Fear was a subtle guide for much of my life. Sometimes the impact was as minor as passing on the high dive at the pool, or as major as missing out on the cool experience in the great unknown. If we let it, fear can permeate every facet of our lives, both personally and professionally. Tell me if any of these sound familiar:
- Being too timid to introduce yourself to someone, whether it be a valuable business contact, a potential friend, or a good-looking stranger for fear you'll seem annoying/desperate/pathetic
- Not signing up for a class/workshop for fear you'll appear incompetent/uncomfortable/lacking
- Foregoing a party/event for fear your only friend will be the chip dip
- Not pursuing a promotion/growth/career change opportunity for fear you'll fall short
- Not traveling for fear you'll get lost/get robbed/kidnapped with no Liam Neeson to save you
- Passing on going solo to an event/movie/etc for fear you'll look like a giant L O S E R
- Staying stuck in your current rut for fear of putting yourself out there and taking a risk
Maybe, possibly, perhaps at least one of these hit a little close to home? You're most definitely not alone. I consider myself a pretty independent person, and I can tell you...I identify with every single one of those, to varying degrees. Absolutely.
The thing is...fear actually kind of pisses me off. Or at least it used to. I hated feeling weak and restricted and...CONTROLLED. I hated feeling like fear was manipulating me, because it was! I mean, it was nothing extreme. It's not like I stayed locked up in my house and never ventured out into the big, bad, scary world. No, I still got out and lived life...but not to the depth and breadth that was possible.
Much of this fear also stemmed from my upbringing. Now please, don't get it twisted: I LOVE my parents, and they knocked it out of the park with raising my sister and me. I'm in awe of the exceptional job they did. Truly. But there has always been - and continues to be - a strong undercurrent of fear. I mean, to this day, whenever I embark on certain outings - especially road trips - I'm met with a fair amount of attempts to persuade me to not go. And of course, I recognize and appreciate this demonstrates their love and concern for me, and I'm so grateful for that. However, I finally had to just claim my own life, assure them I was taking necessary precautions/being smart about it, and just G O. Let me tell you, that was quite the breakthrough for me when I stepped up and called the shots for my own life. Snaps for Whit!
One of my biggest fears was my fear of heights (or falling, if you want to be technical). The acrophobia was real for me. Lightheadedness, heart palpitations...ooohhh yeah. I loved roller coasters because I felt secure and contained, but I was NOT a fan of peering over the edge of a high bridge, or peeking over the side of a cliff. No way.
So I decided to face that fear and conquer it in the best way I could think of: SKYDIVING. I finally checked that off my bucket list a couple of days ago. The shocking part?! I WASN'T NERVOUS AT ALL. Not from the minute I signed up to the minute I jumped. No heart racing, no adrenaline. Just...calm as can be. I mean, to be fair, I'm glad I had a guy strapped to the back of me who jumped for the both of us as I stared out the tiny open plane door to the earth 13,000 feet below. And it didn't hurt he was one cool dude, with remarkably calming energy and a fun personality (Cody Butikofer at DZone is the man). Everything about the whole experience was...smooth. Effortless. Easy.
And I feel...EMPOWERED. What an incredible sensation.
Also important: I am surrounded by phenomenal, inspiring people. People who lust after life and get out and MAKE IT HAPPEN. Two such people come to mind: my friend Rachel, and my friend Julie. Two of the raddest experiences of my life were with them, when we refused to hold ourselves back. One of those experiences was skydiving this past weekend, when Julie and I took the plunge (literally) and had the time of our lives.
Another was a couple of years ago when Rachel and I took a girls trip to Arizona, where one of our adventures was climbing Humphrey's Peak outside of Flagstaff. Before we even set foot on the trail, while still in the parking lot, we met two men (one of them apparently ex-Special Forces) who proceeded to tell us alllll about the significant risks and challenges of the climb. Cool story, bro. We politely nodded and set out anyway. A few steps in, I experienced my first panic attack. Let me tell you, it came in fast and FIERCE - like whoa. Determined to not let it stop me, I did my best to breathe my way through it (much easier said than done, if you've ever experienced one!), and rode it out. Then, along the trail, it started to snow. Soon, we encountered a ranger who was descending, explaining he deemed it too dangerous to summit, and urging us to turn back. We looked at each other and...continued on. Ultimately, we reached the top and experienced that high specific to a summit. As you can imagine, the success was that much sweeter, having continued past those obstacles undeterred. Take THAT, fear!
Reflecting on it later, it struck me how similar it is to life: people along the way preaching doom and gloom, reasons for why you should stop/turn back/avoid risk. The scared ones trying (some innocently and lovingly, some selfishly and maliciously) to hold you back. And sure, you shouldn't be so rigid and arrogant that you are immune to reason and sound advice but...with great risk comes great reward, yeah?
It's taken awareness and mindfulness, but now my reaction to fear is to lean into it. If it scares me, it actually motivates me to confront it. It's ALL about perspective. I've trained myself to perceive fear as a friend, not foe. It revs my body up to stay alert, focused, energetic, and agile. Plus, it's a great indicator you're doing what you should do to evolve and grow, baby, grow! Once you learn to frame it this way...you're SET. You eliminate all of its negative power. You allow it to help you.
How are YOU letting fear serve you?