Taking Risks and Ospreys

Two years ago, I saw an osprey on a warm summer day. It landed squarely on a small tree right in front of a window in my family room. There couldn’t have been more than six feet between us. It should not have been there at all because these birds like water areas filled with fish. A small pond is located a stone’s throw from my home, but I have never seen anyone fish there. Yet, there on a very obvious branch perched an osprey for me to see it. It got my attention. Right away, I knew it wasn’t a red-tailed hawk or a peregrine falcon. I had no clue what it was, but it edged closer to my window for me to observe for around twenty beautiful seconds. We stared at one another. Moments later it spread its wings and flew away. I grabbed my bird book and took to the internet to find out what I saw and what the sighting meant.

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Image credit: pixabay.com

I learned ospreys submerge their entire head underwater when preying on fish. They symbolize that you can be very much out of your comfort zone (or usual environment) . . . and survive. These birds teach us to take risks, not be frightened to take risks, even if opportunities seem out of reach. Although all birds are messengers, ospreys bring awareness that an important message is on its way.

They remind us:

YOU are ready.

YOU are skilled.

YOU are fearless.

The rest is up to us.

Like the osprey, I have been very much out of my comfort zone and survived.

I have survived many things. I have survived chickenpox, many flu viruses, and other illnesses. I have survived bullying. I have survived airports and air travel. I have survived chemo and a myriad of other treatments and side effects. I have survived tornado warnings and personal emotional storms. I have survived the pain and grief that follows the passing of loved ones. I have survived many challenging students in the classroom, and they have also survived me. Surviving cancer is just one thing I’m living with and doing my best to survive. I am so many things, as we all are. Being a survivor is just one part of me. I’ve changed, but I call myself a survivor because I am still here.

Taking risks is part of living a fulfilling life. Some look at risks as adventures. Some thrive on danger. Some choices in life don’t seem to be choices, but rather the only choice you could make at any given time. I felt like this when choosing my first round of chemotherapy. I felt it again each time I needed to move on to another treatment regiment. It seemed I didn’t have much choice because the alternative was an outcome that wouldn’t work well for me. I feel like the past seven years have been an exercise in risk. Each treatment is a risk.

I’m risking my life in order to stay alive.

It’s hard. I get tired. And yet, I know I’m worth the risks I take. I want to be healthy and happy.

There is something missing. I’m so focused on staying well that I don’t have much time for anything else. The risks of sky diving or strolling by my lonesome through prime lion habitat don’t appeal to me. Developing a gambling addiction also isn’t the kind of risk I want.

On the one hand, I’m torn between not wanting to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone who may put my health at risk. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children for flu or preventable diseases could have life-threatening consequences for me. I must be over cautious. I can’t afford to take much risk in regards to my health. I am always going to base health decisions on scenarios with the lowest risk aligned with the greatest outcomes. Nothing is a sure thing. It all carries risk.

We all take risks in hopes of gaining a desired result.

But there’s the other hand. I don’t want to pass up chances to go out and have fun! I don’t want to put self-imposed limits on myself because I am unsure what I’m capable of achieving. I want to live with passion and purpose, to continue to learn and to lead, to change and to grow for the better.

There is some element of calculated risk in every choice we make. Some have bigger impacts than others. There are people who interpret risk as an opportunity, and others who see it as an assured failure. These are not the same people.

Taking risks has benefits. The most obvious, of course, is being rewarded with your goal. People who take risks are said to be more adaptable and they try more new things. They do not see failure as failure. Failure is an opportunity. They learn from these opportunities and bounce back more quickly compared to those who view unsuccessful risks as failures.

Risk-taking involves moving past fear in pursuit of what you want.

Fear prevents you from taking chances. Fear keeps you stuck. Life continues to happen if you choose to stay stuck – that’s still a choice. Taking a risk involves ignoring possible judgments from others. It may mean standing on your own, pushing past self-imposed boundaries, and doing something outside of your comfort zone. I don’t think it’s so much of a “no pain, no gain” philosophy. It’s more of an “if you always go with the flow, you never grow” mentality.

How might someone incorporate a little more risk into his or her life?

Pick a few from the list or come up with your own:

  • Explore a new town.
  • Ask for what you need.
  • Sign up for a ropes course.
  • Give someone new a chance.
  • Take a class to develop an interest.
  • Order something different at your usual restaurant.
  • Write or talk about emotions you find hard to process.
  • Ask more questions at your next medical appointment.
  • Respectfully disagree if you are misrepresented on an issue.
  • Share an honest opinion in a place where your view may not popular.
  • Make an appointment with a therapist if you know you need extra support.
  • Risk being rejected, turned down, the possibility of failure, or hearing NO.
  • There’s always sky diving if that’s really something you need to do.

Sometimes the biggest risk we take is not taking one.

Back to the osprey.

