We all get scared. Often when we don’t want to do something, the core of the resistance is based on fear- fear of the unknown, fear of getting hurt, fear of making a mistake, of taking on too much- insert your favorite here. I’ve spent a lot of time being afraid in my life, but I’ve also found that when I face my fears, I end up realizing, in retrospect, many of then were far less daunting than I thought.
Fear is a funny thing. We make it bigger and meaner than it likely is in real life. We avoid admitting mistakes, thinking the other person will hate us or think we’re stupid or otherwise pass judgment, when we’re being far more harsh on ourselves than anyone else would be. Couple that with the fact that most often, people just want the truth rather than an excuse, and admitting mistakes becomes actually easier than hiding them. (It took me a long time to learn this lesson, just ask my Mom. Her hallmark lecture to me was not only to just tell the truth, but that I was so bad at hiding stuff, “I left a trail a blind man could follow.” Adopting is What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) approach in life was the best thing I ever did.)
This past week, I faced a long time fear of mine. When I was 17, I had an accident while skiing. I tore up my right knee and had to have surgery. Based on how they fixed these things then, I was in the hospital for about a week, had a few months of physical therapy, and wore a knee brace 24 x 7 for about a year. Needless to say, the prospect of going skiing again was not on my list of activities. Yet a married a man who really likes skiing, and my kids like it, too. I’ve done the “snow bunny” sitting in the lodge thing while they have fun routine for a few years now, but I promised my husband I would give it a try when we went to Vermont.
As I put on all the gear required, I kept thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this?” After I told the instructor my story, he was wonderful. At the top of the lesson area, there was a six year old girl with her parents, who were trying to teach her to ski. She was crying and protesting, and I knew how she felt, because I was one step away from that myself. I told her I was scared, too, but that this would be okay and even fun. That simple act of acknowledging how scared I was made it a lot better. I had a great day, progressed to the ski lifts, and generally had a lot of fun. But the biggest part of it was falling down, literally and physically, getting myself back up, and realizing every fall wouldn’t lead to disaster. I was fine.
It’s a simple thing, really. Once you identify your fears- and I had plenty of reason to be nervous, given my last experience- facing them can be really emotional. But giving it another go is important as well. I’ve shown myself through this that most of my fears are irrational. I put fangs and claws and monster faces on things that aren’t necessary. I make them far more forbidding than they actually are. Most of all, by going ahead and facing these things, we learn we’re stronger than we think and that we can do more than we believe.
(In this case, it probably helps to have a sobbing six year old child next to you to demonstrate what fear looks like, and that there were 3 and 4 year old munchkins bopping up and down the hills like pros to make my scaredy pants look especially silly.)
But even on other situations- facing the fear of success and failure, of new situations, of not knowing what will happen- others have likely gone before and survived. There’s a perfectly happy person doing what you fear, who is probably thrilled to show you the way and point out little tips and tricks to make it easier. It’s doable. All you have to do is approach it with a willing attitude, ask questions and be willing to learn.
The biggest traps and jail cells we ever inhabit are the ones we create for ourselves in our own minds. Fear is paralyzing- finding a way out of it is liberating. And facing one of my big ones was freeing. I can decide to do more of this, or not- but nothing is preventing me from trying anymore. While I don’t aim to become Picabo Street, I now know that trying doesn’t end in disaster. And that’s incredibly empowering.
Go find one thing you are afraid of, rational or irrational. Give it a try, anyway. You’ll be surprised by the outcome. And you’ll know you are capable of more than you think- and that’s the lesson we all need to relearn from time to time.