I love birthdays. All that cake and attention. This Sunday I will be thirty-three and despite my excitement, I’ve been unable to escape the inevitable self-reflection that accompanies the passage of another year.
Experience has taught me that if I’m not a little scared, I’m not getting anywhere. This relationship between fear and success is a thread I’ve followed throughout my entire life. It plays out in the water, at work, in CrossFit, and I explore it in my book. Fear, risk and reward are inextricably connected through a complicated calculus that exists beyond my comprehension. Pushing forward through fear has yielded the most amazing rewards. The fear is always real. The risk, however, is not.
This past year has been scary and full of triumph, bringing with it more of the things people want more of (serenity, money, friends) and less of the things they don’t (drama, worry, disease). I find myself facing thirty-three grateful, hopeful and just a touch melancholy.
But with Love, I can’t master the fear. It’s the same thing I confront in the water. The wave comes to me, I make a firm decision to commit, turning around to paddle hard. As it catches me, I stare down the drop and am immobilized with fear. In truth, there is no real risk involved. I’ve been tossed hundreds of times—the threat of bodily harm is minimal where I surf. What is it, then, that makes it so hard to act? Intellectually, I know there is nothing to fear, yet I am still afraid, so much so that, at times, I can’t get past it. The same is true of Love: I know there is no real risk. My life will go on, with a broken heart or a brimming one.
But perhaps what makes love the ultimate risk is its potential to yield ultimate rewards. I possess the courage to make the leap, but I can’t fully overcome the fear. I find myself staring down the drop, so to speak, and I’m suddenly unsure of who I am. Incapable of being myself. Questioning how to behave. What is really at risk here? I don’t know. But I’m afraid. I fear the loneliness inherent in not being loved back and I fear what might happen if I were.
As a surfer I’ve learned that there are some things you just can’t muscle through. You cannot control the wave through sheer force. Some things are not attainable by effort alone. Experience in the water, learning to trust myself and the ocean, this is how I overcome that immobilizing fear. Familiarity leads to comfort.
When it comes to love, the calculus breaks down. Risk, fear, reward; they coalesce. There is no function with which to derive love. I can’t achieve my way into it. There is nothing to be done, but to commit to the drop and let go of the outcome. Just like in the water. It’s terrifying and it makes me very uncomfortable, but I do it anyway because I know what is possible.
My birthday wish this year is to find someone who can see past my fear and discomfort long enough to let me love them. Someone who can laugh at me while I try to mitigate the risk and struggle with the fear; to see beyond the flailing into my potential. All I can do is try, and I want to. I want to try.
I’d like to thank everyone in my life who has contributed to such a wonderful year. You know who you are. I’d also like to thank the 4,000 unique visitors who have read this blog in the past two months. Publishing this is one of the scariest things I do every week, and it is also one of the most rewarding. I couldn’t do it without you. Here’s to a great year ahead for all of us!