In this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light, Connie McDougall talks about the virtues of overcoming your fears to embrace adventure.
Connie is a Senior Public Relations Specialist at City Light, where she focuses on researching and writing publications like the Light Reading newsletter, City Light’s Annual Report, Fingertip Facts and many others. Never one to shrink from a new experience, Connie had several careers before she joined City Light in 2001, as she discusses below.
Connie plans to retire from City Light soon, so we sat down with her to get her perspective on life before she stops coming into the office.
Senior Public Relations Specialist Connie McDougall at Mt. Rainier in the summer of 2016
My parents were very adventurous people. They let us think for ourselves and question things. Right after I graduated from high school, they left to go live in Mexico, and at that point the last thing I wanted to do was sit on my butt for four years in college. Everything you’ve heard about the 60s and 70s was true; I was footloose and I didn’t want to be tied down.
I traveled and worked just enough as a waitress so that I could go out and do stuff. I didn’t know about the concept of the ‘gap year,’ but that’s what I wanted. I just wanted to go out and see the world.
By my early 20s, I was living in New York City — back when New York was much more of a filthy, dangerous town — and I decided I was done with the place and set out to hitchhike back to Seattle. So I took a friend and I did it.
I didn’t get my first media job until 1977, working in radio news. I started out really low on the totem pole, listening to police radio and such, and gradually worked my way up. I kept getting bigger and better jobs, but eventually I felt the call to get more education. So I was in my early 30s, with two small children, before I started school again.
I was actually a reporter when I was accepted into a university. Afterwards I was employed with the university on a ‘hack to flack’ path, working in public relations and communications there before I came to City Light.
I had just graduated from university when I went out and took flying lessons at Boeing Field. Maybe I’m a serial adrenalin junkie. Even though I have a bit of vertigo and I don’t like heights, flying was something I always wanted to do.
It took me forever to learn and get to my first solo flight. When I finally made it, a weird calmness came over me. As I was taxiing to take off, a jet pilot taxied by and saluted me and I thought “yeah, that’s right, I’m bad.” I was really proud of that because it was really hard, and there was tangible fear to overcome in order to get there.
I’ve come to realize that I instinctively do things that are kind of scary. I have no desire to lie on a beach; if it doesn’t have some kind of fear factor, I don’t want to do it. As Muhammed Ali said, “if your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.”
I really connected the dots between what Ali said and my own psychology recently, when I returned from a five-day trip to Mt. Rainier. Before I went, I was nervous. I didn’t know if I’d live through it; I thought I must be crazy. In 2010, I hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, at times alone, for my 60th birthday and I was apprehensive. Prior to that, I went to China for two weeks and I was scared when I was boarding the plane to Beijing by myself.
We all have our phobias, but sometimes it is important to face them in order to do things we want to do. You’re really cheating yourself if you don’t take risks. There are reasons why we want to do scary things. They might bring you joy or enlightenment, and that makes facing the fear worth it.
If you have something that really calls to you — and it doesn’t put your life in peril — that dream is worth following. It is life-affirming to follow your dreams, and if you let fear stop you, life can get very small.
So now, I’m about to retire. All I can think of is to use that time to give back. I don’t know what that means yet. I have no idea what I can do to make any difference at all. That’s kind of scary so I must be on the right track.