I spent a summer in Alaska at the end of the eighties. I had been semi-dared by my brother to go with these two guys I kind of knew. He said, “You won’t go. You’ll chicken out” or something to that effect. Gauntlet thrown, I sold my car and hopped in a van spray painted with Grateful Dead art and a giant bulls-eye painted in red and white on the roof. We were a rolling target with a pot-head driving the van most of the way, yet we never got pulled over.
It was the year of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the idea had been to go to Valdez to help with the clean up, but we never made it that far. Stinky Kevin–the pot-head driver who never wore deodorant–had his own agenda. He wanted help getting to Petersburg, Alaska, because he had gone there the previous year and he already had a job lined up. Not being to0 ambitious, I decided to stay there too.
I met some very interesting people up there. Petersberg is on Mitkof island on the Inside Passage in southeast Alaska. It’s a town of around 3000 that grows to about 10,000 during the summer fishing seasons and most of the 7000 visitors are young twent-somethings, up for an adventure and trying to make a lot of money in a hurry.
I quickly found my own group of friends after we first got to Petersburg. One day, on a warm day by Alaska standards (it was in the 70’s) and the sun was out (it had pretty much rained nonstop up to that point), we decided to go swimming. I was skeptical. I thought the water would be too cold and if you know me, I’m not a fan of the cold. However, one this particular day, it was surprisingly comfortable.
We swam and played and at some point the boys started to jump off the bridge. I don’t know how high it was, but it looked really high to me. I’m also not a huge fan of heights, especially jumping off of them. Somehow, though, they convinced me to jump off the bridge, too.
We climbed up to the bridge and looked over the side. It was so high, I thought I’d never be able to do it. I am not one to back down from a challenge, however, (which, as you recall, is how I ended up in Alaska to begin with) and as the boys teased me and double dog dared me, I couldn’t say no. Two of my best guy friends even offered to jump with me. There was no backing down.
We climbed up on the railing, each of us on our own pillar and decided to jump on the count of three. One, two…three. I looked at them as I started to jump and realized they weren’t jumping with me. I could have backed out, but I thought, “What the hell” and jumped anyway.
When I came up for air, I heard them screaming and hollering for me. I felt so proud of myself, although I was a bit pissed at them for tricking me. Jumping off that bridge came to represent my way of coping with things that are scary for me.
Blinders are the screens attached to a horse’s bridle that only allows them to see what’s right in front of them, so they won’t get spooked by things happening off to the side. When I’m particularly scared to do something that I really want to do, I put my blinders on, so I won’t be distracted by the fears and buts and shoulds that surround me. I focus on the goal in front of me.
The goal now is to do things differently. I don’t want to keep creating the same situation over and over again. I don’t want to keep resisting my own life. I want to move out of this town that no longer serves me and start over, for real this time.
Yesterday, I decided to give up my last attachment to my old way of doing things: my call center job. And just like that, I’m set myself free. No more resisting. No more undervaluing. I’ll stay vigilant for the moments when I start to head down an old path and gently guide myself back onto the path of least resistance.
Once again, I’ve put my blinders on and said, “What the hell,” just like that day on the bridge. There’s no going back now.