My head is submerged most of the time as I keep exposing my body to ongoing treatment. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone. The outcome has surprised me. It is one more thing I have come to accept. The big risk with treatment is it may stop working. That risk is worth it to stay healthy. I’ve learned I can take these risks even when they frighten me down to my bones.

The opportunities I have to be healthy are not out of reach.

It is why I keep my head submerged.

Living Hopefully

Superheroes are part of current popular culture. Super human strength, agility, and speed quicker than lightning save cities or planets. Right and might both outwit and outlast villains every time. I like to think of hope as its own superpower. It is its own light in the dark night. Hope calms the inner storm. Hope saves. There are days it takes a beating, but it is never snuffed out. It always resurfaces stronger and brighter. It is also transferable from one person to another which makes it even more powerful. I wish hope could be embodied in some type of physical form where we could call out for it and see it leaping over obstacles in a single bound and knocking out the bad guy. It sure would make life easier. We must do our best to take on that persona ourselves. Superheroes are good examples of what it means to adopt a hopeful lifestyle.

When we live hopefully, we become those superheroes.

Hope by definition doesn’t make you feel doomed. It provides strength and wipes out fear. Hope moves forward. Hope is a Stage V quality. Throw resiliency and toughness in there as Stage V qualities as well. One on its own creates a reaction. The reaction is greater when several of these qualities are combined. Stage V is also a superpower worthy to make a stand against villainous cancer.

Adam Sicinski is a life coach, founder of IQ Matrix in 2009, and has developed over 350 self-growth mind maps. I honestly can’t gush enough about these mind maps. One of his points in  “How To Nurture Hope When Life Starts Getting Really Tough”  is that hope can’t come and go from a person’s life as the need arises for it. Instead, hope is a lifestyle. Hope becomes an integral part of each day. It requires trust and faith in yourself that you can get through tough times and follow through with your actions and plans. He writes when you nurture hope you lessen doubt, anxiety, and stress which alleviates some of the uncertainty while facing these emotions. In turn, your levels of belief rise and you can act in a more positive way despite whatever trouble you face.

Pessimistic thoughts must give way to a sense of certainty. Hope becomes more proactive this way rather than a passive act. More of Adam Sicinski’s ideas follow as to what it means to be a hopeful person.

Living hopefully means . . .

  • You are grateful for the life you have. Even though you are living with gratitude, it does not limit you from seeking out a better life.
  • You want to make things better and look for ways to make your life better. Actions and opportunities pave the way step by step.
  • You will always do your best to make the most of every situation.
  • Every experience has some value. You remain hopeful that things will turn out in your favor.
  • No matter what happens, you maintain a positive outlook.
  • Living in the now. This means that by making the most of today, you increase your chances of making the future you want a reality.
  • You do more than just hope things work out. You work to make it so. Sometimes this means building on past successes and learning from what has happened. Mistakes can be helpful.
  • Living generously. Giving to others often provides a better understanding about your own personal struggles while allowing you to grow toward where you want to be.
  • Looking for opportunities where others can help. You can’t do it all on your own.
  • Ridding yourself of worry and regret. It breeds anxiety, stress, and hopeless thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. These are not perfect people, but people with a sense of purpose who work through challenges as cheerfully as possible with attitudes that keep them moving forward.

This last idea is really important for me because positive people seem to have many of the other qualities needed for living hopefully already present. We gravitate toward one another and conversations about positivity and hope unfold naturally. I need to surround myself with these people as someone living with cancer. I also need to continue being the person living hopefully.

I also like that Sicinski doesn’t say that nurturing hope means nothing ever goes wrong. A perfect life isn’t realistic. Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to life’s challenges. When mistakes are made or unexpected circumstances are encountered, those who nurture hope will likely see these experiences as opportunities for growth. I think there are many similarities in hope as a lifestyle and being resilient.

A lifestyle that embraces hope involves gratitude, trust, positivity, happiness, and belief. Nurturing hope causes you to reflect a lot on your life and draw upon strengths and resources. These shifts in thoughts and lifestyle apply to anyone who wants to live with a mindset geared toward hope. Hope as a lifestyle also correlates positively with a Stage V lifestyle.

One of my most hopeful times of day is in the predawn of the morning. I’m still in bed, relishing that state of bliss between sleep and awake. It is quiet. In the summer, I can hear birds chirping melodically. When it’s winter, the gentle sound of the furnace is comforting. I feel refreshed and have the whole day stretching out before me. Anything can happen. I like to think about how I see my day unwinding and set a positive intention. Often I just appreciate the stillness and let myself be. Now, I understand mornings aren’t everyone’s best time, but I’m betting you can identify a time of day where you have an abundance of hopeful energy. Maybe it’s during your morning coffee or tea. Maybe you find it while out for a run. It could be much later in the day when you’re driving home from work. The point is to give yourself some time every day to be intentionally hopeful. It takes only a few moments to let gentle hopeful feelings and reminders have a positive impact.

