Is it Time to Break Out of Your Shell?

by Helane Fronek

Most of us value safety. It is why we wear seatbelts and use signals to alert other drivers when we plan to transition on the road. On a health care level, we attend conferences and read journals to learn the most effective ways to treat our patients. Successful treatment not only keeps the patient healthy, it helps prevent malpractice litigation. Still, there are times when our desire for safety gets in the way.

While chicks gestate, they are encased in a hard shell that provides a nourishing environment and protects them from injury. But if they remain in their shells, they would never develop into the chickens they were meant to be. Too often, we play it “safe” and deprive ourselves of experiencing, becoming, creating, or enjoying those things that would give our lives greater meaning and satisfaction.

A friend recently shared an important realization about the shells we keep ourselves in. At a small week-long conference, she encountered an antagonistic person whose ire she did not want to provoke. Wanting to remain “safe,” she avoided this difficult person for several days. The irony was that as long as she remained within her artificial “shell” of safety, her fear was allowed to control her actions and cause her to feel unsafe. It wasn’t until she broke out of her shell and stepped up to an honest conversation with the person that she realized she didn’t need protection – she felt safer and more powerful speaking with the person than she had felt while “protected” in her shell of avoidance.

I often joke that I’ve seen too many IMAX movies about the power of the ocean when people ask why I don’t surf. We live near the ocean and I’ve been a swimmer throughout my life. But images of surfers being smashed into the ocean floor and the knowledge that there are unknown creatures lurking beneath the surface (not to mention my terrible sense of balance), have kept me from venturing into the waves. Fortunately, my creative and persistent surfer husband convinced me to try stand up paddleboarding. With my knees shaking, terrified that I would fall, I tentatively paddled along with the swimmers and divers who were also in the water. Suddenly, I realized that I was actually standing up and paddling. I noticed how beautiful the day was—the sun was shining, the rolling waves created a soothing movement that I enjoyed riding on, and my fear eased. Even as I write this, I’m aware of how excited I feel about the next time I’ll be in the ocean.

Is there a fear that you are holding on to? Is there a shell you have kept yourself in? I invite you to try an experiment. If there is a fear you are aware of, attempt to overcome it, even in the smallest way. Then, reflect to see if your fear has dissolved and if you’ve discovered a meaningful experience on the other side.

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