Stepping out

9 Mar

A year or so ago, a boy and his dad showed up at my Taekwondo school. In my school’s lobby that first visit, “Alex”, about eight years old, hid behind his dad’s leg, not being particularly interactive, and saying he was afraid. The Taekwondo class he observed was intriguing to him, but he kept saying he wasn’t sure he could do it and that he was scared.

You see, Alex has a diagnosis on the autism scale. A smart, energetic boy, Alex’s autism shows up, among other ways, in being withdrawn, particularly in new circumstances, and feeling scared.

He started class the next week.

Fast forward to February 2013. I am at my weekly BNI (Business Network International) meeting, which starts at 6:45 AM, waiting to do my weekly 60 second “commercial.” There are more than 60 business people in the room, spread out across an expanse of a dozen large, round tables.

By previous arrangement, Alex and his dad showed up at the meeting around the time I expected I would be giving my commercial minute. While I waited the 15 minute time gap with them, Alex would occasionally ask, “When are we going to start?” and noting, “I’m scared.”

My commercial time arrived and Alex walked with me to the open presentation area. He didn’t want to introduce himself, but he performed the techniques we’d planned.  He drew applause. Although I didn’t see it, apparently his dad was beaming in the back of the room. That day, no one in the room knew Alex is autistic; they just saw a Taekwondo student, willing to get up early to help his master instructor, and demonstrating some cool techniques.

I’ve always said that the hardest part of operating a martial arts school is getting folks to even step through the door. Though interested in martial arts when I was younger, I still recall the feeling I had looking at the ads in the yellow pages, but never calling to inquire, and always walking or driving by a school, intrigued by what was going on inside, but never stopping in. Those schools were mysterious places, with who-knows-who doing who-knows-what. What would happen if I stopped in? What would happen if I ever started? Those schools were an unknown into which I was not prepared to venture.

The result of my never stepping out (or in) is that for years — decades — I missed out on something that would have been very good for me.

In general, people don’t like change, fear the unknown, and prefer routine and comfort. The vast majority of us prefer to settle into, or operate within, a life of routines and comforts, which often includes wearing blinders to even big, glaring problems, never mind innumerable smaller matters. It’s not necessarily being lazy or inattentive. I think it often reduces down to being a bit afraid of what the change or newness might mean. What if you raise that relationship matter and the conversation doesn’t go well? What if you start that exercise program and then stop, and feel disappointed?

My lingering question in thinking about all of this is, “How are we not stepping out?”  I don’t necessarily mean taking on a new activity or a big venture. What I do mean is that there are innumerable ways in which we can move beyond the current status quo, step out a bit. In doing so, we can make some part of our life — or others’ lives — better, richer, fuller. We’re letting one small step get in the way of so much more.

Can we start doing our jobs a teeny bit better? It might mean changing the way we do things, or committing to a new action. Can we invest ourselves with a bit more focus on a hobby or avocation? Can we take some small step to improve a relationship? Perhaps take ten minutes to sit by our spouse rather than check something online or disappearing to the man cave. Or, maybe we simply can wash the pans or vacuum the living room.

Can we take a step toward better health? Perhaps simply start drinking more water, eating an apple instead of something else, or going for a walk around the block before sitting to watch television? Can we commit to a church or volunteer activity, even once a month?

Just one step can take us further along. That’s how it works. One step moves us forward. One step gets us off the plane into a new place. One step, even if it seems a small one, can cross a threshold. Maybe even the threshold into the martial arts gym. Or a BNI meeting.

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