Once upon a time, there was a brave and beautiful little girl. She would swing from monkey bars with the greatest of ease. She would beat boys at arm wrestling contests, could dominate a game of four square, and wore candy necklaces like they were strands of freshwater pearls.
She was a risk taker. She was a leader. She was me.
I think back to memories of myself as a little girl and feel a sense of pride similar to what I imagine parents have for their own children. Though I can’t recall the exact date or year my childhood “ended,” I can’t help but feel an unshakeable sense of separateness from the fearless girl I once was.
I have a strong sense that it was somewhere early in my adolescence, the time where little girls learn to be polite and magazines teach them how to get attention from boys. It was roughly around this time that I first became acquainted with a new, more pervasive face of fear.
This more grownup/cultured version of fear began to tell me I wasn’t quite enough. It had me pinching at my soft belly, pulling at my frizzy hair, and picking at my face. With practice, dedication, and an investment in cosmetics worth the value of a luxury automobile, I could hope to someday, maybe, possibly, if I really work at it – get “there.”
“There” being happy, successful, and loved.
Now, there are obvious consequences to fear, or more pointedly learning fear. In addition to the biology hardwired in our brains, we learn fear, either through our own experience or the experiences of others (parents, teachers, friends, etc.). The people that raise us teach us not to stick our fingers in light sockets or touch shiny breakable objects.
- We learn that there are consequences to leaning back on two legs of a chair.
- We also learn the rules of fear, spoken and unspoken, conscious and unconscious.
- We learn there are winners and losers, haves and have-nots, and successes and failures.
This fear is a four letter word, in every sense of the meaning. It’s a mind game that makes standing on stage and speaking in front of people feel the way our ancestors felt running from bears. It makes small talk with strangers feel like standing naked in Times Square. It makes being naked impossible, so we pinch, nip, tuck, and in the end – keep the lights off.
I have an intimate relationship with this type of fear. I would venture to bet you do as well.
These fears are universal, they live in our minds, and they can rule our life. Fear’s function is a primal one, and is hardwired within our biology. This type of fear is like a toe that goes unnoticed until we bump into the foot of our beds in the dark of night. We curse our toe for being so sensitive, the bed for being in our way, the light for not shining bright enough, and our partner for not rushing to our aid with ice.
So, what do we do? Cut off our “fear-toe”?
With that logic, we’d lose a limb every time we step on a dog toy, trip on a crack in the floor, or move on a dance floor. Though these examples sound ridiculous, this is what many of us do EVERYDAY.
When we bump against our fear, and we look for the quickest way to make the pain go away. But like cutting off a bruised toe, we aren’t fixing the issue. We numb the uncomfortable burn of fear with distractions – alcohol, food, shopping, relationships, sex, porn, gambling, our phones, video games, watching TV, etc.
I feel at this point it’s imperative to add a disclaimer that using one of the previously stated examples of numbing is not mean we’re all on the fast track to avoiding our issues. However (a fancy but), there is a tipping point where a choice that is motivated out of self-care, pleasure, or joy can become a way to escape. This type of escape, or running from ourselves, is like trying to run from our shadow.
When the sun goes down we may not be able to see it, we may even be able to trick ourselves into thinking it’s gone, but in the light of day we’re wrapped back in our shadows cool embrace, like a sheet tangled around our feet.
Together, we can teach ourselves how to see our fear as a passenger in the car on our road trip through life. When it comes to arriving to our final destination safely and on time, we can appreciate it’s necessary role as a backseat driver, but if we want a life of adventure, a life full of passion, creativity, inspiration, and deep meaning…we must NOT let fear drive.
Fear is sneaky, cunning, and can take the form of lots of different emotions. For now, we’ll start with the four C’s: Comparison, Competition, Control, and Criticism.
- Comparison: “I’ll never be as successful, beautiful, or capable as (insert name)”
- Competition: “When they win, I lose.”
- Control: “If they would just give me (insert wanted item), then I’d be happy.”
- Criticism: “I may not have it all, but at least I’m not as bad as (insert name).”
While fear can take many shapes, its core message is generally the same.
“You’re not going to be as good as (insert name), so don’t bother.”
“It’s already been done before, so don’t bother.”
“It’s going to take too long, be too hard, or cost too much to figure out…so don’t bother?”
If you can see yourself in any (or all) of these examples, please know you ARE NOT ALONE. I know these feelings intimately. If fear was a dance competition, I’d be a champion with a disco ball trophy. However (another fancy but), recognizing our fear for what it is (AKA: awareness, insight, an Aha moment) is the first step in overcoming it. It’s like turning on the light and turning the monster at the foot of your bed into a lumpy sweater.
Together, we will help you turn up the dimmer switch in your mind. You will begin to learn how to recognize your fear, how to work with it, and in the face of it – move bravely forward into a life you love.
Bravery is the stuff heroes are made of. It’s the core of every great adventure, and most important of all – It is available to you.
The gateway to bravery begins with fear.
Just like little boys and girls learn fear, so can we unlearn what we do in the face of it. Like the children at Hogwarts learned to turn the evil-looking dementors into a hilarious joke, so can we change the story of our lives from one ruled by fear and doubt to one of bravery and courage.
Build your bravery inventory: What are three examples in your life where you were afraid?
- A job interview?
- A tough conversation with a friend?
- A presentation?
How did you persevere? What did you learn?
Here are two additional sources I loved that explore this concept further: