“We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear ‘staying stuck.’ We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying.”
― Susan Jeffers, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”
Last week, I wrote about speaking your mind, even if your voice shakes.
As Susan Jeffers points out, as humans we fear many things. Using our voices is scary because we fear rejection, we fear (sometimes irrationally and sometimes with good cause) that we will be physically hurt for expressing our opinions. We fear making a change in career or relationship status or in learning something new because — what if we fail?! What if it’s not the “right” choice? What if we regret it later? We can “what if” ourselves to death.
I have several kids who don’t want to try new things because — what if they fail?! What if they burn the food, fail the class, massacre the new language? So? What if they do? They will have learned something. Once, one of my daughters made macaroni and cheese for the first time. I neglected to tell her to drain the water from the noodles and she mixed in the cheese packages with the cooking water. It was inedible — but she also never made that mistake again. She learned, she adapted and she got better.
Consistency is comfortable and we human beings like comfort. We like the known — even if it’s meh — rather than the scary unknown and so we stay stuck. Stuck because we were too scared to take action. Stuck because we worried about what someone else might say or think. Stuck because we’ll take the devil we know rather than risk the chance of something worse. Fear can immobilize us.
I remember talking to a woman who felt strongly that she should adopt from Romania but she was too afraid of the many unknowns to take action. The country closed to international adoption and she missed her window. Her comment to me was she wished she had been able to be fearless like me.
Oh sister. I’m not fearless. I’m scared out of my wits all the time — I just do it anyway. Adopting from Romania in 1991 was, hands-down, the scariest thing I had done in my life up to that point. I didn’t speak the language, it was way before the Internet, I didn’t know who would/could help us with our adoptions, I didn’t know how long I would be gone and I didn’t know how we would be able to afford it. But, I did trust the strong feelings I had that I should go, so I did. Did I mention it was scary?? I lived in fear for most of the two months I was there — but I was able to adopt two little girls and bring them home. I’m glad the fear did not stop me.
I still do lots of things that are scary. All. The. Time. Running for office? Totally scary. Going for a Ph.D.? I am constantly awash in imposter syndrome and fear — fear that I’m too old, fear that I will never learn the academic vernacular, fear I won’t get published, fear that I won’t find a job when I’m done. You know what? I don’t actually know the outcome. Some of those fears might come true. Maybe all of them. But I’m doing it anyway — and l’m loving what I’m learning, even through the fear.
Brené Brown, known for her research on shame and vulnerability said that “vulnerability if not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen, where we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness. It is our greatest measure of courage.”
Don’t wait for the fear to be gone. That day will never come. Feel the fear — and then do it anyway.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.