Adult rebellion: a tool for personal reinvention

The deep happiness I had been seeking did not come from pampering and being good to myself, but rather from testing myself and accomplishing the nearly impossible.

The deep happiness I had been seeking did not come from pampering and being good to myself, but rather from testing myself and accomplishing the nearly impossible.

by Linda Crill — 

Rebellion is expected from teenagers. It is normal for our youth to protest established traditions and test rules as they reinvent themselves in preparation for adulthood. But what about adult rebellion?

Eighteen months after my husband passed away, I overachieved at following the one-size-fits-all advice for widows — and I was still miserable. I was tired of cooing voices and puppy-dog looks. I was exhausted from the expert and friend advice to be gentle and pamper myself.

What happens when you follow societal rules and advice that do not work? Should you continue indefinitely doing more of the same or choose to rebel against what is expected?

Frustrated by advice that did not work, I threatened to do the most contrary thing I could think of for a middle-aged widow. I signed up for a 2,500-mile motorcycle road trip down the Pacific Northwest coast. The problem: I did not know how to ride a motorcycle and had only 30 days to learn.

My fantasy escape turned into one of the most challenging experiences I have ever tackled. Learning to ride an 800-pound machine that has to be balanced and contains a multitude of buttons, levers and knobs proved ridiculously hard. I failed the road test for my motorcycle license multiple times. While learning to ride, my relationship with fear became intimate, but I eventually learned how to manage it and turn it to my advantage.

The Washington Post recently ran an article about a class for adults who had never learned to ride a bicycle. The participants’ stories were brimming with excitement about how they finally erased old embarrassments and fears they had carried too long.

It is interesting to note that when you complete something difficult you believed you were capable of, your satisfaction pales in comparison to the unfettered elation you feel when you accomplish something you believed you could not do. On my trip, I made a surprising discovery: Every time I survived a new, difficult riding challenge that I thought I could not do, I discovered triumphant joy after its completion.

The deep happiness I had been seeking did not come from pampering and being good to myself, but rather from testing myself and accomplishing the nearly impossible. I felt happier than I had been in years after making it safely to the top of a steep gravel road and then again, after I rode across a four-mile bridge so high that it rose above the clouds.

I never would have guessed that the way for me to find deep joy again was to tackle something difficult, test myself repeatedly and persevere through multiple setbacks. My family and friends were equally shocked.

The unwanted, unexpected and undeserved happens to everyone and, when it does, it is natural to pull back from life to assess what and why. Although pampering and being good to yourself is sage advice during an initial period of readjustment, at some point you need to move forward beyond mere survival. You can do that by reinventing yourself and discovering how to thrive again.

I am not advocating rebellion as the first solution for adults and am certainly not suggesting my choice was a wise one for others to follow. But rebellion can be a valuable adult tool when traditional advice does not work. Rebellion offers an alternative — it opens up new possibilities by erasing old boundaries, tests additional positions that have not been tried and uncovers truths not previously suggested.

What I learned from the motorcycle adventure was that growth is not just succeeding at accomplishing a difficult goal. It encompasses the erasure of a life-constraining fear that limits what you think you can do. I returned home from that motorcycle road trip with a determination to live life more fully.

When traditional advice does not work, do not copy teenagers by rolling your eyes upward, shaking your head and sighing in disgust. Instead, consider rebelling like an adult by skipping the attitude, ignoring standard protocol and creating your own new footsteps.

 

Linda Crill is a motivational speaker based in Washington, D.C. In her book, Blind Curves, she describes her unusual road to reinvention and shows readers how they too can tackle unexpected change. www.lindacrill.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 5, October/November 2013.

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