“Oh you wouldn’t like it – there are some steep drops and it’s manky in places,” Seven years ago my then-boyfriend off-handedly said as he left to paddle the North Fork of the French Broad.

His words tangled in my head until a story about that run took root that I couldn’t paddle that stretch. Over the years whenever a friend told me about someone who got stuck in the eddy of doom or busted a boat paddling the North Fork, I took it as proof that I didn’t belong paddling there.

Then I moved to Brevard and the North Fork became my home river. I resisted paddling it even as part of me longed to see it for myself. Until Saturday when one of my favorite people to paddle with, someone who gives simple directions and has a knack of staying calm, asked me if I wanted to paddle it. The level was perfect for my first run, the water green and clear. The day otherwise unaccounted for – childfree and my usually unruly to-do list tamed.

I said yes even as my stomach roiled into pretzel-shaped knots. My mind returned to what could go wrong, but then I thought about how much I’d regret this opportunity to finally paddle this stretch of water. If not now, when, I reminded myself.

We all grapple with two kinds of fear says author Ben Arment – the fear of failure and the fear of insignificance. When we focus on our fear of failure, we become shrunken versions of ourselves, living in the shadow of who we could have been.

I walked slowly to the put-in, even my quads resisting my decision to paddle. Sure, I scouted some rapids and decided not to run them. My paddle shaft bumped into my lip, leaving it fat and bruised. 

Something else happened on that run, I fell in love with kayaking again. Looking up from the deep gorge at yesterday’s rain tricking down the steep canyon walls, the mossy green covering grey rocks and the ferns carpeting the forest, stirred the need to spend time in wild places, to push through the edge of my own comfort.

I paddled out with an ear-to-ear smile. Grateful I had decided to paddle.

Every time we prioritize our fear of insignificance over our fear of failure, we are creating bold, interesting lives, the existence our twelve-year-old selves would be proud of. Our everyday acts add up to create the lives only we could have lived, full of misadventures and glimpses of the divine places.

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