a contact sport and roads seemed to lack lines and signs promoting order. Without, Daniel, I’d have been lost. In fact, I’d probably have stayed in the airport for the entire 9 hours. I’m glad I didn’t. I needed to be uncomfortable. I needed to be uncertain. I needed to feel like the next moment wasn’t set or sure. I was confused and tense, but it was exactly what I needed.
That 6 week trip included things I couldn’t have imagined. Sleeping in a mud brick hut every night, fighting off bats by lantern light with water bottles and a broom, eating lizard caught and cooked by a 7 year old, “helping” plow a field by hand with the farmer (I say “helping” because I got blood blisters in 15 minutes and was completely worthless), riding a moped through the bush, putting that same moped in a dugout canoe and crossing a river hoping it wouldn’t fall in, sweating through the 90 degree night air, drinking three rounds of tea with a Fulani vendor, receiving the gift of two live chickens and being a guest at a traditional tribal funeral. All of these amazing experiences shook my foundation in different ways. They pushed me out of my routine and woke me up to something more. They woke me to look beyond the world I know, to ponder questions I never would have considered. They woke me up to my fears and overcoming them. These kinds of experiences show me where I get stuck and offer me new ways to see my environment.
To focus on incorporating things that unsettle into daily life is to buck the status quo. It’s a rarely trodden path, but it leads to growth, engagement, wonder, learning, exploring, creativity, problem solving and variety. We will not always be taking on epic new international experiences that shake us up. The day to day involves the familiarity of occupation, relationships, places and routine, but what can we incorporate into our local and daily life that unsettles us?
Maybe we need to pursue micro-divergence on a daily basis. Maybe that’s a new route to work, a new restaurant, international foods, visiting with a stranger, trying a new activity, volunteering in something unfamiliar. Maybe then, we set ourselves on edge just enough to explore the world around us in ways previously unseen. Maybe we discover new questions, find solutions to nagging problems, develop creativity, engage with new ideas and foster new relationships. Maybe it would make a difference. Maybe we’d break out of the status quo. Maybe? Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
What unsettles you toward positive change? Toward the road less traveled?