In many ways, I'm pretty adventurous. I will always order the one thing on a menu I've never had, or don't even know what it is. Launch a site? Explore a new destination? Meet a new person? I'm in. It's served me very well over the years.
But it wasn't always so. I used to be moderately shy, and while I had a curious spirit, I struggled to break out of my shell. It never stopped me from making friends or trying new things, but it was a struggle, at least at first.
Nearly 15 years ago, dpaul and I were considering moving away from the Bay Area. When the dot-com bubble burst, maybe half of our friends ended up moving hither and yon. While we remained employed, we felt that maybe it was a natural inflection point, a chance to begin a new chapter.
In the end, obviously, we did not choose that path. After serious consideration, we decided to stay. It was coincidentally then that we saw the call for training for San Francisco City Guides. This was an opportunity for us to reinvest our energy in the city we loved. But I had an ulterior motive as well. I wanted to be stronger and more confident in front of people.
The first time I led a tour—not even a public one, but a test run with friends to bust my tour guiding cherry—I stood stiffly in front of my group. I stammered. My voice quavered. I stumbled over my material. But I made it through. My friends even politely complimented me on it.
Most importantly, the deed was done. From that point on, it could only get easier. I led a public tour, then another, and another. To date, between City Guides, Edible Excursions, and my own tours to Italy, I've led hundreds of tours.
Because of that confidence, I have also spoken on and moderated panels. I've taught classes. I would have never done any of these things if I hadn't pushed myself, 15 years ago, to do something that was outside my comfort zone.
After my Italy tour last month, I took the train down to Rome to visit family. On my full day there, my cousin Federico wanted to take me around Rome, a ritual that happens every time I'm there. This time was different.
"We'll take my scooter," he said. "Okay," I stammered, letting the vowel drawl a little too long on the second syllable.
I don't even ride a bike, much less a bike in an urban environment, much less a motorized bike in an urban environment, much less on the back seat of a motorized bike in an urban environment, much less on the back seat of a motorized bike in an urban environment where the occupants of cars and scooters drive like Romans. Outside my comfort zone? A lot.
In our first visit to Italy in the '90s, while visiting a winery, Federico's mother suggested I try the salame sitting on a cutting board, noting they made it in house. I had been vegetarian for more than a decade. In that moment, I thought to myself that I did not fly more than 6,000 miles not to try it. I did. It began a lengthy process of learning to eat meat again, and even to make my own salumi. It changed my life.
I did not fly more than 6,000 miles not to ride through the chaotic streets of Rome on the back of a scooter.
From his home in Trionfale, north of the Vatican, we zipped down the Lungotevere. Federico pushed ever forward, squeezing between moving vehicles so closely I thought my knees would scrape. I clutched the grips behind my seat so tightly my hands hurt. I'm sure my eyes bugged. I know I grinned like an idiot.
But what an experience. Instead of fear, I felt exhilaration. Rome sped past us in fast forward, but there were moments stuck in slo-mo, like passing a young woman on a scooter, gesticulating as Italians are wont to do, her cell phone deftly wedged under her helmet so she could talk while driving and still maintain a free hand to gesture.
The deed was done. The next time could only be easier. Would I do it again? Absolutely, without hesitation, yes.
Today, I complete another revolution around the sun. Each new year presents opportunities to grow and expand. You achieve so much more saying yes than saying no. And I'm looking forward to the next chance to step outside my comfort zone.