May the coming new year offer many opportunities for living hopefully.

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What are you hoping for this year? What plans have you made to help turn your hopes into something real?

Tennis and Life: A Resilient Match

I remember the crisp pop the racket made as it connected with the tennis ball in just the right way in the center of the racket.

It was a solid sound.

I remember the feeling of oneness that came from getting your racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through with a forehand as I watched the ball sail through the air and land cross court.

It was a fluid feeling.

It was also twenty-five years ago. Or more. I never played much beyond competitive play in high school. Recreational play after that had its ups and downs, mostly downs. I played too infrequently to maintain any real skills. Friends I had played with moved away. Finding people with whom I was moderately well matched was challenging. There never seemed to be time. Life got busier with work and other interests. I barely knew who the top ranked players were and seldom caught a match on TV. Years went by as they do.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to play again and made an action plan. I researched my tennis options. I would take a lesson. It would be private so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my level of play with another player. I largely wanted to see what it felt like to be on a court again after so many years and get baseline data for my abilities. I wanted to work on the mechanics of net play, my serve, and my forehand and backhand with minimal running. I figured my brain and body still had the neurological maps for how to do those things, but I needed to focus on them in isolation.

Isolating strokes revealed I still had a lot of really good moves. There was a lot of joy in hitting things.

A LOT.

My mental focus is much stronger in my late forties than in my teens. On that particular day, it was like a part of me was watching me play in slow motion and I noticed what I was doing so I was able to adjust where I needed while I did it. I felt in control, which was something that had been more of a foreign feeling in my life lately.

Before I started, I was concerned I wouldn’t last the seventy-five minutes scheduled for a lesson, but my stamina held up well. I was also playing with my chemo body. I felt really good on the court. The feeling was there as soon as I stepped into the court enclosure. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to have a sense of belonging wash over me as it did. Then I realized the feeling was the mix of joy and excitement.

The joy felt electric, which is a very odd way to describe how I felt, but so much was firing together in my body and mind. It wasn’t just the popping sound of a solid hit or my strokes that felt fluid.

I felt solid and fluid.

I was capable and a little more whole than I was when I woke up that morning. My instructor was impressed with what I was able to do taking into consideration my current health needs and how long I had been away from the game. So was I.

You know how people always try to make things look better than perhaps how they really are? Facebook is a platform for this. So are Christmas letters. We can take multiple photos of ourselves and delete the unflattering ones instantly. This narrative I’ve spun about my triumphant return to tennis feeds into this need to always portray everything in our lives as wonderful. It’s natural to try to look and sound your best and put your best foot forward. But none of those are completely accurate versions of reality. Keep reading.

I am no star athlete and I don’t believe I ever will be. I just want to do something again that I used to love and be more active.

And hit things.

But here is my reality that I’ll leave out of the holiday letter . . .

I got hit with a rogue tennis ball in the head.

Of course I did.

I managed to keep all the balls I hit in my court and not hit any over the high net that divided court enclosures. My control was surprisingly impressive. One ball however came flying over from next door.

My instructor hollered, “Look out!”

I just froze. I knew a ball from somewhere was coming but didn’t see it. Hopefully, it would miss me. One more step and it would have.

Bonk.

After decades of not playing, I was in just the right place at the right time. What were the chances? What was the lesson? Life is filled with imperfections and this was simply a good example of one. In anticipation of my lesson, I had worried I wouldn’t move fast enough and get hit in the face with an oncoming ball. Here I was being taught I had nothing to fear.

Nothing.

Everything was still fine.

And sure, there’s always the lesson to laugh at whatever life throws your way, even if it’s a tennis ball.

Or is this the part I edit out when I share with others?

I guess it’s a little too late for that idea.

Which sounds better?

A)  I got hit in the head with a rogue ball from another court because those are the types of things that happen to me.

B)  It felt great to be on the court again. I discovered I still had a lot of good moves and hit many balls confidently.

I personally favor B, but know both together give a more complete picture of what happened.

Few things are ever completely wonderful or awful. Keeping the part in about being hit in the head shows resiliency in action. The ball bounced off my head and it was no big deal. I bounced back from that perfect fluke before that ball even landed on the court.

The lesson that offers the biggest take away for me is the lesson of resiliency. It shows up again and again, just as its name implies it should. Resiliency shows up going on longer walks, hiking a hill that seemed out of reach, and taking a tennis lesson.

Every activity offers opportunities for learning more about my capabilities. They provide me with templates to learn how to adapt where I need to and stay flexible in the moment.

Resilience always leads to growth.

Much like the tennis ball, being resilient allows us to keep bouncing. Whether the ball bounces in court, into the net, just out of bounds, or off your head, it bounces in the realm of possibility for making future challenges probable and more successful.

Resiliency is a good match for all of us, whether we play tennis or not.

How has life shown you that you are resilient?