Sunset at Sheridan Lake. Photo credit: Brittany Higginson
I was sitting on the porch of a lovely log cabin on the banks of Sheridan Lake, taking in Loon Bay—a blue jewel of water, surrounded by emerald forests—the location of my family reunion. Birds chattered and called, and a soft flow of happy campers and relatives drifted past, walking dogs, carrying fishing rods, and chasing toddlers. It was one of those perfect moments and all I could think was, I can’t believe I had cold feet and wanted to duck out on this lovely lake holiday. What is my glitch?
While I was thinking on this—my bizarre habit of dreading events that I know I will love once they actually happen—my cousin’s 11-year-old son, who I’ll call H, popped into view. He was gently tugging my aunt’s stubborn little black dog, Petey, on a leash; Petey was tugging back, not as gently, in the opposite direction. H tried to urge the dog on, whispering kind, encouraging things.
Petey sat down, then leaned back, straining in the direction they’d just come as hard as he could.
H picked Petey up and carried him a few steps, but Petey, in squirmy resistance mode, made travelling very far that way impossible.
Visibly disappointed, H set Petey down again and resumed trying to beg, bribe, and coax the dog down the road.
I said something ridiculously obvious like, “Trying to take him for a walk?”
“Yeah,” H said glumly. “But he knows the way back to his campsite and as long as he can tell where it is and where Auntie T is, he won’t quit trying to stay there.”
I commiserated and H finished wistfully, “If I could get him to the forest trails, he’d forget about the campsite and he’d have fun. He did yesterday.”
With that, H was off again, valiantly continuing his quest to cajole Petey into enjoying a new adventure. “I’m sorry, I know this is kind of mean,” he whispered—then threw a dog treat a few feet, only to snatch it up and toss it again just as Petey ran forward to get it.
This strategy worked for a few metres and they disappeared from view—but Petey quickly caught on to the trick. A few minutes later he reappeared, high stepping at a good clip in the direction of “home.” Behind him, shoulders slumped, face a picture of dejection, came H.
Maybe I’m a bad person, but I had to laugh. “I take it you couldn’t get him to the forest?”
H sighed heavily. “No.” Then, as if talking to himself not to me, he muttered, “If he’d just go there, he’d like it.”
They went on their way, Petey continuing to prance like he’d taken first prize in some prestigious dog show, H wearing a Charlie Brown look of resignation.
I couldn’t help but feel there was a lesson for me in the dog’s ridiculous behaviour.
All too often, despite knowing how I end up enjoying and benefiting from them, I waste a lot of time worrying and feeling anxious about upcoming parties, workshops, conferences . . . or pretty much any event that pulls me out of the comfort of my homebody ways. Like the little curmudgeon Petey, I balk at new opportunities and dig my heels in when confronted by change.
Unlike Petey, however, I’ve learned that avoiding the discomfort of the unknown only leads to disappointment.
When I let myself be tricked by the seductive comfort of “safe” and familiar and fall prey to the temptation to hermit myself away, I am always sorry. Not going, not trying, not taking the unknown path, feels like failure. Conversely, I never regret—and have never regretted—pushing past my anxiety, fear of failure—and any other neuroses I have—to tackle new-to-me terrain in my social life or work life. Even when a situation, event, or journey “fails,” I feel stronger or better for having tried. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
I know I’ll have failures of nerve in the future. I’ll keep working through them though, perhaps with a modified version of H’s muttered admonition to Petey: “Just go there. You’ll have fun. You’ll love it, actually.”