I was always the kid in the clean white sneakers. It wasn't a fashion statement (far from it!), my mom didn't clean them for me every night, and I certainly didn't buy a new pair as soon as the old ones got dirty.
Fact is, they never got dirty. When you were a kid, you probably played in the dirt and ran into puddles at least once in a while, right? Me? Never. In fact, I can't recall a single time when the dirt, mud, paint, pizza sauce or marker streaks that routinely adorned other kids' shoes appeared on my own.
And my shoes were just the obvious part. I was also the child at amusement park birthday parties who waited patiently by the exit of the roller coaster with someone else's parent; the girl who was put in right field for school softball games because she stared dreamily up at the sky instead of at the action around her; the kid who was the best friend everyone came to with their problems, but who never seemed to have any problems of her own.
I was careful with my choices, rarely taking blind leaps; and yet my outer appearance of marching to my own drummer gave me a sense of strength and confidence.
But all the confidence in the world couldn't alleviate the anxiety that kept me from getting my sneakers dirty. And those pristine shoes, in all their bright whiteness, would come to represent missed opportunities. Don't get me wrong -- they also meant years of unbroken bones and averted fights. But pristine also meant untested; and though I'd occasionally step on my sneakers to give the illusion of having lived through something out of my comfort zone, I continued to build my life on a very safe plane.
In other words, I carefully avoided the lows, but missed out on the potential highs.
And what I've come to realize is this: You need immense strength to be your own person, and forge your way against the onrushing crowd. And you can use that inner strength to change -- and to get your sneakers dirty.
Easier said than done, I realize. After all, what happens when we can't achieve our goals? What happens when people tell us that our dreams are impossible or, worse, when we tell ourselves that they are impossible?
Do we give up trying to reach them? Maybe.
Do we adjust them? Sometimes.
Do we forget we ever had them? Occasionally.
Are we satisfied with never achieving them? Not likely.
What is the Sneaker Experiment?
Faced with the realization that I had a lot of lifelong fears to confront, I compiled a list of items that intimidated, and, yes, outright scared me. I called them Sneakers, in honor of that lily-white footwear that came to symbolize my childhood apprehension of venturing into the unknown. I'm not talking about rational, jump-into-a-pit-of-snakes fears; but rather, those irrational situations I'd spent my life avoiding. Like going on a trip without an itinerary, walking in the rain without an umbrella, playing a game without first fully understanding all the rules, and skiing off the bunny slope.
In all likelihood, you don't find these situations frightening. But I did -- and when I drew up my Sneaker list, I could have given you endless reasons why I hadn't done any one of them. And I was great at talking my way out of even trying them.
But that was the problem: I got so good at rationalizing my fears, that I was the only one left I couldn't convince. So I took matters into my own hands and forced myself to tackle each one of these situations that were terrifying to me -- one by one.
My goal was simple: to stop worrying so much about what other people thought of me, get past my anxiety about trying unfamiliar or intimidating things, and just let go and get my sneakers messy. My long-range hope was that I could eventually focus on my own desires, dreams and ideas as intensely as I focused on what others thought of me -- even those whose opinions meant the most to me. Those were my reasons for taking this journey.
Why a List?
So why did I create a Sneaker list for myself when I knew each of my fears by heart? Because I needed to see them lined up on a page, staring back at me in all their intimidating glory.
I also needed to have a piece of paper that would ultimately serve as a checklist. For instance, do you ever go to the grocery store with a list that simply says, "Get groceries?" Of course not -- you go to the grocery store with a specific list of items you need, so you can cross each one off as they're added to your shopping cart.
The same idea applies to my Sneaker List. If I went about my day just thinking about a vague goal, I would probably get even more anxious, and I'd never let go. So I decided to take my grocery-list theory to heart, and create a specific list of individual Sneakers, knowing that if I could accomplish any one of them, I would be that much closer realizing the fuller, braver version of me that I was dying to meet.
To read Sneaker Stories & Sneaker Lists -- and to create your own Sneaker Stories and Sneaker Lists -- visit www.thesneakerexperiment.com, a supportive community where we wear our sneakers proudly, and celebrate with one another as we get them messy. You can also follow The Sneaker Experiment on Twitter at @sneakerexp and "Like" the fan page on Facebook under "The Sneaker Experiment" for fun updates.