How to Find Out What You’re Made Of: an Interview with Celine Novenario

Life at 15,000 Feet

I was the person guiltiest of selling myself short and I had myself boxed in to be a certain way before this whole project began. I was surprised to find out that I’ve got endurance, balls of steel and that I quite like getting dirty!
Celine Novenario

So, here’s the deal: If you’re living your best possible life you’re going to be challenging yourself on a pretty regular basis. And if you’re challenging yourself at any significant level you’re going to run into quite a few things that quite frankly will freak you out just a bit.

One of the things that’s pretty high on my freak-out list is hurling myself off a three foot wide platform at the top of the 233 meters-tall Macau Tower. It’s how I’ll be marking the commencement of my epic tour of Asia by motorcycle.

One of the best ways of mastering a freak-out experience? Talk to somebody who’s already done it.

Enter Celine Novenario of the 30 Before 30 Project: globetrotting, fear crushing party animal extraordinaire.

Not only has Celine braved the worlds highest bungee jump, she’s also skydived from 15,000 feet, bathed in the basin of an active volcano, taken burlesque and pole-dancing classes, swam with wale sharks, run a marathon, explored mayan ruins and generally crammed as many thrills, chills and as spills into her life as possible. And all before turning 30.

Let’s find out what makes her tick.

What was your main inspiration for the 30 before 30 project?
How long have you been at it?

A tarot card reader once told me that I will be able to do everything that I want to do because I am a planner, and clearly she got that right! I’ve always loved making lists. When I was 18, I remember writing down a list of 25 things I dreamt of accomplishing before the age of 25. It wasn’t a bucket list so much as a wish list, but something about putting it down on paper seemed to put the wheels into motion.

Things that seemed so far-fetched to me then, like being able to live in another country and traveling all over Europe, actually did happen before I turned 25. I’ve lost that journal so I can’t really recall what else was on that list. But one day, while I was waiting for a yoga class to start and having a mini quarterlife crisis in my head, I remembered that list and it all snowballed from there. That was in February 2010 and I’ve been on this mission ever since.

Was there any particular method, criteria or value that you used to choose your adventures?

On hindsight, I wish there had been but nope, this is definitely a project born more out of madness than method! I just made a list of all the trips and experiences I’ve been putting off, classes I’ve been meaning to take and challenges I’d been saving for “someday.” I calendared everything out to make sure I actually had time to do everything, but other than that there wasn’t a huge thought process behind it.

Several of your challenges involve partying, exotic dance and removing articles of clothing. Have you always been so outgoing and adventurous or was this a deliberate attempt to break away from shyness?

I’ve never been shy! I was born a ham and was a ballet dancer and cheerleader for most of my teens so there was no shyness to break away from. I did however grow up at a time and society that was quite conservative. The poledancing and burlesque is more of an effort to embrace my being a woman, which tended to get a little stifled in very polite circles.

Over the past few years, women have become more free to speak and embrace their sensual sides and I’m just partaking of that new freedom. Partying, meanwhile, figures in my list because I feel that I should get my fill while I’m still young and carefree. I do hope to grow up, settle down and have a family someday so I realize the party has to end at some point! I wanted to get the no-holds-barred partying out of the way so there are no what-ifs in the future.

Shopping

You said that your style is one of feigned innocence. Just how much feigning is required? ;)

Haha not much feigning really. People take one look at me and just get that vibe! It’s up to me to prove them wrong, if I want to.

What lights your fire? And what is the secret to a life well lived?

Experiencing something new—whether it’s exploring a new city or just trying an amazing new restaurant—makes me so very happy!

The secret to a life well lived, I feel, is minimizing regret.

Which of your exploits has been:

The most fun?

Surfing. It was such an adventure to travel to a surf camp in Portugal solo. I lucked out by ending up in an amazing surf camp, making really cool friends, and finding out that I love being on that board, soaking up the sun and riding the waves. Can’t wait to have another go!

The most challenging?

Snowboarding. It takes a lot of skill and my usual technique of just going for it resulted in a lot of hard tumbles down the slopes + a cracked rib! It haunts me that I didn’t master this and look forward to actively pursuing it next winter.

The most skillfully demanding?

Aerial silks. There are so many steps to remember and a lot of upper body strength required. Also, you really have to have all your wits about you when you’re hanging up the air unharnessed and your life depends on how well you’ve tied yourself into a few pieces of silk!

The most scary?

The first few seconds of freefall from my bungee jump were the scariest of my life! When I skydived, I did a tandem jump, and there was something reassuring about having another person who knew exactly what he was doing attached to me. When you bungeejump, it’s all you—standing on the edge, jumping off the edge and plummeting down. Takes balls of steel!

The most rewarding?

