Letting Go of Fear
Figure 1: Flying down from 5,600 feet. Figure 2: On solid ground.
Imagine this: you’re engrossed in a fabulous book, consumed with the characters and the plot. You have to keep reading to find out what happens next. Suddenly, you sense a slight tingle on your forearm. Glancing at your arm, you notice an unnaturally large spider crawling across your skin. How would you react? If you remain calm and continue reading, you’re likely in the minority. Fear is instinctive, but is also a behaviour that is learned.
Like most children, you may have feared many things while growing up: dark places, strangers, and learning to ride a bike. As you matured, your fears probably changed to reflect milestones in your life: a job interview, a first date, getting a driver’s license, to name a few. Perhaps you questioned your abilities and felt inadequate. Too easily, self-doubt can become the devil on your shoulder. Grown-ups often lose sight of overcoming fears, unlike children. Do you remember receiving your first bicycle and watching in horrified fascination as your parents unscrewed the training wheels? Somehow, you made the decision to get on the bike. Your desire to try something new overrode the part of your mind that warned Hold on a minute, this might be scary. It’s interesting how closely related fear and excitement are. If you can push through your fear you’ll often discover a surge of joy and a certitude that the risk was worth it.
Increasingly, adulthood becomes defined by correct behaviour and rules. Many adults generally avoid taking risks in favor of what is expected of them. Risk involves change and change is layered with stress that occurs when things are uncertain. But wait a minute. You got on that bike, don’t forget. And you managed to get through your first date and survive. Give yourself some credit. It’s never too late to rediscover joy through new experiences. When was the last time you took a risk?
I was once a child filled with fears of every sort, most notably aerophobia (fear of flying) and acrophobia (fear of heights). But if there was one aspect of my personality that was often misunderstood, or perhaps, underestimated, it was my courage. I have never let fear prevent me from trying new things. I got over my fear of flying simply because my desire to travel outweighed my trepidation in climbing into an airplane. Despite my concerns and doubts, I recently achieved some long-held dreams, including a humanitarian trip to Africa and securing a publishing contract for my first novel. Perhaps surprisingly to my relatives, I also made the decision to jump off a mountain (albeit while attached to a hang-glider). The act of stepping away from terra firma is indescribable: weightlessness rushed through my body providing me with the closest experience I would ever have of what it must be like to soar as free as a bird. I chose not to reflect on what might happen if the hang-glider didn’t catch any updrafts, or if my harness wasn’t attached properly. These risks were definitely worth it for me. And like most people I know, I continue to live with fears of every sort (spiders for sure). But I practice constructive self-talk, reminding myself to power beyond the what if’s.
Another way to view this mindset is thinking about the construction of novels. Great books tell great stories, but they would never get off the ground without complicated, flawed, yet believable characters. Readers tend to root for the heroines that take risks, despite their fear of danger. Keep going, Press on. Don’t turn around. We all want to see the woman get her happily ever after, with a little drama along the way of course. But who would applaud the heroine who sits back, crying her despair as her hero drifts away? No, we want her to get off her chair, throw on some lipstick and charge after her love.
So, like our favorite heroines, we need to embrace the concept that life is to be lived. If I can fly in a plane, jump off mountains and tolerate spiders, and if Scarlett can sew a dress from curtains, then you can face your own fears too. I encourage you to confront your fears and try something that you have always wanted to do. Start by making a plan of what it is that you desire. Then list the steps you need to complete before reaching your goal. Are there specific people who might help you take action? Write down their names and get in touch with them.
Your goal can involve dangerous activities and far-away adventures but it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive or require malaria pills and Yellow Fever shots. Maybe you want to try dancing lessons, taste a new food, or call up an old friend. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to attend an event or a conference in a different city, or take up a new hobby. The main idea is to stretch your comfort zone. Enough to try something out of the ordinary, your ordinary. Above all, don’t forget to celebrate as you move closer to your goal. You will likely be surprised by your success and you can build on that positive energy. Surround yourself with people whom you admire, and if you reach out, you’re likely to find others more than willing to offer support.