Why Stretching is Good

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on February 2, 2011

I was talking with someone the other day about our sabbatical plans and how much we were looking forward to experiencing living in a new culture and all the things we still needed to do before leaving and all the uncertainties about finances and jobs and insurance and kids schooling.  In the middle of the conversation the person asked me why I would want to take a risk at giving up a good job and the security of a steady paycheck and benefits, pull my kids out of good schools and basically uproot all that we currently enjoy to live in Indonesia for a year.

Why Stretching is GoodI’ll get to my answer in a bit but first I want to talk about an experience I had this week.  I actually had a full blown anxiety attack complete with heart palpitations and shortness of breath.  What brought on this sudden attack?  It was the realization that one day I was going to cease to exist on this planet.  I was going to die.  Have you ever thought about death and freaked yourself out?  One day we’ll close our eyes (if we’re lucky) and be no more.  I don’t know about you but more often than not I choose to ignore this fact.  When we are young we feel invincible.  Nothing can harm us, we can do anything we want and we’ll live forever.  As we get older we settle into life, get married, maybe have a few kids, work a steady job and basically have a routine we follow day after day.  But here is the thing that we put out of our mind, maybe because we don’t really want to think about it or maybe because we forget, our time in this world is limited.  None of us will ever outrun death.  It’s coming for each and every one of us whether we like it or not.

Then I realized there are a few ways we can take this fact of life.  We can struggle with it, have panic attacks over it and possibly slip into a depression. We can ignore it and carry on with our lives like there isn’t a ticking clock hanging over our head.  Or we can embrace this fact of life as the greatest motivational force for living the best life we possibly can.  If you know you only have one shot at doing something you’re going to make sure that you give it your best.  We’ve all heard the classic questions of ‘If you knew the hour of your death how would you live your life differently?’  But would we?  What is it that we really value?

I don’t want this to be a downer of a post so let me tell you something that I hope will be encouraging and inspirational.  I happened to catch an episode of Ice Road Truckers – Deadliest Roads the other night.  If you’ve never heard of this show it’s a spin-off of Ice Road Truckers but instead of driving on the Mackenzie River ice road in northern Canada, they drive one of the world’s deadliest roads in India.  Their job is to deliver needed goods to remote towns in the Himalayas. These drivers are literally living on the edge, with 1000 foot drop offs and their wheels hanging off the edge.  Reportedly there is an accident every 4 minutes on this road (if you can even call it that). With parts of the road having nicknames like ‘Freefall Freeway’, ‘The Cutouts’, ‘The Ledge’, ‘Angry Mountain’ and ‘Breakaway Bend’ I think you get the idea of how crazy these roads are.

You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.

One of the drivers, Lisa Kelly, was the only driver of the 3 that made the final run over the Rohtong pass without a spotter and carrying a load of jet fuel in leaking barrels in a truck whose cab frame was built out of wood.  The jet fuel was necessary for rescue operations in the area and so it was critical that they get it.  At the end when she was being interviewed about her experience she said something that really caught my attention.  It was the end of her time in India, she had just completed another solo run over this extreme road filled with life threatening dangers and had been the only driver to haul the leaky jet fuel over it all, and when asked why she did it she said “You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.”  Think about that for a bit. You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.

So what does it mean to be stretched?  For me it means stepping outside my comfort zone, doing things that challenge me and scare me, doing things that go against the standard norms of life.  Are you scared of being stretched?  I know I am.  I try and think about it like this though.  Have you ever been to one of those salt water taffy stores where they have that machine in the front window that is twisting and stretching that sweet taffy to great lengths?  You can stretch that stuff a long way over and over, again and again.  I like to think my life is a little like a piece of taffy (that sounds so Forrest Gump but stick with me) that can get stretched to great lengths over and over but yet still maintain that sweet taste and chewy consistency.  You can’t get that chewy consistency we all love without stretching the taffy.  As we stretch we learn to adapt and grow.  It’s the trials and tribulations, the heartaches, the worries, the adventures, the excitement that bring about personal growth.  Don’t be fearful of being stretched.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”

So you might be wondering how I answered that persons question about how I could give up so much to take this 1 year sabbatical.  I told them I’m not giving up anything.  I’m just stretching.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Gillian February 3, 2011 at 12:29 am

Wow Matt. Excellent answer! I have taken on the challenge of living an uncomfortable life and so am often scared and just try to look it in the face. Hello fear, here I am again! It’s not supposed to be easy…but it sure is going to be fun!
Gillian recently posted..FollowFriday 28Jan2011

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matt February 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Hi Gillian! I just want to create and live the best life that I can. I’m reaching a point where for me I’m starting to become more afraid of not doing things than of actually doing them. Maybe that is an artifact of getting older and realizing that I’m not going to be around forever, that at some point health is going to creep up on me. I need to start making these dreams a reality now before it’s too late. Maybe this is a mid-life crisis? Or maybe I’m just getting smarter with age. So when you have those moments of fear do you just sit back and laugh and say “what’s the worse that could happen”?

