“Describe a time when Heather was most full of life, passion and purpose.”
This was the question my business coach had me ask a handful of friends when I was transitioning from the corporate world to the health coaching world.
To my surprise the overwhelming response was one of fearlessness.
You were the only girl on our Division 1 High School Soccer team.
You moved to Venezuela after college to check things out—who does that? YOU.
Your energy and passion are contagious. You convinced me to do a loop de loop in a biplane. You’re fearless.
I’m curious—but not fearless. Run into a burning building to put out a massive fire? No thank you and my sincere appreciation to those who are firefighters. It’s a job I’d be scared to do. But I’ve always been drawn to adventure and challenge, as long as the conditions are right.
I like trying on new behaviors to see what’ll happen. I was living in South America when I noticed that everyone seemed to be eating with their fork in the left hand and their knife in the right hand. I tried it. It felt weird. Twenty years later it still feels weird. But I keep doing it because it keeps me more present at the dinner table.
Over the years I’ve deliberately turned certain fears into fascinations. I took ideas that terrified me—learning to cook, learning a second language and learning to mountain bike—and decided to become so curious about them that there was no option but to become competent. Intentionally conquering these areas has played a considerable role in my overall and continued happiness.
For decades the kitchen intimidated me. I wanted nothing to do with that room—it was a mystery I had no desire to solve. Unfortunately my parents had other plans. When I was in 6th grade they assigned my two sisters and me meal duty. To my parents’ annoyance, I didn’t want to deviate from box macaroni and cheese. We had opposing goals—I wanted to skirt the responsibility while they wanted a well-rounded meal. But their cookbooks were full of excruciatingly long recipes full of ingredients I didn’t recognize. How in the world could I follow one of their complicated recipes and have time for anything else—I had homework to do and multiple friends to touch base with each school evening. I was a social butterfly (I thought of school as a 7 hour party) and energized by people, not by cooking. So what ended up on our plates? Watery Mac + Cheese from a box.
In 7th grade we had a choice of home economics or a language exploratory class. To my 13 year old brain, opting for home economics felt like all of womankind would take a step backwards. The language exploratory wasn’t an option either since my mom wanted me to dive straight into Spanish 1 with the older 8th graders. She was trying to give me a head start, but it didn’t come easy. I struggled. I could memorize the basics but when it came to dreaded tenses, I GROANED and tried to dream up ways to get out of learning them.
What else made me groan? That my husband Randy thought mountain biking and I’d be a match made in heaven. So when we moved to Colorado 12 years ago he started me on one of his old bikes. That first ride was so bumpy that I felt like I was going to flip off the bike at any moment. The bike was way too big for me, and I was full of fear. I was also full of tears that seemed to have no problem flowing. My thoughts became, “I hate this! I stink! Why can’t I do this?!” I recall kicking the bike at one point and stomping off. Those rides were painful for me—and agonizing for Randy who was trying hard to be patient, knowing that I had the capability, and waiting for me to see that I had it as well.
So what ended up happening? Did I give up? No, instead I became fluent—in all three—cooking, Spanish, and mountain biking. I did this by becoming curious. By deciding to immerse myself in these fears and intentionally turn them into fascinations.
What did it take for me to find my flow on a mountain bike?
A bike that fit and a long weekend back in 2007 riding with new girlfriends in Moab, Utah. Everyone was new to mountain biking and incredibly supportive. I came home and kept riding. Long uphill climbs were interspersed with the pure joy of flying down the Colorado mountains—that kept the spark alive. Now life wouldn’t feel right without my bike. It’s exhilarating—and definitely my favorite thing to do. Riding my bike with Randy—even on a snowy bitter cold morning—is bliss.
How about Spanish?
I became fluent, but not because I started taking Spanish a year ahead of my class. I knew I had to immerse myself in the language and culture—so after college I lived in Venezuela and then Ecuador for a total of 15 short months. Learning Spanish became my EVERYTHING. I picked up the slang, the accent, the rhythm on the dance floor. I listened and practiced non-stop—with taxi drivers, soap operas and boyfriends. I stayed away from English speakers. My goal was to be mistaken for a Latina—not to help new friends become fluent in English. On a flight from Venezuela to Ecuador two Colombians sat next to me and asked in Spanish if I were a “Venezolana”? This was one of the biggest compliments of my life.
Seven years ago my autoimmune diseases were wracking havoc on my body. I needed to take my health into my own hands and nurse myself into a healthier me. I knew the answer would be found in the dreaded kitchen—and now I had a larger reason to embrace the room I’d always avoided. So I started slow and simple. I found cookbooks with recipes that had very few ingredients, made up mostly of whole foods—and all things I recognized. I stayed away from cooking shows that make it look like a dish has to be complicated to be good. Today I go to my kitchen for foods that smell good, taste good, and make me feel good—it's become my pharmacy.
Fear isn’t limited to cooking, speaking Spanish and mountain biking. It can be as simple as feeling overwhelmed by being overweight and not knowing where to turn or how to start. Health is as much mental, emotional, and spiritual as it is physical. So take the first step—get curious and consider trying on a new behavior. Create the right conditions and turn your fear into fascination.