This I Believe

Marian - Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Entered on November 9, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: disability

Beyond The Comfortzone

“You can’t say you can’t do it until you’ve tried.” Those words, spoken casually by a co-worker 20 years ago changed my life. Well, I had told him, I’d like to try whitewater kayaking, but I’m legally blind, and I don’t think I can. I was wrong.

I not only learned how to kayak, I lived it for two years, racing, teaching and kayaking expert rivers. That was just the beginning. I started rock-climbing, mountaineering, mountain-biking, backpacking and skiing. I trekked in Nepal and biked and hiked solo. I was addicted to adrenalin.

As my eyesight went from very bad to worse, I gave up many of those sports, and became depressed. I finally realized it was not the adrenalin I missed. It was the challenge. I enjoyed pushing myself past my fear and discomfort to succeed at something I had thought was impossible. I discovered I was capable of so much more than I’d ever imagined. It made me feel strong and confident, ready to up the ante the next time I faced something difficult and uncomfortable.

Thankfully, I didn’t die in the process. Now I find challenges in my life that are not as life-threatening. I returned to graduate school and almost quit after the first two weeks and 1500 pages of required reading. I got my master’s degree and went on to career challenges like helping to coordinate a Presidential Conference and raise $3 million for charity.

Each time I felt relaxed and comfortable, I knew it was time to look for the next challenge. I found the ultimate challenges in one year, marriage and motherhood. With a two-month old baby, we moved to Munich, Germany, and I am pretty sure I was the only blind mother with a guide dog and baby on my back in the whole city.

I believe that Americans are especially good at meeting challenges. I grew up when we put men on the moon, women broke through glass-ceilings, and an iron curtain fell. Show me a problem, and I’ll show you a solution.

I wish I could thank that co-worker from so long ago. I have often thought of his words when I’ve told myself or someone else, “I can’t do that.” But you don’t know until you’ve tried. Try it. Push yourself. Believe in yourself. You can do it. And most of the time, I could.