How a Letter, Skydiving & Snakes Taught Me to Change My Thoughts and Conquer Challenges

Jannica February 15, 2016 8

What do a letter, skydiving and snakes have to do with changing my thoughts? 

They are moments. Gifts of support, trust and freedom.

Changing my thoughts led to conquering challenges and changing my life. 

Don't you hate it when your parents are right?! My parents always told me to “broaden my horizons". Usually this was said when I was being stubborn. When I didn't want to try something. When I didn't want to do something they wanted me to do. Of course, sometimes it was said when I was being a scaredy cat. I laugh, because now I know they were right. That statement has stayed with me and challenged me to go outside my comfort zone and try new things. I now say to my kids “broaden your horizons” and I smile, knowing they are internally rolling their eyes at me but someday will appreciate it. When a person is provided with autonomy, encouragement and support by their peers and mentors, they can go as far as they want.
 "All progress takes place outside the comfort zone." -- Michael John Bobak
Throughout my childhood I was an introvert, worried about making a good impression, doing things the right way, horrified about rocking the boat and very afraid of attention. What made it even worse is that my mom and sister are boisterous and have never met a "stranger" or attention they didn't like. So naturally, they felt I needed attention and they felt I needed to talk to people I didn't know because it is important or something. I didn't agree. I hated it. Why is it important?! Unless I was coerced, guilted into it or bribed into going out of my shell, I happily stayed hidden. Family, friends and teachers pushed me into talking to people, my mom introduced me to anyone and everyone and over the years I learned how to control the fear of small talk.   I have never conquered my fear of performing in public and I don't voluntarily sign up to perform, but the strength I felt when I did look that fear in the face and perform was deep and over the years I sang in front of church, at my graduation and at a few weddings. Those little moments of "I did it and survived!" added up over the years to build a small foundation of confidence.
dadsletter.jpgWhat is the best way to show support to your children? For me, it was a letter of freedom. At 16 and a sophomore, I decided I wanted to graduate from my private high school early. (Disclaimer: I LOVED high school, I had great friendships, boyfriends, I sang in the select choir, was connected to many groups and activities and have really fond memories of my experiences.) I didn't want to graduate early due to a negative issue, I just decided I wanted the challenge and financially it helped my family to have one less tuition to pay. I spoke to my parents and one morning woke up to a letter from my dad, telling me to do what I felt I needed to do and that they supported and trusted me.

It was a powerful moment for me and it's a letter I still treasure because it was the “here are your wings, go soar!” freedom that parents are so reluctant to give.

So imagine, a shy, perfectionistic, terrified to fail, terrified of conflict, terrified to ask for anything, 16 year old girl given the freedom to pursue a goal and knowing she had to do it all on her own. Did I mention I was terrified? I petitioned the faculty and board to let me do my junior and senior year of high school in one year. It was approved and while working 20 hours a week I completed two years of high school in one and graduated with honors, invitations, scholarships and a knowledge that I could do anything I put my mind to doing. 
"Don't limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve."-Mary Kay Ash
skydiving.jpgAt 18, I met Larry, who convinced me it was totally sane to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, so I really did broaden my horizons for 3 years and I have over 100 jumps. At 21, on my 83rd jump, I was asked to join a group of accomplished women jumpers who were practicing for a women's world record. logbook.jpgThis is not normal and I still think they were insane to invite me. There were over 50 women participating and I had the least amount of jumps (by 100s of jumps), the least amount of skill and by far the least amount of confidence. I jumped and did horribly on the first jump. I wanted to quit, I wanted to hide from embarrassment, I was too scared to do what I knew I needed to do. Jill, one of the leaders of the group and an "in-your-face-say-it-as-she-sees-it" type, pulled me aside and barked at me "What's up? Just do it. Stop thinking and go. You have talent. Stop being worried you'll mess up, you are a natural."
The next two jumps were awesome! On the last jump I made a mistake on exit and screwed up the formation, but we recovered and were able to finish up as planned. I walked away from that weekend knowing I had challenged myself and had risked looking like an idiot. I learned so much and I have some great memories. Those women taught me with patience and humor to stretch myself and try. The best part was that I acquired the knowledge that by trying I was ultimately succeeding and through that day I learned humility and confidence.  Now when faced with a new challenge, I not only want to try it, I want to conquer it.  

When I look at those experiences, I can say I was given the opportunity, the freedom and the support to soar. With that freedom comes the possibility of failure.

I didn’t have the confidence to understand I had the skills to be successful, I just knew they were opportunities I couldn’t pass up.

 My world changed when my oldest was born 15 years ago. I realized that everything mattered in a completely different way than it did before him. What I said, did or didn't do were now important on a much bigger level. I quit working in an office and became a stay-at-home-working mom because there was no way I could leave him to be molded by someone else.  I knew I didn’t want my children to share my phobia of snakes, so I began the process of working on releasing myself of it. I’ve had this phobia since being a young child and I am still working on it. (#snakesAreEVIL. Just saying.) I feel successful in the fact that none of my children have this phobia nor are they even afraid of snakes. Yay! This might seem trivial to some of you, but to me, it is big. 
I worked hard when they were little not to let them see the fear.  Sometimes (ok, a lot of the time), it would slip out when a snake appeared and I wasn’t prepared. One time, my boys (5 years, 2 years and 9 months old) were sitting at the table, I walked from the kitchen towards the table and this 2 foot long black thing with it’s head held high comes slithering towards us. I dropped the food and ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction down the hall and jumped on the washing machine. evan-snake-zoo.jpgMy 5 year old, grabbed the broom and killed it yelling “die 'nake, die!". Not my best moment. Serious mommy fail. I mean seriously, right?! But that was only a moment, the big picture is that I went from not even able to look at a picture of a snake to in the last few years being able to take a picture of my son, Evan, holding a very large one and able to look at the picture long enough to crop it and to put in this post. I will continue to work on this phobia and someday might will be able to be near a snake without hyperventilating or breaking out in a cold sweat. I know I can do it, whereas 30 years ago, I knew I couldn’t.
“To change the world, we have to change the way people behave, to change the way people behave, we have to change the way they think.”  -- Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler - Influencer, the power to change anything
By offering me freedom to soar and the chance at failure, my parents (and my high school) opened a door for me. That door has led me on many paths where failure was real, thankfully my thoughts were changed with that letter from my dad and my peer support: 

My thoughts are now “broaden my horizons: take the opportunity, see what happens, learn and live! What's the worst that could happen?!"

This is the mindset I dream of for the members at Makarios Community School. A mindset free of fear, lack and condemnation. A mindset that embraces the freedoms and open doors our world offers. With this mindset, a person can do anything they want to with their lives. "What's the worst that could happen?!" if they adopt this mindset? Just look at Tim Ferriss as a great example of someone given the freedom to pursue his interests, the support to do it and a mindset free of fear. He successfully lives a self-directed learning lifestyle constantly chasing new dreams.

democratic free school like Makarios Community School provides a self-directed learning environment for your child(ren) to find their passions and the freedom to pursue. Broaden your horizons, think outside the box and change your thoughts - check out alternative education. Education doesn't have to be the way traditional schools portray it. Give your children the freedom and support to follow their passions, you might be amazed where it takes them.

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