how to stop missing out on life

How to Stop Missing out on Life

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Don’t wait another second to do the thing you have always wanted to do.

All of us have at least one thing that makes us feel both alive and at peace. It could be an activity you have never tried or a childhood pastime that got pushed aside by other demands. Oftentimes, it is what comes to mind when you envision your ideal self.

For me, it is rock climbing. Beginning when I was about four years old, I had a passion for doing anything that my favorite animal — monkeys — would do. I spent all of recess on the monkey bars and swings, soaring as high as the playground swings would take me, imagining that I was swinging on a vine, or, better yet, flying between trees. My mom even tricked me into a lifelong habit of eating bananas, formerly my least favorite food, by telling me that monkeys loved them. After elementary school let out, I would sneak down to the 50-foot-tall Chinaberry tree in our backyard and gleefully climb to the top before my parents noticed that I had slipped out of the house. By the time my mom, panicked, spotted me from the back deck, I was clinging precariously to the uppermost branch.

When I was 11, my neighborhood friend and tree-climbing buddy Morgan started having her birthday parties at South Austin Rock Gym. It was a revelation. I had inherited the family skinny-kid genes and barely weighed 60 pounds. I remember flying up and down those walls, feeling that I had never had so much fun in my life. Although a few of the partygoers climbed with similar enthusiasm, most got bored quickly, thought it was too hard, or stared at the high wall skeptically and went off to gossip in the corner. I stayed glued to the wall, trying new routes, until my forearm muscles seared with pain and my parents dragged me home.

After Morgan’s second party at the rock gym, we were teenagers, and the birthday celebrations took place at latest all-the-rage venues — like Blazer Lazer tag. With that, my rock climbing days went into hiatus. Soccer, tennis, and cross country were my everyday sports. I thought of rock climbing as a special-occasion thing. I do not remember having any sense that it was a sport you could do with regularity.

In college, the climbing itch returned. I always told myself that I would try out the rock climbing wall at UT Austin’s Gregory Gym, but I never got around to it. I would hear about people climbing on the greenbelt, and I would imagine myself with them, scaling limestone cliffs in the sunshine near Barton Creek. I never went. I didn’t have any of the gear, and I was too shy to ask my rock-climbing acquaintances if I could join. For some reason, the underground cool of the sport felt out of reach — it seemed to be for the eternally laid-back, wilderness-savvy types — not a school-obsessed psychology major with zero experience, little muscle, and no money for gear. I had lost touch with the monkey-bar-traversing, tree-climbing child within me.

Two years ago, I started as a mentor with Explore Austin, an outdoor adventure and leadership program for undeserved youth. I joined because of my passion for guiding youth in dreaming up and creating fulfilling futures, my love for the outdoors, and my hope that the monthly activities could help me reconnect to the playful adventuring I did as a kid. I got my wish. Starting this academic year — our group’s rock climbing year — I was all but forced to start climbing again at our monthly challenges. If the 14 adolescent mentees were brave enough to struggle their way up 50-foot cliffs in front of a big group, I had to be, too. A few months in, the four other mentors and I began meeting up in our off time to practice so that we could more expertly guide our mentees on the rocks. At first, I climbed just once or twice a month with the other mentors. Then I started going alone and with other friends, often multiple times per week, at the Austin Bouldering Project, outdoors, and at other gyms in town.

The rock climbing definitely feels harder than it did when I was 12. With adulthood, scrawniness has given way to substance and curves, and my strength, unfortunately, has not increased proportionally. Also, with each week, I try increasingly more challenging routes. Nevertheless, I once again feel like I am having the most fun I have ever had. All at once, I feel euphoric, energized, and calm. As I mentally puzzle through a new, challenging route and then finally grip each of the colorful holds in a flowing sequence, my baseline level of anxiety and rumination melts away. I no longer feel bored and like I have fallen into a never-ending and inescapable routine of work-eat-sleep. I have adventure and play again. It’s as if rock climbing filled a hole in my life that I was not even aware was there.

So what is that thing for you—the activity that comes to mind when you envision your true or best self? What did you love doing as a kid or a teenager? Do you still do it or has it fallen away with time? Perhaps it’s something you have never tried before but have a gut feeling about — pottery, glass-blowing, skateboarding, trail running, parkour, crafting, writing fiction, horseback riding, gardening, bee keeping. Just try it! The hardest part is often starting. Enlist a friend or family member to go with you or prompt you to do it by a certain date. Work with a therapist. Call NOW to set up the new activity. Mark your calendar. Do whatever it is you have to do because, if you don’t take the leap now, you risk losing years of fulfillment and joy. Don’t let another second go by. Go do what makes you you. And, if you need any tips or help doing you, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read about personal growth counseling. Additionally, you can read You Are an Explorer, How to Change Your Life’s Narrative, and How to Leave Comfort Zone for some more tips on growth.