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The Joy of Going Too Far

By Philip Humbert

Many people have observed that the only way to have more, earn more, or do more is to first "become more." I've always had a conflicted relationship with that advice.

On the one hand, none of us will ever be one bit "more" than we are right now. We each have, and have always had all the tools, brains, creativity, drive, talent, and resources we need to be fully human. We wil l never be even a tiny bit "more" than we are right now. So, one part of me objects to the idea that we can "become more."

There are far too many people telling us we are somehow inadequate or less than we "should" be. I reject that! Advertisements are always telling us that to be happy or sexy or rich or powerful (or younger—I love that one!) we should buy their product, join their campaign, or learn some new skill. As an old bald guy, I especially like the ads to "re-grow" my hair so I'll be younger, more attractive and sexy. Right!

On the other hand. There is great truth in the idea that very few of us ever develop all the potential that lives within us. I've always had a dread of dying "with my music still inside me." I hate the idea that fear or laziness or being "too busy" may keep me from exploring my world and living to the full.

One of my values is to end my life by looking God in the face and being able to honestly say, "I did it all. I used all the talent, explored all the opportunities, experienced all the richness life had to offer." I've always shared Henry Thoreau's fear that he might die "and discover that I had never truly lived."

Life is to be lived! We know we're alive because we're growing, deciding, trying, learning, exploring and yes, making mistakes. We know we're fulfilling life's promise by using the talents God gave us. Imagine the insult to life, to God, of "hiding our talents" or being shy about them! Rather, I suspect we honor life and God by "showing off." We honor life by doing stuff, by reaching further, by dancing wildly, by singing (yes, even off-key) and exploring our world. There is something God-like and uniquely human about audacity. Even the "sin" of hubris, the arrogance of going much too far, has a joy that I like. Better to try too much, to reach too far, to dare the impossible than to sit quietly, waiting for death.

I'm convinced that few, if any, of us are ever fully alive, fully human, in the sense of being and doing all we are capable of. To me, that's a terrifying, sad and tragic thought.

At the same time, I understand the fear that holds us back. No one likes to fail or be embarrassed. No one enjoys the pain of trying, only to be ridiculed or laughed at if it doesn't work out as we hoped.

But here's a huge secret: Only those who risk going "too far" ever discover the joy of knowing how far they can go! And here's a deadly corollary: Those who laugh the quickest and loudest at our "arrogance" are those held most tightly in the grip of fear.

Neil Armstrong went "too far"—all the way to the moon and back. Lewis and Clark went "too far"—all the way to the Pacific ocean and back. Maggie Thatcher and Golda Meir went "too far"—and became the heads of their respective countries. Amelia Earhart regularly went "too far"—and in the end she died, but what a life she lived!

Whatever else you do with your life, be sure to stretch your wings. Regularly, go "too far." Live until you die. Try stuff. Push the limits, take risks, express your opinions and show the world your true colors. The world is not hungering for "average" or "safe!" We need all the greatness we can get! Show us what you can do.

If you wish, start small. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Read more. In particular, read something you would normally ignore or something you're sure you'll disagree with. Read history or a comic book, science or one of the great novels. Just read. Learn something new.
  2. Watch better television. Anyone can watch silly comedies or cop shows. But why bother?! Rent a documentary or something controversial. Watch a cooking show, or history, or science or some "talking heads" arguing politics. Let them make you mad. Let them make you think. And above all, argue back!
  3. Eat something strange. Try a new restaurant you're sure you "won't like." Or, how about worshiping with a friend who practices a different faith? How about learning a new language or attending a cultural festival? You won't die, and you might discover something about yourself.
  4. Be a beginner. Try a hobby or sport you've never tried. Sign up for a class on a topic you've never considered and see what happens. Try sky-diving or square dancing or take that computer class. I double-dare you!
  5. Do lunch. Invite someone you've never met to lunch, preferably someone who's very successful in a field you know nothing about. Ask questions, then listen. What's it going to cost? A few bucks? And you were going to have lunch anyway, so see what you can learn. You might gain a friend, or even a new career!
Happiness is partly about becoming all we can be. Happiness and joy are connected to discovery, exploration and daring. If you can, buy a ticket on the space shuttle, but if you prefer to start smaller, start smaller. But start. And keep on going.
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