I’m not your typical adventurous type. If you head to my social media, you won’t see streams of images where I’m scaling a mountain after work on a Tuesday. Or posts about me swimming with sharks. Instead, you’ll find a lot of pictures of my dog, my daughter, my face – heavily edited – and my boyfriend, not edited but often humiliated.
That’s not to say I don’t like an adventure. I found myself bobbing precariously down rapids in the summer, oblivious to the danger and completely swept along by blind luck and fearlessness. I loved it.
I enjoy mountain biking. Not so much the uphill bits, but the downhill? I’m not even scared of falling off – possibly because I haven’t yet fallen off.
I work with the fastest road racer on earth. So most of my day is spent writing about someone else taking risks and being bold.
I’m quite happy to take risks, be bold and plummet gaily to a grisly end. I just don’t feel a desperate need to fill my life with them.
Google the phrase ‘take risks,’ and you will find thousands of profoundly insane people jumping off cliffs or sticking their head in a lions mouth. Millions of inspirational quotes about adventure. A lot of dead bodies.
So why then, if the above isn’t really me. If I’m not an adrenaline-fuelled junkie, is the tagline to my business ‘Take Risks; Be Bold?’
I’ll tell you why.
The most significant risk you can ever take in life is listening. Not listening to reply. Listening to understand. To learn. To grow.
Most of us, including me, are incredibly good at talking. Really poor at listening.
Even the people who tell you-you’re a terrible listener, are probably not able to listen well themselves. But that isn’t your problem.
Listening to instruction is rather simple.
Listening to advice and criticism is a risky business.
As humans, we often fool ourselves into believing we know our flaws. One of mine? I’m very defensive. I know that, and I also understand why. My mum was a university lecturer who always had a way of making everything I did, better. In some ways this made me strive to be brilliant. But as a child, it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. From a very young age, it felt to me like my brother was the best, something I’m sure he didn’t feel. It felt like he was loved more. That he was special. Many incidents left me believing this.
I can still remember exactly how I felt when I read my mum my GCSE English piece. It was really good. In fact so good it got me an A* and later went on to win a prize and be published in a local newspaper. Before that though, I read it through to my mum who didn’t listen and praise. She listened and then tried to improve. Doing her best to help, but in the process making the pride I had in my work, crumble.
I don’t remember ever getting praise from my Dad until I reached the age of 25. He was busy. Then after the divorce, absent. And I was always desperate for his approval.
I grew up feeling like the second best child. Which placed a wedge between my brother and I. I grew up feeling like I had to shout loud to get my voice heard. Which made me angry. I grew up with the belief that if I put myself out there, I’d get negative criticism and I stopped wanting to feel like I couldn’t make the grade. It hurt. And if I’m honest? It still hurts. It can still make me cry out of nowhere.
Because of that, I also started to hide a lot from my family. What was the point in telling them if I was having trouble, or telling them if I’d fucked up? It was what they expected, and they’d not help. They’d just make me feel stupid, ashamed and second best. I felt all those things anyway, so why go through hearing it from someone else.
I learned that it was ok to hide things. A coping mechanism that I decided, at the ripe age of 12 or 13, was best. Of course, we all made our best life choices at 13 right? Having said that, it makes me a damn good PR. Omit the shit, promote the brilliant.
This wasn’t because my parents were awful. Far from it. They were both highly intelligent and creative people. Who believed their kids were fantastic but could be even better. Sadly, when you’re a kid. You don’t really want to be continuously told you could be better.
I made peace with my parents. My brother has become my closest friend. I made peace with my flaws. It turns out that when you spend your life feeling like you aren’t good enough, you work harder to perfect everything you do. This resulted for me in quite a lot of success, but sadly, because I still didn’t feel good enough, an inability to capitalise on it. And a sense of sadness that ran through every single thing I did.
All I wanted was to feel good enough and loved. So my focus was always on finding someone to make me feel that. Love.
As you can imagine. That didn’t work out. Low self-esteem and relationships are lethal. You accept things that aren’t good enough because you don’t feel good enough. You know it’s unfair but what’s the point in complaining? You’d only get shot down because you are worthless. And any form of criticism was met with a woman defending the little girl who felt hurt and broken.
Don’t get me wrong. Both my relationship and my subsequent marriage weren’t failures because of me. I was with weak men who loved me because I was weak. Easy to manipulate. Easy to control. They were toxic environments that even a healthy minded person would have felt suffocated by.
After my marriage. I felt powerful. For the first time in my life, I had realised that I didn’t need someone else to look after me. I could live alone, parent alone and manage alone. Regardless of how bleak things looked, I could survive without the approval of others. Or the love of others. Or the support of others. After all! I got through childhood like that. I knew the next time I fell in love it wouldn’t be a dependency.
I felt cured if you like.
I knew my flaws. I knew my scars. I was at peace with it all.
Only. I wasn’t.
And this is where the listening part matters. And this is where you need to be bold. Take risks.
Sometime in your life, you will meet someone who will point out your flaws. You’ll instantly become protective of them. Excuse them, defend them and justify them. You’ll feel this is ok because you’ve made peace with them. The line ‘this is who I am. I’m flawed, but I’m me’ becomes a sort of mantra.
You’ll feel you’ve accepted your flaws and you can just live with them. And someone will come into your life and accept them too. Because they’ll see all the pain, all the reason, all the history and understand. And maybe, they’ll even heal you a little.
It doesn’t work like that.
No matter how much someone loves you or wants to, they can’t open you up and feel what you feel.
The only way you help them understand you is to open up and show them what you feel.
Can you imagine me doing that? Telling my boyfriend the truth about what I really feel? Opening up myself and being completely vulnerable?
No way! If I do that I’ll be made to feel ashamed, foolish and worthless. Because that’s what always happens!
I can take the risk of telling you about it because you are a stranger. While it would hurt if you told me I was an idiot, it wouldn’t cut me to my core.
Of course, this thought process leads to criticism anyway. Which reverts me straight back to being 13 and hurting.
And this. This is where you need to take risks and be bold. Not for anyone else. But for you.
If you love someone. Listen.
If you love someone. Be bold.
If you love someone. Take risks.
Listen to what they are saying. Be bold enough to accept it and acknowledge it. Then take the risk and change it.
Maybe they aren’t perfect. Possibly they are hurting you. But that doesn’t matter. Because you aren’t perfect. You’re probably hurting them.
It’s not enough to make peace with your past. Peace with your flaws. It’s not ok to live with them in constant battle.
You have to reprogram yourself, your defenses and your habits. That isn’t going to be easy. But you can do it.
Then you have to take the biggest risk of all. Trusting someone, after years of not being able to trust anyone, to support you through that. Gently, quietly and lovingly.
They aren’t the root cause of your issue. You are.
And if they love you? They’ll be right at your side when you ask them to be.
If they don’t? They don’t deserve to be at your side at all.
You can do it.
Take risks. Be bold.