Friday, August 27, 2010

Feel The Fear...

This was originally posted on another blog of mine in November, 2009, prior to my relocation to my new hometown of Columbus, OH.

…and do it anyway.
One of the many pieces of valuable information I gleaned from my schooling was the admonition that became a challenging mantra, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.  All of my life I have been The Cautious One.  Ride a rollercoaster?  Only once, since my fear of heights/falling/premature dying/being crushed and/or mangled, kept me as close to the ground as possible whenever I actually dared to venture into an amusement park (and who REALLY inspects that stuff, anyway???).   As a young child, I did not want to learn to drive since the apparent unpredictability of operating a vehicle seemed to leave too much up to “chance” (I got over this fear when I realized that it was not so much a matter of “chance”, but more a matter of not driving in the same manner as a particular close relative with whom I rode frequently ;-).   While my cautious (if not sometimes misguided) manner has, at times, served me well (like the time in high school I passed up a hit of acid because it was not hermetically sealed – had been passed from one germy, sweaty hand to another, linty pocket, after linty pocket – if not worse), it has also kept me limited and immobilized in certain areas, and though I began “getting over it” prior, hearing it repeated over and over in different variations this year, I AM over it now.

I began to see a glimmer of hope of being set free when I finally decided that “I AM a flyer”.  I was nearly 40 years old and had passed up several opportunities to travel with David to some neat places simply because I could not bring myself to get on an airplane.  Physics aside, something THAT heavy could not safely be up in the air…especially if it was carrying MY valuable body.  An airplane breaking down carried much steeper consequences than a malfunction of a car engine.  It wasn’t until I’d suffered through two excruciating solo 600 mile trips to Nashville and back to visit family that I started to fear breaking down/falling asleep at the wheel/getting attacked at a rest area more than being on an airplane, and I realized that my fear of flying was keeping me locked in a very small, paranoid world.  With sweaty hands, I booked a flight and went on a trip.  “I AM a flier…I AM a flier…I AM a flier…” I kept telling myself as I went alone to the ticket counter to check in for my flight, snaked my way through a busy security line, and onto the tram headed for my gate.  Nervously, I kept tabs on the closest way out, until I became aware of the fact that airports look for nervous-looking travelers because they might be planning on doing something “bad”, so I tried to stay calm and play the part of a bored, seasoned flyer. 
I succeeded in getting to my destination and back home, and realized that by confronting this fear of mine, a whole new world had opened up to me.  Had it not been for that confrontation, I would never have been able to complete my schooling (requiring nearly a dozen trips to NYC during 2009) or enjoy countless trips to spend time with those I love.  My fear was containing me.  Facing my fear made me freer, fuller.

In high school, I never did like going into the cafeteria or bathroom or even down the hall alone (I think some of this is a “girl thing”).  This discomfort carried over into adulthood, manifested itself by keeping me from enjoying classes or other new experiences if it meant going alone.  What I was actually afraid of happening is unclear, it just felt scary to be in situations alone, therefore, I avoided them.  I’ve come to realize that I am over that.  I go to classes at my gym all alone, and I actually survive (was I graceful in that cardio-kickboxing class?  That’s another story…).  I am finding I actually LOVE getting myself into these new situations, because each time I “feel the fear and do it anyway”, a part of me grows freer and fuller than I’d been if I was still content to let my fears control and restrain me.

I think it is human nature for us to be cautious and avoid those things that make us least comfortable.  There are a select few who actually thrive on the adrenalin-rush of facing fears and surviving them, but for most of us, those things we fear, we avoid.  Often, we have no idea what we’re actually passing up.  Public speaking?  What if we stammer or tremble or mispronounce something?  Would it be surprising to know that nearly every public speaker has done just that?  Most audiences are forgiving of those things, and I think it’s been a while since anyone’s suffered bodily harm for screwing something like that up.  Teaching a class?  What if we don’t know every single thing in the world on the subject?  The questions that have stumped me during a class or speaking to a group are the things I have later researched and have gotten a pretty firm handle on and I now greatly value – without those experiences, my depth of knowledge in those areas would be much shallower.  What about eating a meal at a restaurant alone?  That used to be a huge fear for me.  I highly recommend giving this a shot as a great “baby step” for getting out of your safety net.  What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Some of my most therapeutic exercises occurred when I was able to travel alone to NYC, stay alone in a hotel, and navigate the city many times, by myself.

