This painting was inspired by my daughter.
Our family loves going on walks. A half mile from our house, there is a row of lakefront homes. A small sliver of land between two of them serves as a public access point to the lake. A few years ago, an hour before the sun tucked itself in for the night, we pushed our strollers through the skinny green passageway to enjoy the pint-sized plot of beach that was ours.
It wasn’t long before my oldest began wading in the water, delighted by the sand squishing between her toes. Lucy was wearing last year’s Halloween costume — a sparkly pink and yellow princess dress — because, well…just because. The gentle waves kissed the bottom of her gown. I considered telling her to be careful not to ruin it, but reasoned that a little water never hurt anyone.
Meanwhile, Ben was outfitted in his Incredible Hulk costume — you know, just because — and for some reason, was lying face-down in the sand. Motionless. He looked like a big green sea turtle who had come in with the tide to build a nest. We’d be finding sand on him days later.
By the time I turned my attention back to Lucy, she was in lake water up to her armpits, princess dress and all! I stood there, in stunned silence, as the supercomputer in my brain whizzed through its vast database in search of some rule frowning upon the intermingling of lakes and princess dresses. (Old Halloween costume or not, that dress wasn’t cheap and I didn’t want it ruined.) But the warm smile that beamed widely across her face suggested that perhaps this was yet another rule that doesn’t exist.
In that moment, with the sun setting behind her, I realized that Lucy was living life as well as it could possibly be lived. Too often, we fall far short of this ideal. Why?
Because we’re afraid of getting our princess dress wet.
And we all have one. Our “princess dress” is the carefully-curated version of ourself that we show off to others. It’s the way we look, speak, and act. It’s our degree and our job title, our home and hairstyle, our cars, clothes, and 401ks, all wrapped into one pretty package and tied with a bow that signifies that we are responsible, sophisticated, and successful.
In order to keep this princess dress looking good, we must live a life of restraint. No full-out running, no sitting on the ground, no eating messy things, and certainly no swimming in lakes.
We are given countless opportunities to dive headfirst in to the experience of life, but we are too afraid to mess up our hair, our clothes, or our reputation. Because running through puddles, making a mess, or doing something silly for sheer sake of fun sullies the dress we’ve worked so hard to preserve. And besides, people like “us” don’t do things like “that.”
While settling for good enough, we miss the insanely great.
Guess what? After the dip in the lake, Lucy’s princess dress went into the washing machine and came out… good as new.
Fear does a pretty good job of keeping us from living an amazing life. But it’s a horrible predictor of the future.
Don’t settle for dipping your toes into this adventure called life. For best results, spend more of your time up to your armpits in awesome.
Don’t be afraid to get your princess dress wet.