This is something I've told myself time and time again for 20 someodd years (as for those first few years, I probably actually enjoyed being hot and sticky and finding pouches of sand in the crotch of my swimsuit; hooray! Pouch of sandy treasure!) I believed for years that I'm just not a beach person, and that kept me from pursuing shoreline vacations and hours of reclined relaxation.
And, truth be told, when I was eight-ish, I hated the beach so much that I ran away from home* because my family insisted on going to the dirty, dirty beach instead of going to the swimming pool, which I liked much better.
So recently, when my friends invited me for a day at the beach, I hesitated. I don't like the beach, I heard myself say. It'll be too hot, too much of a hassle, too uncomfortable. And yet, somehow, I decided the getaway was too necessary and the friends too much fun to pass up. And also, I thought the old beach story might just be that: a story.
Very intentionally, I challenged the assumption I had about myself that I'm just not a beach person. I put myself in a position to find out if that was true, or if it really was just another story I was telling myself. My hint that it was a story was that not liking the beach, being pale, and having spent previous beach days in a t-shirt under the umbrella the whole time set me apart from other people in my mind, and made me feel "unique." I got something from holding onto that old story. I was protected form possible discomfort by just not going to the beach in the first place.
So what did I discover that day on Long Island?
1. If I wear enough sunscreen, I don't actually burn. (Except around my butt, and I think that one was my fault.)
2. If I swim, walk, talk, eat, and do crossword puzzles, there's no time to get bored or overthink how much more comfortable I might be in a t-shirt under that umbrella over there.
3. The beach really isn't that dirty.
4. The trip really isn't that long.
5. And if I choose safe people, am clear with myself about the risks I'm willing to take and those I'm not willing to take (e.g. taking a possibly long train trip vs. agreeing to stay until nightfall), have an exit strategy (if necessary), and just DIVE IN, I might actually enjoy something I haven't enjoyed in years.
Which is to say, I went back to the beach this past weekend, too. And this time I didn't even burn my butt!
If you want to try this, too, here's a To Do List to get back on your pony and ride:
1. Identify something that you think you can't do, or that you used to do but no longer do. Something you think might give you pleasure if you just let it.
2. Find a couple of safe people who are willing to experiment with you (and who will surrender the original plans if you become overwhelmed, or discover that the story isn't a story after all).
3. Get clear about what you're willing to do and what you're not willing to do. Make it cut and dry, and share it with your safe people. For example, "I'm willing to go to Times Square for New Year's Eve if it costs less than $50 and we're not standing next to anybody drunk. Otherwise, I have the right to leave if I want to."
4. Put on your attitude of curiosity, and jump in!
If nothing else, you'll know more about your limits (or your perceived limits) than you did before. And who knows? You may just inspire your safe people to take some risks of their own...
*I made it to the driveway, where I was lured back into the fold by my mother, equipped with nothing more than two rapidly melting popsicles.