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So here’s how Scott Adams, Dilbert‘s creator, set about “turning over a new leaf.”
As 2011 approached, I wondered what would happen if, for the next 12 months, I said yes to any opportunity that was new or dangerous or embarrassing or unwise. I decided to find out.
Shelly quickly embraced my new attitude and booked us on a trip to Costa Rica. That country has a huge population of monkeys and no military whatsoever–an obvious recipe for disaster. But my immediate problem was surviving Shelly’s idea of fun. This, as it turned out, included zip lining (less scary than it looked), an ATV trek through a dangerous and muddy jungle (nearly lost a leg) and, finally, a whitewater excursion down a canyon river in the rain forest.
I should pause here to explain that though I have many rational fears in life–all the usual stuff–I have only one special fear: drowning. So for me, whitewater rafting pins the needle on the fear-o-meter. But this was my year to face my fears. I was all in.
The first sign of trouble came when the more experienced of the two guides said that Shelly would be with him in his two-person kayak and I would ride with the new guy. This worried me because most reports of accidental deaths include the words “and then the new guy….” The second red flag appeared as the guide explained that when we hit the rapids through the waterfalls, we civilians should hold our oars above our heads and let the guides do the steering. My follow-up question went something like this: “Waterfalls?”
Things went smoothly for Shelly and her expert river guide. I watched them slalom down an S-shaped, 12-foot drop. Shelly might have said something like “Wheeee!”
My experience differed. My guide (the new guy) steered my half of the kayak directly into the huge rock at the top of the water hazard. My next memory involves being at the bottom of a Costa Rican river wondering which direction was up and holding my breath while I waited for my life-preserver to sort things out–which it did. Somehow, my guide and I got back into the kayak, only to repeat the scenario at another rocky waterfall five minutes later. If you think this sort of thing gets more fun on the second try, you might be a bad guesser.
Our guides brought the kayaks to a resting area midway through the excursion. I crawled to shore like a rat that had been trapped in a washing machine. You know how people say you shouldn’t drink the local water in some places? Well, apparently you should also avoid snorting a gallon of bacteria-laden Costa Rican river water. I woke up the next morning hosting an exotic-microbe cage match in my stomach followed by an hour-long trip over winding jungle roads to the airport for home. I’ll summarize the two weeks that followed as “not good.” On the plus side, I didn’t gain weight on that vacation.
So far, my strategy of being more adventurous was producing mixed results. My life seemed richer and more interesting–but it also involved a lot more groaning, clutching my sides and intermittently praying for death.
It was time to dial back the risk-taking a notch. For our next adventure, I insisted on something more civilized. Shelly picked Hawaii. The most dangerous thing I tried there was swimming in the ocean, which I’ve heard on good authority is full of sharks. People who seemed to know what they were talking about said that the sharks leave you alone unless you swim at the wrong time of day and look like a seal. I hoped that the sharks in our area could tell time, and I did my best impression of someone who was very definitely not a seal. Apparently, I pulled it off.
My friend Steve taught me how to cook a gourmet Mexican meal. He also taught me that when the executive chef says, “Wear gloves when you cut the hot chili peppers,” that’s more of a requirement than a suggestion. I spent the next four hours in agony while experimenting with the cooling properties of mayonnaise, milk and vinegar. I also learned that in a situation like that, when the executive chef says, “If you need to use the bathroom, take the bagel tongs with you because I’m not helping,” he isn’t joking.
I had better luck with my evening of salsa dancing in San Francisco, in a neighborhood that was apparently zoned for salsa, murdering, carjacking and hate crimes. Our plan was to get there in time for the free group lesson, then to use our new skills to dance the night away.
We arrived late, and the lesson was half over. But that didn’t matter because it was clear that not one of the husbands or boyfriends trying to follow along was getting it. It looked like a parking lot scene from a bad zombie movie. By the time the club opened for dancing, dozens of impressively unattractive single men appeared from some sort of crack in the space-time continuum. They were salsa nerds who knew they would be the only skilled male dancers in the place, and they had their pick of the ladies. I pushed Shelly toward the first salsa nerd who came our way and said, “Go nuts. I’ll be over there.”
I also took up golf this year because I figured that it would be a good challenge. So far, the only problem is that in every foursome, there’s always one jerk who gives me a hard time for wearing a helmet.
My year of Living Dangerously is now drawing to a close. It turns out that some people handle adventure better than others. Shelly and her relatives, for example, are good at navigating through dangerous and unfamiliar situations like fearless gazelles. I’m more like a zebra with a limp who wonders why the other zebras are edging away from him at the watering hole. But now I’m a zebra with better stories, at least until I become lion food. I’m happy about everything I tried, and I’m happy about all the things that I plan to try in the next 90 or so years of my life.
My advice for the coming year is that before you say no to an adventure, make sure it’s you talking and not the woodchuck who bent the front fork of your motorcycle. You won’t enjoy every new adventure, but I promise that you will enjoy being the person who said yes.
(Wall Street Journal, 12/31/11-1/1/12)
…it’s for sure adams and i…are made of the same stuff…pock, pock, pock …said the scared chicken as she laid her egg…in the pan on top of the warm stove…where she went…to escape the icy rain…
Cover of The Year of Living Dangerously