As I was listening to a visiting friend talk about her life over lunch, I was reminded yet again of how she’s painted herself into a comfy corner of “I can’t.”

I’ve known this friend for 25 years. What attracted me to her originally was her adventurous spirit. When she wasn’t home hobnobbing with famous authors, international journalists, and heads of state, she was traveling the world. She was politically active and spiritually seeking. In other words, she was full of life.

Fast forward to today, and that person is nowhere to be found. As we were talking, or rather as I was listening to her complain about all the things about her life with which she’s dissatisfied, and all the things she can’t do, and all the reasons why she can’t do them, I was inwardly feeling sad for her. I’ve learned not to try to offer ideas anymore, as that just brings another barrage of “that wouldn’t work because,” and “you don’t really understand the problem” responses.

Actually, I understand her problem very well: She’s become paralyzed by fear. She’s considerably older than I, with no family to speak of. She’s all she has. So she doesn’t want solutions or ideas, because that would mean she’d have to make changes. She’d have to step outside of her comfort zone to try something new. She’d have to take a calculated risk. She believes she can’t afford to make a mistake, so she suffers a fate of being trapped by her own self-imposed limitations.

While I don’t hold much hope for her life changing, the conversation did serve as a potent reminder for what I don’t want to let happen to my life — or to Cait’s. So when Cait got home and started complaining about why she wasn’t good at fractions, she got an earful about what happens when we argue for our limitations, and an afternoon of breaking down fractions in a way that she could understand: we built a kitty box and a bird house using fractions to measure, and we baked a cake using fractions to measure, and… she finished her homework with a smile on her face.

Life’s too short to make bedfellows of our fears.