Swimming with whale sharks. It still blows my mind that I was in the water, swimming alongside these beautiful gentle giants that are the size of a bus! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

The most transformative?

Running and finishing the New York Marathon. When I added this to my list, I thought I would have to walk 25 of those 26.2 miles since I hadn’t run a single mile before getting accepted. In the process of training for the marathon, I became a runner. I fished two 10k races and three half marathons, and I was actually able to run 26.2 miles to complete the New York marathon. The goal’s been crossed off but I continue to run to this day and it’s given me the confidence to take on more challenges. You learn not to sell yourself short when you find out just how much you’re actually capable of.

Celine at the New York Marathon

Bungee jumping the Macau Tower is an awesome achievement. What was it like up on that ledge, the moment before you took the jump? How did you prepare yourself? What did you do to overcome the fear and push yourself over the edge? Please be as detailed as you like :)

I had imagined it so many times in my mind before the moment actually came. I thought it would be completely petrifying to stand there on the edge of the tower, look down at the ground 233-meters away and actually leap off the edge. The thought made me wanna crawl back to Mommy.

But when the moment actually came, I kept my mind blank. I chose to focus on the beautiful scenery surrounding me: the aquamarine Pearl River to my right, the opulent casinos across. I never looked down. When the time came, I just stretched my arms out, focused on the countdown and let go. The first few seconds of freefall were bloody scary and I screamed my head off like I never have before. But after a few more seconds, I snapped out of it and just enjoyed the incredible rush of sailing down at such a fantastic speed. Just describing it makes me feel all giddy inside. I have a feeling I’m gonna want to have another go!

The Macau Tower Bungee

What is your relationship with fear?

Fear is my buddy. You know how you have friends who just love to push your buttons but you love them for it? That’s how I treat fear. What I’ve found it that the more I push at fear, the less I find there is to actually be fearful of. It’s such a liberating revelation.

One item on your list seems to stand apart from the others both in character and in the way you have treated it on your blog. Where does the desire to forgive come from? What makes it so hard?

I hope you don’t mind if I don’t answer this in too much detail as I’ve been tossing the topic in my head around for the last year and am still working on it. I have never been one to hold grudges and really have never had enemies. But I went through a very painful experience a few years ago and it changed me quite a bit. The desire to forgive came from wanting to go back to the person that I was, who was infinitely optimistic and devoid of ill feelings. But as the project comes to a close, this item is causing a lot of internal debate. We’ll see what happens!

Who are your heros? What are the qualities you see in them that you want to emulate?

There are a lot of people that I admire: Paula Radcliffe as a tenacious runner, Bono for his humanitarian work & general awesomeness, my mother for being my ultimate role model, etc. But I don’t know that I have actual heroes because people will always fall short in some way so it’s best not to put them on pedestals.

What have you discovered about yourself by challenging yourself in this way?

I discovered that there’s so much more to me than I previously thought. I was the person guiltiest of selling myself short and I had myself boxed in to be a certain way before this whole project began. I was surprised to find out that I’ve got endurance, balls of steel and that I quite like getting dirty!

Learning The Art of Arial Silks

How has this changed you as a person?

Oh wow, I can’t even count the ways! The most significant: I’m not the person who talks about doing things. I’m the person who just goes and does them.

Your deepest regret?

I can’t say that I have one. Good things came out of even the most painful events of my life, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone through it all so no regrets.

One book that has changed your life?

It’s so cliche but The Alchemist really changed my life. The pursuit of one’s personal legend and the belief that when you want something, the universe conspires for you to get it—that stuff’s golden!

What’s the single most important thing you must do before you die?

Become a mother.

You’re quite the globetrotter. Any choice tips on life or travel hacking?

I used to put off doing things because I didn’t know who’d want to do all these things with me. From my experience with this little project, I learned that if you just book that ticket, they will come. And even if they don’t, traveling by yourself can be a pretty cool adventure in itself.

If you found the love of your life, would you stay with him / her if it meant never being able to travel again?

The number one thing I look for is someone who’s well-traveled because it is something I am so passionate about. So I can’t even imagine how the love of my life would somehow come with that restriction … As much as I can’t imagine it, never say never right? Maybe there are pleasures to having firm roots that I have yet to discover.

What do you want to tell the person who’s reading this interview from their corporate cubicle?

I am a corporate cubicle-dweller myself and it really isn’t a life sentence. If your job gives you the means to live life the way you want to, then it’s not something to be hated. I used to think that I wanted a job that I was so passionate about that it would be my life. Now I know that I want a job that allows me to really live. I guess my message to the corporate cubicle dweller is: I know it’s cozy in there but there’s a bigger, better world outside that cubicle. Don’t live to work; work to be able to really live!

I'm Alive

A very exuberant Celine is celebrating her 30th birthday this Saturday. Let’s show her some love.

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