Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Finding Boundless Joy in Unusual Places"

Finding Boundless Joy in Unusual Places

By Linda Crill

Many important discoveries are made by accident; most of us have heard about inventions that were discovered by people searching for something different. The pacemaker, penicillin, post-it notes, corn flakes and even the slinky and silly putty are a just a few. But scientists aren't the only ones who can be surprised by results that defy logical assumptions.

I've found that one thing many of us want more of is "happiness." Even better yet is its more elusive cousin—radiating joy. The way I describe joy is this: it's an internal feeling that swells up from deep from inside of us and can't be easily restrained. This genuine expression can't be faked, even when photographers ask for it. Since we can't demand joy to appear on command, where do we find it?

Three Routes

Imagine yourself after a major setback deciding that it's time to feel boundless joy again. You're standing in the countryside with three road choices in front of you marked:

  • Route 1 Self pampering,
  • Route 2 Instant Pleasures,
  • Route 3 Difficult Challenge with another road sign directly behind it stating, "Travel at Your Own Risk!"

You assess your options, asking yourself which road is most likely to take you to your destination of boundless joy. Which one would you choose? I've recently traveled these three routes and made an unusual discovery along the way.

Destination—Boundless Joy

A year after losing a husband to cancer, I was ready to reengage in life and most of all experience deep joy again. Experts' advised me to choose Route 1, to pamper and be good to myself. Dutifully, I splurged on 800-thread-count bed linens, joined a gym, knitted 40 scarves, and tried dozens of other things.

Friends encouraged me to indulge in instant pleasures. Exploring Route 2, I enjoyed previously forbidden rich desserts, scheduled a spa day, bought a stack of new jazz CDs, and turned off my alarm and slept in late.

Although Routes 1 and 2 were pleasurable while I was doing them, the feeling from each soon wore off, and I found myself needing a new fix soon thereafter. But an even more important limitation of these two routes was that I hadn't experienced the kind of boundless and sustaining joy that makes lasting memories and would renew my spirit again and again.

Defying Tradition

Eighteen months later, I was still miserable. Needing to shake up my life. I decided if traditional advice doesn't work, it was time to try something radically different. I signed up for a 2,500-mile motorcycle road trip down America's Pacific Northwest Coast riding a Harley. The problem was that I didn't know how to ride and had only thirty days to learn.

This motorcycle journey that started out as an escape vacation quickly turned into a formidable challenge. Learning to ride and balance a full-sized-800-pound machine was much harder than I imagined. I failed the 3-day motorcycle training class and couldn't pass the DMV's motorcycle license road test in three more attempts. But I kept practicing in spite of the setbacks and difficulty. On my fourth attempt, I shocked myself and passed with a perfect score. When I did, I erupted spontaneously with uncontrollable joy. I was happier than I had been in the previous two years.

Joy came from accomplishing what I had grown to believe was an insurmountable goal.

However, thirty days of riding practice wasn't adequate preparation for the 10-day motorcycle road trip. I faced new difficult obstacles daily that I'd ride white-knuckled through—jumping into Vancouver rush-hour traffic, riding up a long steel ferry ramp, maneuvering across a gravel road filled with washed-out gullies and riding at night up a mountain road covered with black ice were just a few. But, after completing each tasking challenge successfully, I'd erupt in exuberant joy. A new self-trust grew inside me proving I could count on life - and myself - again.

Repetitious Celebration

Route 3 isn't just a route that was the right answer for me to discover joy; there are numerous stories of people finding it after accomplishing something equally difficult and laced with fear of failure. When we do something difficult that we know how to do, we may feel satisfied and happy afterwards. But when we accomplish something formidable that we think we're not good at or fear—like making a public speech or successfully completing an arduous training—the reward is sustaining joy. Years later we can still smile and be excited as we remember our success.

The Washington Post recently published an article about adults attending classes to learn to ride a bicycle. These adults had given up or missed this normal childhood activity and now as mature adults, decided to tackle their fears and pursue it. Just as kids do when learning to ride a bicycle, they experienced the usual spills, skinned knees and bruises. But by not giving up, the ones who continued and learned to ride expressed tremendous joy at removing a barrier that had embarrassed and deprived them of a normal rite of passage.

My advice is this: if you're looking for tumultuous joy, challenge yourself to a difficult task; one you may be fearful of accomplishing. Be ready for setbacks and failure, since that's a part of every learning process. But see if choosing the "Difficult Challenge Road" doesn't end up with you discovering joy in an unusual place.

Linda Crill is a motivational speaker based in Washington, DC. In Blind Curves: One Woman's Unusual Journey To Reinvent Herself and Answer, "What Now?," Crill describes her own road to reinvention and shows readers how they too can tackle unexpected change. Blind Curves (Opus INTL, $16.95) is available at www.amazon.com and other online retailers. For more information, visit: www.lindacrill.com.

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