During the month of December, Buddy will highlight, the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. Whether it is getting up the nerve to lace up your old ice skates with your five-year-old or conquering a halfpipe like your teenage days, fearlessness is not just situational for all- for some, it is a way of life.
For many of us, our worlds were turned completely upside down in the wake of the global pandemic. It’s required major adjustments to just about every facet of our daily lives. From figuring out childcare, to abandoning vacation plans, to not being able to be present with loved ones, the pandemic’s effects have caused a great deal of stress on all of us. Of course, this stress is worth it if it means protecting people from this virus, but that stress does take its toll.
Despite the immeasurable tragedies surrounding COVID-19, you’ve likely identified a few breaks in the clouds of pandemic life. These little silver linings may vary depending on who you are, but there is one silver lining that actually transcends our individual differences: more people are trying new things.
As restrictions and civic duty pushed us into our homes and tiny social circles, people turned to new experiences to find ways to adapt and cope. Shortly after stay-at-home orders went into effect, we witnessed the Great Bread-Baking Boom of 2020. This was near simultaneous with record-breaking bicycle sales. Vegetable and flower gardens popped up everywhere and DIY-related searches were (are) at an all-time high. Looking back, these responses seem almost a certainty, but the truth is that many people participating in these new activities were doing so for the first time. In effect, as people were forced to abandon their plans and routines, they were forced to try new things.
I had a personal goal of heavy weightlifting before COVID struck. I set a resolution of deadlifting 500lbs and was quickly working towards it, pulling 465 in March before having to quit going to the gym. I tried to replicate my workouts as best I could at home with whatever I could find that seemed heavy. Boxes of books, buckets of sand, anything heavy. Still, it just wasn’t the same and I couldn’t get the same satisfaction from the “lift” that I would at the gym. So I moved outside. I pushed and pulled my truck around a parking lot. Yeah, I looked ridiculous, but it was a good workout. Still, it didn’t quite make the cut for me. I soon turned to YouTube home workouts (here’s a good one), and somewhere along the way, gymnastics rings caught my attention. I ordered a set, and am so glad that I did. I’ve been working out on the rings regularly now since June, and I love them. The instability they add make for some really challenging workouts that are near-infinitely scalable. I’ll never be a gymnast, but the rings fill a great need for me.
Openness is a virtue. For clarity, by openness, I mean one’s affinity for trying new things. We have all tried new things, of course, but the frequency of attempting something new drops significantly for many as they grow into adulthood. We fall into routines. We develop preferences for certain activities and we stick to them. Familiarity is safe and comfortable. But stepping out of that comfort zone and trying something new has tremendous benefits that are worth those feelings of discomfort (and sometimes dread) that can come with it. Not everything we try works out. I pushed my truck around for a bit and realized that wasn’t quite the workout for me. I’ve tried olives, and frankly, they’re not for me. But, had I not been open to trying things in general, I wouldn’t be working as a web developer for this little startup. I would never have become a wrestling coach. I never would’ve moved to Memphis, TN to teach high school chemistry (my career journey makes very little sense to most) where I met the love of my life. I never would’ve tried working out on rings. Sometimes we have to try new things to survive. Other times, we just do it for fun. But being open to it, is incredibly important.
For one thing, trying new things makes us smarter. Intelligence is malleable, and the more we learn new tasks, the better we get at learning. When we learn something new, our brain develops new neural pathways that then get reinforced as we practice the skill. These new neural pathways can then link and reinforce other related skills, much how visual arts refine engineering and design, or how ballet can help you be a better football player.
Openness drives resilience. Without openness and experimentation, humanity wouldn’t have survived this long. From developing and refining stone tool technologies, adapting fire, and harvesting plant resources, human ingenuity and openness to new ideas (and new food sources) have allowed us to persevere through harsh environments and population bottlenecks that brought many of our closest relatives to extinction. That same openness is helping people cope with the current pandemic.
In a less drastic tone, we can harness openness to help us deal with short-term setbacks as well, such as strain injuries while training. Long distance runners often turn to cross-training such as utilizing cycling or functional training to continue enhancing their cardiovascular output while nursing a shin splint, for example. While this example seems rather trivial, it shows how being open to other options helps us drive towards our goals.
Perhaps the most-obvious benefit of trying new things, is that you might actually like that new thing. Trying something new may actually lead to discovering something that adds a lasting and rich fulfillment to your life. Roughly two years ago, Buddy had a team outing at a local climbing gym. One of our teammates, Nick, had never done any sort of wall climbing outside of trees and things as a kid, but he jumped into the activity with full enthusiasm. If you follow Buddy’s social media and activity since, you know that Nick is now an avid climber, going on trips to the New River Gorge and surrounding areas to climb whenever he gets the chance. His willingness to try something new has allowed him to discover a sport that he loves.
From discovering new passions, adapting to new circumstances, and increasing our skill sets, trying new things are crucial to our fulfillment and development. I don’t mean to say that routines, familiarity, and creature-comforts aren’t also important to our well-being. I simply mean that sometimes the universe forces us to adapt and adjust, and even when it doesn’t, we should still be open to new ideas and experiences. We might like those new things, and even if not, at least we’re slightly more ready for the next time we need to adapt.
So, for your own sake, dive into whatever you’ve been flirting with, whether it be a new language, cycling, or bread baking. Just be sure to share some that fresh baked bread with others.