Once, whilst out on a mountain biking trip, my friends referred to me as a “huckster”. It was a term that we had heard a few days back, and we took the phrase to mean ‘someone who attempts to do risky or dangerous things without the requisite skills or preparation needed’. A huckster would be someone who might ride over an incredibly technical section without really knowing what they were doing. A huckster might be someone else who is willing to try a jump without really knowing how. “Hucksterism”, in our books, was about taking risks and taking a gamble. Hucksterism was about having more courage than skills and about being open to jumping, head-first, into the void.
Often, I will get referred to as a huckster in terms of the other parts of my life. People have called me courageous or adventurous for the things that I have done. I am the kind of person who will, at the drop of a hat, leave everything that I’m doing to go all in on whatever I am invested in. For example, I really enjoyed being involved in some interstate projects that my friends were running, and so I undertook a 22 hour road trip just so I could be there. I’m going to be doing one of Tasmania’s most challenging and remote 10-day hikes in a few weeks and I don’t know if I’m ready for it at all. I realised a few months back just how out of touch I was with my cultural heritage, so I spontaneously went searching for my identity in China. And when I fall for someone, I have, without a second thought, given up countless plans, apartments, degrees and jobs in order to chase that loving feeling. It’s a thrilling, spontaneous way to live, and if for nothing else, I end up with some of the most incredible stories.
Recently, something along those lines happened again, but it was different. After one day of landing back on Australian soil after a short family holiday in Asia, I was asked if I wanted to accompany a new love interest of mine on a road trip to Queensland. The trip that we were going to complete was going to be nearly 4000km there and back and I would be gone for a total of two to three weeks. I had met this person only once before and I would be making a large financial and time investment. I would be very much entering into the unknown. And me being me, I did it. The next day, my bags were packed, my calendar cleared, and I was ready to go.
Most people wouldn’t have done something like this, but it comes naturally for me. I just really wanted to know how it would go and my curiosity was killing me. There is an old saying floating around from the 90s in Australia: “you never never know if you never never go”, and that’s always been my philosophy. Confucius also once said, “wherever you go, go with all your heart” – that’s why there is a heart tattooed on my wrist. And regret: well that is one thing I cannot live with, and so I needed to go. I needed to know. And I needed to have tried.
But something has been occurring to me more and more lately, and as I sit here alone, somewhere 1500km from home, my love interest gone after we became estranged from each other, things are becoming clear:
There is courage and there is courage.
The courage that I have to pack my life up and head indeterminately north is nothing compared to the courage that I need to tell someone how I really feel about them. The courage that I have to drive into the deep deep forest alone at night is nothing compared to the courage that I need to sit with my most uncomfortable emotions of vulnerability, fear, abandonment and insecurity. The courage that I have to walk up to complete strangers and strike up a conversation is nothing compared to the courage that I need to have when I allow myself to be really, truly intimate with an other. Those things, those matters of the heart, of one’s internal workings – goddamnit, that’s where I need courage. And often I don’t know if I can do it.
Instead, like the nervous person with their mountain bike at the top of the hill, I stall. I rationalise, explaining to myself why I don’t need to take the plunge and why not doing it would be better for me. I dramatise, making things look a whole lot worse than they are, blaming the steepness of the hill or the hardness of the rocks rather than looking at my own feelings. Eventually I talk myself down, telling myself that I don’t have what it takes. I run from the feelings of inadequacy amongst the unfamiliar and unknown and I am controlled by fear. I crave a known-ness and a stability and I am the furthest from a huckster. I get off of my bike and I won’t ever know what it feels like to have ridden down that hill. And I numb myself to the opportunities lost.
A friend and I were having a coffee this morning and we were talking about this, and about the idea of making the ‘right’ decision, of committing. How do you know what it is? How do you know who to be with, what job to take, where to live, what to do with yourself? What if you miss out, on that special other person, that place you should’ve lived, on your life? We both knew inaction was not the way to go – not making a decision consequently closes off all opportunity. But how do we go from here?
After feeling into it, we came back to this: you’ll never never know if you never never go. And you’ve got to truly go. You’ll never never know if you want it unless you start it, unless you enter it, and unless you are willing to go all into it, with all of your heart. And that might mean shutting off other options, but then again, how will you know what it’s like until you really really try?
And in this instance, I didn’t. I didn’t try. I got spooked and I stalled. I got nervous and I got scared and I grabbed for stability and security. I didn’t trust that perhaps, even if I wasn’t in control, I would be ok. I didn’t ride the difficulties and meet them only as they came up, like the huckster would. I was strapped down under so many of my safety measures, contingency plans, what ifs and needs for security and as a result, things ended before they could even start.
But this is what life is like, I guess. You go all in, you see how you go, and at any point, you can leave. Sometimes it’s sooner, and sometimes it’s a lot later. But in the end it’s better to have made a grab for it than to always wonder what it would’ve been like. And in my instance it’s better to have let myself feel something that was just slightly risky than to have stayed numb, distant and safe. As the year draws close to the end I’m left with my stories but also my what ifs. And so next year, then, is always another chance to do what you didn’t and what you couldn’t before.