This weekend when my sister turned up for church, she sported sets of scratches up and down her legs that seemed to speak to a recent tussle with Wolverine.
"What happened to you?" I hissed.
"I ran through a blackberry bush," she shrugged.
Given her day-to-day activities, such answers should no longer prompt a browraise. We're speaking here of someone who was late to a training session because she first stopped by a friend's tack box for a Horse Anniversary party before stopping to help another friend round up some escaped cows. So learning that she'd done something like slice up her legs while running through Florida marsh land in training for some horrible-sounding athletic event (comparable to a Spartan or a Tough Mudder) no longer comes as much of a surprise.
It's just how she rolls.
She carries bruises on her legs from jiu jitsu and sports a finely-toned set of arms from boxing. She has stamps in her passport and blue ribbons piled up in her room from dressage competitions. She shoots guns, quotes everything from Shakespeare to Douglas Adams, cuts her own hair, gets along with pretty much everybody, and is literally one of the smartest people that I know. (Much to our brother's chagrin, she outscored all of us on standardized testing).
I asked her recently which of her accomplishments she's the most proud of. Among other things, she mentioned being able to ride through a buck without getting thrown. (Although I did see her get thrown from a bucking horse once. She landed on her feet.)
Besides all this, she has the best stories: she once broke her nose while swimming with horses in the ocean. That's right. Swimming with horses... in the ocean.
But all of those things aren't what make her awesome. What makes her awesome are her underlying attitudes toward life. Her secret is that she's learned to live out the following three strategies.
How to Be Awesome:
1. Like what you like and don't be ashamed. If we're honest, there's nothing that we love better than to hear experts speak passionately on subjects dearest to their hearts. Even when we don't necessarily agree with them or even understand everything they're talking about, our hearts thrill to the fire in their eyes and the conviction in their voices.
Hence the tremendous success of Ted Talks.
The point here is that if reading some C.S. Forester or Patrick O'Brien novel sparks a sudden interest in 19th century sailing, chase that interest. Scratch the mental itch until it either dies down or is replaced by a new one. Watch documentaries, read books, study diagrams and charts, learn sea shanties, and travel to visit exhibits without stopping to wonder whether or not your interest will ever amount to anything.
Learn to enjoy learning in its own right, knowing that sooner or later - once your acquisition of information reaches critical mass - bits of it will begin to seep into all that you do without your even having make conscious effort.
One day you'll be a complete novice, not knowing fore from aft. The next, quicker than you can say poop deck, you'll be throwing down words like jib, fo'c'sle, and capstan while your friends look on in awe. Or look on while quietly mocking you... because genius isn't always appreciated. But don't worry. They don't know the mizzen mast from the transom, so their opinions are irrelevant.
Every person who is an expert was once just someone who was curious about the world. And people who are curious about the world are awesome.
2. Take risks. A few weeks ago I was completely charmed to hear my eight-year-old nephew refer to my frequent travels as my "adventures."
"When you're off on your adventures," he began, before continuing on to question me on some relevant point. To be honest, I can't actually remember what he asked. I was too busy thinking that although adventure seems inherent to the concept of travel, there are actually many people for whom travel means something entirely different.
I know one older couple whose yearly vacation since time immemorial has been to visit the exact same location. Not that this couple isn't awesome - because they are - but for them, travel means something different. For them, it's a change of pace. A chance to let down their hair in a pressure-free environment and shoot the breeze with no stress of worrying about new directions, languages, or foods.
As much as I adore traveling to new places, I have to admit that there's a fair amount of risk involved. And risk opens us to the possibility of failure.
I'll be honest: for as much adventure as I've experienced, I've known my share of failures. The language barrier is often deeply frustrating. Confusion regarding directions has sent me miles out of the way while on foot. I've nervously bitten down on confusing foods with deeply troubling origins. A minor traffic accident once led to a traffic jam, which led to me missing my reserved bullet train, which led to me buying a backup ticket on a whistle stop route for which only "standing tickets" were left. In case you've never traveled in China, a standing ticket allows you to do just that - to stand on the train until you reached your destination. Mine just happened to be 28 hours away.
On the other hand, some of my travel risks have paid off splendidly. For every spectacular fail, there's been an excellent adventure. Even the massive failures have led to outstanding stories. (Eventually.)
And let's be honest: when all's said and done, outstanding stories are awesome and worth the risk involved.
3. Act like an idiot. Within reason, a bit of idiocy can lead to some of the most amazing memories of your life.
A final note:
In the interest of honesty, I must admit that even with the above strategies in play, probably not everyone's going to think you're awesome. I can promise, however, if that if you do include these ideas in your life, chances are much higher that the right sorts of people will appreciate you for the right reasons.
And that's awesome.