Here is one thing I almost forgot (oh, how quickly we forget!): To improve your life, you have to take risks.
The most important change in my life to date — meeting and falling in love with Dawn — didn’t just happen. The timing was fortuitous, sure, but it happened through an intricate series of intentional acts on my part and hers.
Generally speaking, when we did those things, it involved taking risks. For me, those risks started probably when I moved to Minnesota in 1999, setting off a crazy chain reaction that resulted in three rough years out in the cold, followed by seven very difficult years in the Bay Area and two increasingly wonderful ones. (Happily, the wonderful ones were 2010 and 2011.) Another risk was going into therapy and working hard to discover what I really feared and hated about life and about myself. Another was to put up a profile on OKCupid.com that was truly honest and revealing. I was finally able to do that in a way that was actually attractive, because I finally liked myself and felt worthy of receiving love. There was still an inherent risk of rejection: if someone didn’t like my honest, detailed, silly profile, they wouldn’t like me either. (Of course, the reverse is also true: If someone liked my profile, they’d also probably like me. I was pretty sure of that, anyway.)
Similarly, in contacting me, Dawn risked rejection, or the possibility of disappointment at meeting yet another inauthentic dude on OKCupid. In return for each of us taking those risks (and many others), we have begun to build an epic love that is made to last. (I am thankful every day for it because I am well aware that not everyone gets to have this.)
Taking risks requires you to accept the possibility of losing something you already have. Ideally, that thing you lose is something you don’t want anyway (the parasite crashing on your couch, the soul-sucking job, the girl who doesn’t really love you but you keep answering her calls anyway because you’re lonely, the feeling of worthlessness, etc.). But even that is hard, because the fear of the unknown frequently trumps the potential gain of making a change.
One thing that makes it hard to take risks is giving a fuck. Stopping giving a fuck — about the things that don’t matter — probably has its disadvantages, but it’s the only real path to making meaningful change in your life.
It’s been a struggle for me for years to not give a fuck. During and after high school, I allowed my teen-aged perception of what society thinks is important to shape my choices, instead of just doing what I wanted to do. That put me in a very different place than where I might have been.
That’s not to say that I would trade any of it. Two short years ago, I was at my worst. At this time of year in 2009 I couldn’t see anything but what was right in front of me and a whole hell of a lot of pain and fear. But now, going into 2012, I have a wonderful woman at my side (I’m pretty sure she’s the person I’ve always wanted to be with but was too afraid to look for), and a world that has opened up again with limitless potential.
Stuff that is sort of but not entirely related:
Quashing the self-improvement urge
Letting go of sentimental items