It’s interesting to observe younger women, still in that fear mode, and sad to see older ones that are.

What are you gaining through being restrained by your fears?   Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Don’t pass up an opportunity simply because you are afraid that the outcome may not be easy to predict, or you’re afraid you might look less than graceful (now, I am not talking about the instinctual, intuitive fear that tells you not to go into the darkened parking garage alone, at 2 AM, LISTEN TO THAT ONE!… ).

Some people think David and I are daring and crazy (?) to move to a new city amidst all of the other changes going on in our lives.  Is it scary?  Of course there is some fear when contemplating diving into the unknown.  Among many things, 2009 has been a year of unknowns.  If, on New Year's Eve 2009, I’d been given a list of all the things that I’d be going through this year, I would most likely have said “no thank you” to many of them:  “No thank you” to the prospect of a strenuous tax on my marriage that seemed to be without resolution.  “No thank you” to quitting my reliable and socially gratifying job at a time when it did not make much financial sense to me.  “No thank you” to helping my daughter plan a wedding in just eight short weeks on a shoe-string budget while still in school with the financial and time constraints that it carried.  “No thank you” to having to take my youngest kid to his first year in college 600 miles away from home just one week after our oldest got married (isn’t that too much “letting go” for one 7 day period?).  “No thank you” to the stresses and strains of interacting with a kid who seemed to be their own worst enemy during a critical time in their life.  “No thank you” to my husband being less than 20 feet away from a crazed shooter at our fitness club while he played racquetball one evening – and the subsequent stress that confrontation with mortality this encounter carried.  “No thank you” to the task of launching our kids confidently into the next phases of their lives during one of such uncertainty concerning our own.  BUT, each of these things (and more) have added a richness and depth to me that I could never have gained had I played it safe and rested in the blissful state of unyielding predictability.  Change is the most reliable thing that I can count on.  Facing fear is what keeps me from getting stiff and ridged.  It keeps me flexible.

So, as we prepare for this move to another city, I really am realizing that I am not “brave” or “crazy”, as some have said.  I have no idea what to expect from this move:  it’s the first time we will have moved based on “us” (and we have moved a lot), and not the kids:  schools and fenced yards and game rooms and proximity to potential playmates are not on our radar.  Will this be “better” or “worse” than where we are currently?  It will be “different”.  I don’t know what this move will look like until it’s done.  I have no idea what to expect.  It’s kind of like jumping off of a high-dive.  I am not “brave” or “crazy”:  I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  This is my new “safe”.  I am playing it safe – as safe as I can.  I am embracing this change - this new chapter – and hanging on for dear life.

An update from my 2010 perspective:  After almost 6 months in our new city, this has been an awesome move.  Turns out there really WAS enough water in the pool underneath that high-dive we jumped off of!


Terry Guinn said...

Great article Elly,
I can't help but feel like this was your way of talking out your fears in a reassuring way to yourself. Glad things worked out.
As you alluded to, our age has something to do with it. As we get older, we come to realize what we are missing out on and how silly some of our fears are. I have fought in combat, faced death more than once, jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and made a fool of myself in front of an audience. What scares me most are the things I can't control completely, when it comes to my children's safety. On one hand they need to learn independence and on the other hand, you don't know who you can trust. From the unrecognized vehicle driving slowly through the neighborhood to the major corporations or government offices responsible for public safety in oversight, food processing, transportation, ect.

Elly said...

Thanks for your comment, Terry. Yes, my writing was my therapy in 2009! I hear you about the kids. I had a brother that died quite unexpectedly nearly 21 years ago. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and already had a 16-month old. A few years (and a third kid) later, I facilitated a monthly group for kids who had experienced the death of a sibling. These kids ranged in age from 6 to 18. The stories were overwhelming. I realized that there are zillions of ways kids can die. I worked for many years trying like crazy to anticipate every single way a kid could die - and then trying to prevent it. I drove myself to the brink of insanity - seriously.
Being able to surrender the perspective that I could hold the whole world together for them was a really freeing thing (not that I abdicated as a parent, I just got a better perspective of how to parent vs. trying to be GOD).
The kid-stuff IS tough, though.