By: Dr. Gwen Smith
I discovered three things about fear when it comes to fulfilling on things that are important to me. This discovery has caused me to live my life quite differently than I had in the past.
What I now know about fear
First I discovered that fear is an imposter. Second, I discovered that I am stronger than fear and third, I discovered that fear weakens with each step I take towards my goal.
The Joshua Tree experience
To illustrate these three points I’ll share a story. In January of 2013 I was on my way to a training camp in Joshua Tree, California. This event had several objectives which were to build internal strength, to succeed in spite of challenges and to build integrity and have courage to take action in spite of fear, doubt and worry.
Previously the events were held in a camping environment, what I call wilderness. I am not a wilderness girl and would not normally have opted for this course except it was a part of a package I had paid for. I had heard wonderful things about the power of the event, but wasn’t too keen on experiencing it myself especially after the list of what to bring and what not to bring arrived.
As I reviewed the list, I threw myself into immediate panic and fear gripped me like a vice as my thoughts swirled uncontrollably out of control. Being afraid of height, deep water, and tight enclosures, I replayed again and again the scenes of my being subjected to those circumstances, all in an effort to help me overcome my fear. I was quite certain that this would invoke increased terror within, and would not have had the intended outcome so I secretly vowed to not participate. I almost wouldn’t go, except I had invested a huge sum of money and wasn’t willing to forsake it now. “At least”, I consoled myself “They can’t force me to participate, and I could opt not to”. So I was off to my event.
The event was completely magical and had many activities that tried my endurance and my optimism and hope for survival. On one of these occasions, I had the task of climbing up a rung which looked to be about 50 feet off the ground. Once at the top, the task was to turn and face forward then jump about five feet to touch a rope above then land 50 feet towards the ground as a rope tethered around my waist supported my body.
I injected myself in the middle of the line not wanting to be first or last. I would watch the outcome to see how others survived. As they climbed up and achieved the task, the nagging thought of “what if the rope breaks” seems to have subsided a bit. But now it’s my turn.
With heart pounding as heavily as a warrior drum, I move towards the rung. As I stretch my arm to grasp the next niche and find my grip, I question my sanity at even attempting to do it. I did not realize how hard the climb would have been. It had looked so easy as others went up. Finally reaching the top, the fear and horror resume as now I realize the stinginess of the foothold. The very wide cylindrical column offers little support to grip and to face forward. “How am I going to do this?”
I didn’t want to slip and fall, that would not have given me the victory I quietly yearned for. I intimately embrace this huge, smooth, rounded column, and rested a while to strategize. I start to look down, 50 feet, and immediately feel the magnetic pull towards the earth. FEAR!!
“I can’t do this”, I thought. “Better look straight ahead and focus on this task right before me”, I tell myself. So my focus shifts to the task at hand. I’ll worry about the next step later.
With a sigh of relief, I finally face forward, I look up at the five-foot rope and think, “There’s no way I am jumping to touch that thing. It’s good enough for me to be up here right now!” Who would’ve thought I would make it this far? certainly not I.
My next task was to jump 50 feet towards the ground. My mind starts to whine again, “What if the rope breaks?” It didn’t break with all the others”, I thought, “But I could very well be the first!” I hesitate and the whining thought starts up again. But this time before it got louder I decided I won’t let it, and I jumped.
The victory was sweet. I felt so incredibly wonderful and powerful and fulfilled. I had done something that I never did before in my life, and never would have voluntarily planned to do. In that very moment, I made my discovery about fear that I’d like to share as lessons learned to inspire you:
My discovery about fear
First, fear is an imposter; it’s not real. When you entertain it, you conjure up thoughts that on many occasions have never happened, nor will ever happen. The irony is that you, like me tell yourself that you’re protecting yourself when in fact you’re dwarfing yourself. Fear is crippling and inhibiting. It inhibits your power and your growth to become all you can become and robs the world of the impact you could have made had you stepped out to do the things you’re called to do.
Second, you are stronger than fear. That emotion or feeling or talk in your head that you call fear is anything that you make it to mean. You have the power and the strength to interpret that feeling or thought in the moment to be a rush of something great you are about to accomplish. Interpret it to mean something that empowers you rather than something that stops you. You’ll get so much further ahead in your life
Finally, fear weakens with each step you take. Instead of looking at the entire task of climbing the pole and jumping 50 feet towards the ground, look at taking the first step. This has been the most insightful revelation for me.
Simply focus on getting up the rung, then turning, then jumping, instead of viewing the entire scary perspective of trying to figure it all out. If you’ve never done it before you will never be able to figure it all out, at least not all by yourself, so you simply just need to take the first step and the next one will become clear as you get to the end of the first. This will be huge for you if you can simply do that.
How is fear stopping you in your life?
As you review your life, what is it that you’ve been delaying due to fear? Is it the job you hate and want to leave? Is it a horrible relationship that you know you should not be in? Is it a business that you know you need to start to make your impact on the world? What is it?
Whatever it is that you are finding yourself fearful of, I invite you to make a commitment today to take one single step in the direction that you need to go. Perhaps this could mean starting the research for what you’ve been fearful of doing. Getting a hold of someone to talk to about next steps or just taking the step to get started not knowing how it will all pan out. Just get started.
Stop looking at the entire journey. You can never and will never figure it all out on your own. If you could have, it wouldn’t scare you and you would have already achieved it. Taking the step is all inside of your growing to be who you were meant to be. Your only responsibility is to take the step and the path will open up to you as a result. And very soon that hairy, audacious, scary goal will have been achieved and then you’ll be ready to take on an even bigger and hairier one. This is growth and that’s how you can use fear to give you the power to achieve it.
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