Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my brothers’ sporting events. By some cruel twist of fate, out of all the other siblings dragged to these games, I was always, always the only girl. So I spent these games either reading or chatting with the moms while the boys banded together to wreak their child version of terror upon the park. Mostly this consisted of things like racing each other up the slides instead of down, or swinging as high as they possibly could before jumping, or spinning the youngest boy on the playground roundabout until he either started to vomit or cry, which were all activities I was fine to miss out on. The only one I was even kind of interested in was climbing trees.
The only problem was I’d never climbed any trees, except the in my grandparents’ front yard with my dad’s help. I wasn’t sure that I even could and the thought of falling or not being able to get off the ground at all made me feel sick. So instead of trying, I told myself that tree-climbing was stupid and not very ladylike and I didn’t want to do it anyway.
So there I sat, bleacher-bound with my book. One day, one of the boys showed up with a broken arm. His mom explained to the other moms – and me- that he had fallen out of a tree at home. She was happy he wasn’t hurt worse and I was happy to have a temporary friend in the bleachers. Only fast-forward a couple weeks and that same boy was up and trying to climb a tree, cast and all. It seemed like his mom thought about stopping him for a moment but then gave up like, “oh what the hell?” (He was the youngest of all boys and she’d seen everything.) So she sat with the other mothers and they laughed the reckless things their sons sometimes did- like climb a tree when you already have a broken arm, the way you do when you are young and stupid.
He made it up the tree, by the way. Then he sat there for the rest of the game, and if memory serves me correctly, he made his dad help him get down, too afraid to do it on his own. But the point is, he climbed that tree.
Wouldn’t it be great to say I was really inspired by that and tried it for myself and wow look I climbed a tree? But I didn’t. That isn’t what happened at all. I never climbed a single tree at any of those games. I felt so stupidly embarrassed and frozen in place any time the chance came. So this is not a story where I recall the memory of me triumphing over my fear. This is the story of a kid who sat there week after week, year after year, thinking “This is so stupid, just do it, just climb the tree!” This is the vivid memory of those feelings of longing and desire and how I let myself be overwhelmed by fear. But the thing is that memory pushes me forward more than victory ever could.
See, sometimes I feel like I have lived in reverse because the older I get, the more child-like I get, and it seems the opposite for most adults I know. People stop climbing trees when they get older, both literal trees and the metaphorical ones that appear in our lives as challenges. It gets harder to take that risk when you know what is at stake. As a kid, you don’t think much about consequences, but adults know how hard a fall can be.
But if it is true that children don’t know how bad the lows can get, it is also true that they aren’t aware of the potential highs either. They have no idea how amazing things can turn out. (This probably applies more to later in life passions than actual trees, although nature is pretty cool.) I doubt the boys climbing those trees were ever thinking about any sort of outcome. They were only thinking that they liked climbing trees, so they were going to. They were living in the moment and following what felt right—the way you do when you are young and stupid.
I take more risks now than I ever did as a kid. As an adult, I am more playful and brave, and always willing to follow my curiosity where it might lead me. This is not to say I have not been hurt. I’ve fallen from some pretty high trees. I’ve had branches I thought were solid underneath me break and I’ve crashed to the ground. But I have also seen the view from the top, ate sweet fruits that only grew on the uppermost branches, and felt the pride of looking down knowing I made this climb all by myself.
I know how easy it is to pretend you don’t want something in this world because of the pain that might come from going after it and not getting it. I know adults bruise deeper and harder than kids do. I know we often have years of scar tissue already and don’t bounce back as quickly. But I also know how horrible it feels to sit on the bleachers and stare up at a beautiful tree, wanting to take it on with every fiber of your being and then not doing anything—and that is so much worse than any bruise.
The illogical but undeniable truth is that sometimes the stupidest, most reckless thing we can do is to try too hard to not be stupid or reckless.
So I hope next time you are faced with something you want, whether it is a dream job or a person who makes your heart skip a beat or a chance to do something you have always wanted to do—well, I hope you will go for it, despite the doubts and fears. I hope you will climb that tree with unabashed enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity. I hope you will rejoice if you make it to the top. I hope you will enjoy grabbing each branch along the way. That’s part of it, too, you know. And if you do tumble, if you fall out of that tree, I hope you won’t be hurt too bad. I hope you’ll smile and laugh as you tell everyone about your tree-climbing adventure. I hope you won’t wait too long to climb another tree, because it was never you against the tree, you realize; it was you against yourself.
I hope wherever you go and whatever you do, you will look at the tree in front of you with the cockiness of a child, unmarred by the world and think, “You know what? I could climb that thing. And I will”—the way you do, when you are young and stupid.