July 17, 2009

Lessons from a Teenager

Yesterday, a young kid from California, Zac Sunderland, became the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe—by himself. How old was he, you ask? Seventeen. He started out at sixteen and celebrated his birthday about halfway through. He bought a well-used 36-foot sailboat for 6 grand, and, with some help, set it up with equipment to become a world-wide sea voyaging vessel. He set off in June last year, and after 13 months at sea, he returned to California to set a record. That’s quite the curfew if you ask me. I can just hear his parents now, “Bye, honey! Make sure you are back before 14 months! And don’t forget to pick me up some mahi mahi at one of those islands you dock at!”

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To be honest, the thing that impressed me the most was his demeanor (via the radio) as he was being interviewed. He sounded—well, grown up. He sounded self-assured and confident. Not at all what I would expect from a teenage boy—heck, not even what I can expect from myself! This is what really got me. I mean, yeah, this accomplishment is something really amazing. An article I read said that over 300 people a year climb Everest, while fewer than 250 have ever sailed the earth solo. But, I want to know where this boy got his drive, his confidence, his can-do attitude. What kind of a person strives for something this incredible at such a young age? At his age, I was much more worried about how my hair looked or what I was doing on the weekend than I ever was about my future or my “life goals.”
"I think society puts young people in a box—people 15, 16, 17—and does not expect them to do much but go to high school and play football and stuff like that," Sunderland said. "This just shows they can do a lot more with some strong ambition and desire. My [advice] is to get out there and do your thing with all you got."
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Click here to see photos of Zac's trip.

Now that I’m older and have gotten out of the teenage “box,” so to speak, I have that mental list of the things that I’d like to accomplish with my life. But what’s really remarkable, is that even now, many years later, I don’t think I could muster the kind of courage that comes so naturally to Zac. Maybe it’s the hubris of the young, but I think it’s more than that. It’s got to be that he’s already learned an important life lesson. Fear debilitates, and if you can get over that, you’re already halfway there.

And there he was, the product of that philosophy. Calm, cool, and collected, making his way into the San Diego harbor, having accomplished something so completely beyond my comprehension.

As I was tossing Zac’s story around in head, feeling like a coward, it reminded me of a talk I heard once. In this talk, the guy referenced the book Who Moved My Cheese? The way he described it made me want to take a look, although I’ve never done it. He asked this same intriguing question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? How would your life change?

There are so many things in life to be afraid of. And the list broadens with every year that I get older. I am one of those nervous/planner types, and I “what if” myself to death sometimes. I can’t even look at DH sometimes in our conversations, because I’m even bothering myself with my endless questions and worries. As I think about my own neurotic nature, to envision what my life could be like without the plague of nervous fear, it seems like paradise.

Not that living your life this way doesn’t take a lot of preparation, planning, and time—certainly it does. But, it just cuts out all the extra time and energy it takes to worry and stress and lose sleep, so that you can use those resources to act. Mmm . . . that word tastes like chocolate on my tongue.

When the cheese moves, go after it. It won’t do you any good to sit and stew and make yourself miserable. As Zac says, “Do your thing with all you got.” Whether that’s sailing around the world or learning how to make a killer lasagna, stop hanging your head and go for it! Don’t stress over it! Banish your fears! Meet the world head on!

But that really is a scary thing. We had an enrichment activity once on stress management. A woman who worked in the stress lab at BYU came out to talk to us. Usually, I am rather unimpressed with these workshops. I mean, it’s all good information, but not anything that I haven’t heard before. (Go to your special place when you are angry. Take deep, cleansing breaths. Relax your body. Count to ten. And, so forth.) But this lady was different. She was giving us the same advice, but somehow she made it seem so real, like it could actually work. Her manner of standing, her gestures, even the tone of her voice all exuded an inner tranquility that, I’m sorry to say, I have never experienced before. I left wishing I could take her home and just have her talk in my ear all the time. Her voice seemed to cool the jets of my anxious personality so I could think straight—so I could live my life without fear.

So here’s to hoping I can take a lesson from a 17 year old and live more like an invincible teenager and less like a nervous Nelly.

Articles: Chicago Tribune, LA Times, NPR interview, Zac Sunderland's website

1 comment:

laurylaro said...

Glad there's another nervous Nelly out there:-)I told my neighbor the planes flying over our house sounded so close I though they were going to crash in to my house, adn she looked at me and said, "you're wierd." Here's to living w/o fear, irrational or rational.