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Gillian @OneGiantStep February 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Exactly. I read somewhere that you should look at the worst case scenario..REALLY look at it…and determine if you could live with it. If you can then you should forge ahead; the chance of hitting that worst case scenario is very slim – chances are failure wouldn’t result in a slide all the way to that point and so you’ll be fine. If you can’t live with the worst case scenario then the idea maybe needs to be altered until it gets to a place where you can. I find it works and, just like you say, I become more fearful that I won’t do something than of what the worst case scenario would be. Cheers!
Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..FollowFriday 04Feb2011

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matt February 9, 2011 at 1:34 am

Great way to look at things Gillian. Each and every day I am not out there making the most of the day it only adds more fear fuel to the ‘I’ll never do this’ fire.

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Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World February 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I think coming to terms with death and the fact that it can happen anytime — like today, or tomorrow — is the key to start enjoying your life to the fullest. To stretch your boundary and to make sure that ‘when your life flashes before your eyes, it’s like a Pixar 3D IMAX movie with full on stereo that’s worth every single penny you pay’ — to paraphrase your quote (I’m a huge fan of Pixar). Love the quote, love the post 🙂
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matt February 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Hi Jill! I agree with you. What can we do today to make sure our Pixar 3D IMAX movie is filled with action, love, happiness, adventure and all the other emotions that make movies so interesting? I definitely need to do more stretching.

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Mel February 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Thanks Matt. I especially like that last quote. Right now, living the same day again and again I don’t particularly feel like my life is worth watching, that’s why I’m working on pushing myself out of my comfort zone and pushing the boundaries. Stretching myself and my little world.

Right now, I’m working on the debt freedom thing so that I can take a kind of (possibly permanent) sabatical like you are planning. Good luck!
Mel recently posted..Check-In Chicken – January

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matt February 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Hi Mel! I know for me it’s hard to feel stretched when I am sitting in my cubicle day after day. I mean there is nothing wrong with that it’s just not for me at this stage of my life. That is why I am trying to stretch a bit more now and see where it all takes me.

We too are working off the debt. It’s really a very sinister thing. So easy to get into and at times so difficult to get out of. But when you realize just how much it holds you back it really does motivate one to pay it off as quickly as possible. We are getting so close to meeting our goal of paying off all of our debt which is a requirement for us taking this sabbatical. Good luck to you on getting that debt monkey off your back for good!

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Zablon February 4, 2011 at 3:01 am

Great post, am glad you are putting yourself in a position where you are forced to grow up

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matt February 4, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Hi Zablon! We are doing our best to position ourselves to do some amazing things.

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Alicia Jabbar February 4, 2011 at 3:38 pm

You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow – I love that.

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matt February 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Hi Alicia! I loved that as well. When I heard her say that during her interview I really perked up and thought about that. Then I had to go write it down. It’s something I want to live by moving forward.

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Sarah February 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I really enjoyed reading this Matt and it’s really got me thinking.

I really like your very last point. When planning a trip like this, it’s easy to focus on what we’re giving up and/or risking by shaking things up a little. Quitting my job with no idea where or when I’ll get another one whilst the country is in the midst of an economic crisis? That doesn’t sound like the best plan. But the important thing is to focus on the opportunities which are opening up because of the brave decisions to change our path in life.

Like most people I try not to think about death, but if I do, what scares me is not ceasing to be but not having made the most of the time I had. To me, it doesn’t sound too terrible to close your eyes that last time (hopefully when old and grey) and be able to think over the memories of a lifetime of adventures.
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matt February 9, 2011 at 1:39 am

Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your comment. Isn’t it funny how we tend to focus more on the things we are giving up without really considering the doors that could be opening up. Who knows where this 1 year sabbatical is going to take us. Maybe it will be nothing more than a year away filled with incredible experiences and adventures and we come back and integrate back into our same lives. Or maybe it will be the catalyst to some great idea and change in lifestyle that leads us to even more incredible adventures. Who knows?

I love the way you turned it around to instead of thinking about ceasing to exist to thinking about all the memories of a lifetime. I need to work harder to focus on that and not get so freaked out.

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Ali February 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Matt, you really grabbed me with this one. You made such a great point, that we have to keep pushing ourselves if we want to really grow and experience life. It’s so easy to say “that’s scary” or “too hard” and stick to the easy route, but the easy route usually doesn’t make people happy. I know I’ve done that for way too long, and now I’m finally stretching myself more than I ever have, and it *is* scary, but I know it’ll be totally worth it. GREAT post, and I hope you’re feeling better.
Ali recently posted..Santorini Volcano Tour

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matt February 11, 2011 at 11:28 am

Thanks Ali! When I find myself thinking I am in a rut I realize that those are the times when I’m not pushing myself. I love your point that the ‘easy’ route is one that doesn’t make most people happy (although it might make use feel more ‘safe’). It’s the ‘scary’ or ‘hard’ route that stretches us, challenges us and makes us push ourselves to the edge and it’s on that edge that we experience life. Your trip to Santorini volcano sure had some amazing views.

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