Susan Vollenweider: Once or twice a year, surprise yourself

02/04/2014 2:14 PM

02/04/2014 2:16 PM

A couple of friends and I met for coffee one morning last week. I love the act of having coffee with someone. One hour is all I needed to catch up and make an ordinary day a little special.

The ladies and I were talking about two long and accomplishment-worthy bike events that one of them had participated in last summer. I was curious if she was doing it again.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” Melissa said thoughtfully. “Not that again, but something just as ... oh, I don’t know the word … badass.”

Melissa is not a person who would pop into most people’s heads when they hear the word “badass.” Petite, curly haired, athletic — if you saw her you would think she looks like someone’s mom. (Which is cool since she has two teenagers.)

Does she sport a couple of discreetly placed tattoos? Yes, but a tat alone doesn’t make a badass. It takes attitude. Think “bold” and “bucking convention,” maybe a little “in your face,” not necessarily the woman behind the piano for her church services, a former Girl Scout leader, a cake decorator, a sweet person. Melissa is very sweet. Cussing isn’t her default language so she followed it up with a clearer definition: “I mean doing something hard.”

But I understood exactly what she meant and her first thought was the perfect word. Just one badass move a year can do wonders to shake up my life for the better, test my character and put some fire in my belly.

The activity has to be specific to the person. Melissa’s back-to-back bike events had her in the saddle for 428 summertime miles within a couple of weeks. She had to train and plan for the events — planned riskiness, but it was risky nonetheless. She had to leave her family, injuries could sideline her, a lot of bad things could happen and her only motivation was, “Could I rise to this challenge?”



to see if she had it in her. Had to. That’s what a badass move feels like.

I know that feeling of working to do something hard and accomplishing it. It’s life affirming and invigorating. The feeling of doing things that I was so afraid of trying that the What If’s rang out on a loud, repeat loop in my head. The feeling of knowing that if I didn’t try I would always wonder, “What if?”

But what if … you fail? I fail at so many things, and failure started early. I’m not simply talking about school classes but early life failures, from an inability to memorize routines for dance recitals to calling that boy who I swore liked me but just laughed and said, “Susan who?” It feels horrible. Further down the lifepike when I could learn from the failures, it felt like, well, still horrible. But with failure I possessed wisdom that I would never have earned had I succeeded. Understanding that is very badass.

Badass isn’t about being irresponsible, or bad for the sake of being naughty. It’s about doing what you feel is right for you, even if others — especially if others — would never expect it.

It isn’t about impressing other people, but impressing yourself. Doing something unexpected to empower you.

I’m not going to list ways to be badass; I can only tell you how it feels and roughly define it. You have to come upon a situation that meets the qualifications, then grab it and do everything in your power to make it happen.

Try it. Maybe once a year, maybe twice.

Maybe something as simple as cussing when no one expects it of you.

Reach SUSAN VOLLENWEIDER at svollenweider @


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