If you’re a reader of my blog or books, or if you’ve ever met me in real life, then you know very well by now the central theme of my writing, mentoring, relationships and… well, pretty much everything else. Let’s all say it together, shall we?
“You always have a choice.”
That seemingly simple statement has served as the guide for every talk I’ve given, every workshop I’ve led, every post on this blog over the course of eleven years and every chapter of every book I’ve written. I dare say it even turns up naturally in 80% or better of my personal conversations. In fact, those five words will serve as the actual title of my next book as well, where each of five sections will be devoted to just one individual word from that mantra: You Always Have a Choice. (Yes, there will be an entire multi-chaptered section diving into the single word a.)
I’m just as excited about saying it today as I have ever been, just as convinced of the life-changing potential it holds for those who accept it and then put into practice the truth of it. And it’s in this one central theme that every other piece of advice I’ve ever given finds its anchor.
I stated one such piece of advice this way in my first book, The Best Advice So Far:
“Do something new every day.”
Now again, if you know me at all in person or through my writing, then you know I don’t just say this. I do my best to live it out. I love the adventure of doing something new.
In my last blog post, for instance, I mentioned having seen for the first time in my life (and quite possibly the last) the rare yellow-crested night heron while on an excursion to a remote island in the Everglades.
I ended my last book, Alternate Reality, with a story about night diving with my friend Chad in the frigid Atlantic during an otherworldly phosphorescent algae bloom.
In between, I’ve share countless stories about everything from eating ox hooves and tripe at a Nigerian restaurant, to wearing a clown nose in traffic to cheer up other drivers, to lying down in the middle of a busy sidewalk and staring up at the stars with a friend who was stuck in a rut.
These stories have all been true. And I share them with others not to make myself out to be terribly adventurous, but in order to grab people’s attention and to provide a memorable hook for making broadly applicable points about life stuff that matters to each of us.
Every time I share such a tale, however, I’m also aware of the double-edged sword it presents. That is, people may focus on the stories themselves thinking “I could never do those things”—and so they wind up missing the big-picture truth behind the stories:
“You always have a choice.”
For this reason, I’m always careful to add that doing something new isn’t about being an extrovert or having money to travel or living near an ocean. Rather doing just about anything new…
taking a different route home from work one day
stopping into a local shop you’ve never visited just to see what they do there (whether you need the service yourself or not)
sampling a food you’ve never tried
listening to a music album or reading a book outside your normal genres
finding out the name of one nautical knot and learning how to tie it yourself
…provides pretty much the same benefit as exploring a sunken ship in shark-infested waters (yeah, so, maybe I did that as well, though the sharks were not part of the original plan).
And yet still, I know that many people go away feeling that such “run-of-the-mill” suggestions for doing something new every day are just a sort of consolation prize—like the pretty, popular girl in high school sitting you down and telling you in that helpful-on-the-surface-yet-somehow-annoyingly-condescending manner, “No, you’re… pretty too… in your own special kind of way.”
The truth is that I myself am by no means rich. Most of the new things I do in life are absolutely free. (And if they aren’t free, they’re cheap or something I’ve had to really save up for.)
Believe it or not, I’m also not someone people who know me would describe as a thrill-seeker. I just keep an open mind and trust myself to be spontaneous within reason.
And I’m 100% convinced that regularly breaking out of our comfort zone by doing something new is one key to happy living.
It wakes up your brain.
It revitalizes your energy.
It boosts your natural curiosity.
It keeps you present and alert for possibilities.
It promotes new ideas, new thinking, new connections, new solutions to old problems.
Most importantly, doing something new keeps us continually mindful of the practical truth that “You always have a choice.”
So today, I’m going to break some illusions about what “doing something new every day” more often looks like for me.
Some years back, my friend Chad came into town for a whirlwind visit. We’d only get a couple of hours together before he had to head out.
We grabbed lunch at a place nearby and, as always, enjoyed some fun, energizing conversation.
When we were through, we still had a bit of time left and were determined to make the most of it. I don’t remember which one of us suggested it (either is as likely as the other), but we decided to go for a walk with the sole intention of finding something new to do—something that neither of us had ever done before.
Keep in mind as you continue here that we were in my home town a couple of blocks from my house, in an area Chad also knew well. And we were pressed for time. There would be no skydiving or piranha tanks or what-have-you.
A few minutes into our walk, eyes keen for opportunity, we came upon an old, cracked, weed-sprouting parking lot next to a building that had been abandoned for years.
“Ever been in this parking lot?” he asked.
“Nope,” I said.
So in we went, already having achieved our goal of doing something together that neither of us had ever done before.
Once in the lot, we looked around for something more, since (we mused) we had both been in an abandoned parking lot somewhere before, and since we did have a little more time before Chad had to go.
Already, though, just having entered the lot with the intention of seeing or doing something new had our synapses firing. I noticed some plants growing in the woods at the far end of the lot. I didn’t recognize them. Neither did Chad. So I suggested we go over and use our phones to try to identify the plant.
That was cool and all. But we were still itching for something that felt like… the thing.
Then we spotted it.
Walking side by side, we both stopped suddenly and looked down at the patch of concrete between us. We paused a few seconds to take in the sight. Then our heads slowly lifted in unison and we locked eyes, silly grins simultaneously taking over our faces. We’d found that day’s really-we-mean-it-this-time new thing.
A Popsicle stick.
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