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Smell the Coffee: Way to go

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although I never got to meet Val Patterson, I like the guy. He seemed like someone who got all the fun he could out of life.

And even some out of death.

Paterson recently lost his battle with throat cancer, and his self-written obituary went viral thanks in part to his hilarious confessions. Among the 59-year-old's admissions was that his Ph.D. from the University of Utah came by way of a clerical error that resulted in him mistakenly receiving a diploma in the mail when, in reality, he had not even completed enough school for an undergraduate degree.

Wrote Patterson in his obit, "To all the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked well."

His only regret seemed to be not having more time with his wife. Patterson said he'd managed to travel everywhere he ever wanted to go, have every job he wanted to have, learn all he wanted to know, fixed everything he wanted to fix, eat everything he wanted to eat.

Reading his obituary reminded me of one of my all-time favorite quotes.

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, 'Woo-hoo! What a ride!'"

That's how I want to go out some day. No whimper. All bang.

The thing is, I've always been such a conservative person. I've spent my entire life dotting i's, crossing t's. My list of "I've nevers" is likely longer than that of your average 18-year-old.

Back in June, I wrote about my determination to begin taking more risks. I made a pledge (albeit quietly, to myself) to do one thing every day that scares me. Most of the time, I've found that one thing has been to speak my mind.

It was difficult at first. I'm a quiet person. I have a tendency to defer to others, supposing they know better than me. Breaking away from that old habit of mind isn't easy, but what I'm learning is that the more I force myself to do the things that scare me, the more difficult it becomes to find scary things. In a very short time, my world has become a less frightening place.

During an online conversation on the subject with my friend Lee Maynard, he mentioned the distinction he draws between feeling fear and being afraid.

"Fear is a natural emotion," wrote Lee. "It can be useful if it is carefully contained and focused. It heightens senses, quickens reflexes, speeds up the mental processing of images and information. Fear is an emotional tool. Properly used, we can make decisions that will sustain us.

"Being afraid is fear taken to the point where we lose the ability to reason with ourselves. We lose control. We are not rational. Our decisions are panic-based. We are undergoing a survival reflex that is only thinly hidden beneath our skins. Being afraid causes decisions that bring us ruin."

I've come to realize that so often we remain stagnant because we're simply afraid of change. We don't like where we are, but we're so fearful of the unknown that we run in place until we aren't able to run anymore. Life inside a safe circle isn't much of a life. It's an existence.

I'm also starting to realize that taking risks doesn't have to be such a frightening thing. Risk requires contemplation, preparation, the honing of skill, reasoning. Not only can you prepare for taking a risk, but you can also recover from risks taken and lost, and learn from what went wrong. Changes can be made. Corrections to the course.

I've been thinking about such things in part because of my 30-year class reunion, which has been going on this weekend. These 30 years have gone by so fast, seem to be picking up speed.

And there's so much I still haven't done.

So many I've nevers.

Too many.

I intend to excise as many of those nevers as I can over the next few years.

I don't want to merely exist. I want to start the skid sideways into this part of my life.

With chocolate in one hand. And Champagne in the other.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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