The year of living dangerously in the moment

2018 will mark a milestone birthday for me. Oh yes, of course, I will be turning 20 – for the second time! Almost a year ago, going through tough times and knowing this would be the final year of my thirties, I asked for one thing: finding inner peace and calm before I hit my forties.

You see, when you are a natural born perfectionist worrier, life is like an obstacle course. While your mind works overtime to overcome, you are really constantly focused on the challenges, rather than ways to go around them. And any little niggle can turn into a huge challenge, because you are wired to sweat the small stuff, you don’t know how to turn off the sweat glands, or the fifty different trains of thought running around in your head, on the verge of railroading each other at 3am as you lie wide awake in bed, or pace the quick breath that catches or the lump that hitches at your throat at the first sign of a worry.

I was a natural born perfectionist worrier. Raised by a tiger mum, from an early age I was conditioned to achieve, worry if I failed to as well as I could or as well as expected, fear disappointing those who expected me to achieve. Coupled with the fact that I was born and raised in a country, where girls are raised to please, I was a conscientious, overly cautious people pleaser. Add that to the natural born worrier, it was a fearsome combination.It took me the first 20 years of my life to learn to let go of people pleasing perfectionism, but I won’t lie, the anxious, hand-wringing, nail-biting, quick-breathing, bucket-sweating worry wouldn’t leave me for the next 20.

The other day, reminiscing over the year gone by with a friend, I realised that this was the year I finally cast away the heavy cloak of worry for the first time in my life. Don’t get me wrong, my pulse still quickens at the first sign of a hitch, I still occasionally entertain worst-case-scenarios when the nurse calls with the test results, or the boss wants to have an impromptu chat, or it takes my ageing mum who lives alone more than ten rings to get the phone. Yet, overall, the worry has subsided and quality of life has increased.

These days the little niggle doesn’t escalate as fast into worry, then anxiety, then panic, then the sort of end-of-the-world catastrophe. Over the course of the last year, I have learned to acknowledge negative feelings, be it worry, or fear, or anxiety, and set them free, as life coaches and counsellors often advise us to do. I think of wearisome worries as butterflies now – try to catch and trap one in a jar, they will whirl and whirl around until they clip their wings and fall to the floor, a dead weight. When we trap worries in our head, we confine them to a little space where they whirl and whirl around until they sink to the bottom, their demise weighing our spirits down. Yet, once set free, they set your mind free too.

What is the secret, you say? 2017 was my year of living dangerously. Not dangerous by an adrenalin junkie’s standards, mind! I didn’t sell my house and go travelling, swimming with the sharks in South Africa, or hiking the Inca trail in South America, or living with the natives of Papua New Guinea to find myself. 2017 was my year of living dangerously and living each day as best as I possibly could within my means.

Dangerously as early on in the year, safety nets I thought would be there for the foreseeable future were suddenly taken away. I had no choice but to take a big leap of faith and hope for the best. The 38-year-old me would have cried for days, depressed and downtrodden, busy having a pity party. The 39-year-old me, empowered by where I wanted to be headed by 40, got up and got on with life the best way possible and possibly turned 2017 into the best year ever. Living each day as best as I possibly could because instead of taking each day as a burden, I started finding it a blessing. Each day was a new opportunity to start again, or to quit ‘adulting’ and stay in bed if I so wished, or jump into the car and go where the wind blew.

Ironic, for someone who’s got a couple of bungee jumps under her belt that I had been so cautious of big leaps of faith when it came to living. When you are about to potentially jump to your death from 100-odd meters relying on a couple of bungee cords, you don’t really think that you will end up dead. Otherwise no one would ever dare! Sure, the idea springs to mind, but you spring into oblivion before it takes hold. That’s why the operators at bungee stations always tell the jumpers not to linger, knowing the longer you linger, the harder the jump. You just need to cultivate the faith to see you through.

Ironic, how, on the eve of 40, I finally realise life works in exactly the same way. Cultivate enough faith, cast aside ill thoughts and take a big leap. You will either fall (and get back up) or fly (and have your best year ever yet). In either case, you are on to a good thing. If ever you find your stabilisers or safety nets ripped away in 2018, make it your year of living dangerously in the moment and you will truly be transformed.

In this article:
Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
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