REBELLION IS EXPECTED from teenagers. It’s normal for youth to protest established traditions and test rules as they further reinvent themselves in preparation for adulthood. But what about adults?
For 18 months, I over-achieved at following the one-size-fits-all advice for widows after my husband passed away. And I was still miserable! I was tired of cooing voices and puppy dog looks. I was exhausted from experts’ and friends’ directions to be gentle and pamper myself.
What happens when we follow societal rules and expert advice and it doesn’t work, as I had done for a year and a half? Do we continue indefinitely doing more of the same or choose to rebel against what’s expected?
Frustrated by advice that didn’t work, I threatened to do the most contrary thing I could think of for a middle-aged widow. I signed up for a 2,500-mile motorcycle road trip down the Pacific Northwest coast. The problem: I didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle and had only 30 days to learn.
My fantasy escape turned into one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever tackled. Learning to ride an 800-pound machine that has to be balanced and contains a multitude of buttons, levers and knobs proved ridiculously hard. I failed my motorcycle license road test multiple times. While learning to ride, my relationship with fear became intimate, and I eventually learned how to manage it to my advantage.
The Washington Post recently ran an article about a bicycle class for adults who had never learned to ride in their youth. The participant stories were brimming with excitement about how they finally erased old embarrassment and fear they had carried too long.
Why is it that when we complete something difficult that we know we’re good at, our satisfaction pales in comparison to the unfettered elation we feel when we accomplish something we believed we could not do?
On my trip, I made a surprising discovery: every time I’d survive a new difficult riding challenge that I thought I couldn’t do, I’d discover triumphant joy after completing it.
The deep happiness that I had been seeking came not from pampering and being good to myself, but rather from accomplishing the nearly impossible and testing myself. I felt happier than I had been in years after making it safely to the top of a steep gravel road and again after I rode across a 4-mile bridge so high that it rose above the clouds.
I never would have guessed that the way for me to find deep joy again was to tackle something difficult, test myself repeatedly and persevere through multiple setbacks before finally experiencing success. My family and friends were equally shocked.
The unwanted, unexpected and undeserved happens in all of our lives, and when it does it’s natural to pull back from life to assess what and why. Although pampering and being good to ourselves is sage advice during our initial period of readjustment, at some point we need to move forward beyond mere survival by reinventing ourselves and discovering how to thrive again.
I’m not advocating rebellion as the first solution for adults, and I’m certainly not suggesting my choice was a wise one for others to follow. But rebellion can be a valuable adult tool. Rebellion:
- Offers an alternative to more of the same;
- Opens up new possibilities by erasing old boundaries;
- Tests additional positions that have not been tried;
- Uncovers truths not previously suggested.
What I learned from the motorcycle adventure was that growth isn’t just succeeding at accomplishing a difficult goal; it’s also the erasure of a life-constraining fear that limits what we think we can do. I returned home from that motorcycle road trip with a determination to live life more fully.
When traditional advice doesn’t work, don’t copy teenagers by rolling your eyes upward, shaking your head and sighing in disgust. Instead consider rebelling like an adult by skipping the attitude, ignoring standard protocol, and creating your own footsteps.