Do you allow room to surprise yourself?

On an outing with my wife and son to an outdoor festival, I had a chance observe my son’s reaction to a surprising success and it gave me an opportunity for insight into my own attempts at success.

We had driven 30-minutes to a state park in Georgia where volunteers had set up lots of outdoor stations. Canoe rides, archery, BB guns, rock climbing, fishing, and more.

At his young age and with his temperament, there seemed to be three possibilities for any challenge my son was faced with:

  1. He is fully confident in the task and would be surprised if the did not succeed
  2. He lacks full confidence, proceeds anyway and is happily surprised when he succeeds
  3. He wants nothing to do with the activity to start with and cannot be convinced to proceed

I watched in curiosity as he had these reactions and as I failed to predict which activities he would be confident in and which he would have no interest.

Paddleboat and canoe riding which both called to him involved no anticipation or nerves and resulted in an amazing time from start to finish. His confidence in himself and in the activity was absolute and there was no room or time for deliberation.

I was surprised when big kid archery with compound bows got his attention but he was far too small to be able to pull the arrow back enough to make it fly. Delighted, we headed over to find the little kid’s archery where he gathered his courage, calmed his nerves, and succeeded on the first try at shooting the arrow into the target area. He was surprised at his accomplishment and excited to try again. If he had walked away at this point he would have been on cloud nine, but he had two more arrows, each of which failed to launch. The second arrow fell out of the notch on the ground and the third arrow slapped him on the arm, upsetting him a bit. We praised him for his attempt and reminded him that he succeeded on the first arrow. I wondered afterward how this would all play out in his future if he were ever offered a bow and arrow again. Would it be his surprise at his success he would remember or the pain of being slapped by the arrow?

Rock climbing he wanted nothing to do with. He saw the activity and decided immediately that he did not want to participate. I was a little stumped on this one because of his reactions to other activities. What made him not want to proceed? Fear of heights? The long line of kids watching? The amount of time it had been since breakfast?

Do we allow room to surprise ourselves?

I started thinking about the different activities that I am absolutely confident in and the ones I am certain I will fail at. I tried to think of things that I might put in a category of “I’m not sure. I’ll try and see.”

Everything I could think that I wanted to take part in was something I was very confident I would be able to do well. Anything else got mentally dumped into the category of “I’ll pass.” This was of course not what I anticipated and didn’t follow the intentionality and minimal risk-taking that I speak about with my clients.

So where have I left room to surprise myself? On the drive home I tried to place things I have done that fit into a place of unsureness followed by surprise at success. There were far fewer that fit in this category than I had hoped. Generally, the things I want to do are all directly related to what I am powerfully confident in. The types of risks I find myself taking are big ones, but they are calculated and I am confident in my success.

Over the 30 minute drive back home I realized that if I am going to change things and show my son what it looks like to try something that you are not sure you will succeed at, I will have to be intentional. So I started a new list.

Activities I am not confident in but am allowing room to surprise myself by trying.

  1. Learning to throw and catch a football correctly
  2. Grilling steaks over charcoal without ruining them
  3. Learning to beatbox
  4. Learning to play a new instrument
  5. Taking my son camping
  6. Taking a hip-hop dance class
  7. Taking a martial arts class
  8. Learning the history (including dates and names of important events and people) of the city I live in

So what about you? Where are you allowing room to surprise yourself?