Last week, we talked about time—and the exhaustion or urgency we feel when we are not using it wisely. We also touched the surface of fear.
Fear. The ultimate “F” word. It can do so much damage, inhibit so much growth.
Have you ever stopped yourself from following your heart because you were afraid to take a risk, to make a change?
Our brains are hard-wired for fear, for good reason.
We need fear to stay alive. Our fear keeps us from walking into traffic, swimming in treacherous waters, and jumping off buildings, hoping to fly.
But what about our fear of coming into our own, of spreading our wings?
When my first husband died in a car accident, fourteen years ago this month, I was stunned, grief-stricken—and terrified. We had just moved to Woodstock, a rural town in upstate New York, four months before. Our oldest son was away at college; our daughter had just started 11th grade in a new school, and our youngest son had recently turned twelve. Jay and I had been together since the summer going into our senior year of high school.
I didn’t remember life without him.
Could there possibly be life without him?
I had to learn so many new things—from how to take my car in for a service check to how to take a vacation alone. I made tons of mistakes while navigating my new path, but I always tried not to let fear stand in my way.
It was often the little things that were the scariest.
I happen to be afraid of heights—and we happened to have an attic with a pull-down staircase made of unsteady, wooden steps held together with rope. I needed to get some paperwork out of the attic—some tax record or maybe the deed to the house—I don’t remember exactly, but some piece of paper that was now part of my new host of life responsibilities. I was terrified to pull down that ladder and climb up those stairs, and I obsessed about it for a few days. But, finally, I took a few deep breaths and took the risk. No one else was going to do it for me!
After I found the papers and made my way back down, I felt like I had accomplished a Herculean feat. In many ways I had. The confidence I gained from that simple task—the task that had previously engendered so much fear—made my next steps into unchartered territory that much easier.
It is true that there is a genetic base to fear.
We come in contact with a stressful stimulus, our brain releases chemicals that raise our heartbeat, quicken our breath, and energize our muscles—all preparatory measures that help us deal with emergency situations. But we, the wonderful, thinking, creative beings that we are, often imagine scary things, anticipate disasters that might never happen. Our minds provide the stimulation that sets the physical chain reaction of fear in motion.
We do not have to be in actual danger to be afraid. We just have to think that we might be! Take it from Mark Twain, who famously said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Just as we have the ability to imagine horrible outcomes, we also have the power to perceive situations differently.
Changing the way you see situations is a huge focus of psychologist Susan Jeffers in her oldie but goodie Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway, published in 1987 (https://smile.amazon.com/Feel-Fear-Do-Anyway/dp/0345487427/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1540726342&sr=8-1). If you’re unfamiliar with it, you may want to pick up a copy. If you’ve read it, it may be time to revisit. Jeffers does not claim that her book will help her readers rid themselves of fear. In fact, here’s her “Truth 1,” the first of her compelling list of truths in the second chapter of the book: “The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.” Jeffers helps readers acknowledge their fears and handle them. She provides simple (notice I didn’t say easy!) suggestions and exercises that guide readers through fear, insteadof becoming paralyzed by it.
Lorilee, a WomanPause reader, so aptly said in response to last week’s post, “I may be older, with less time, but I am also better at what I do, and more experienced.” Many of us can relate to those words of wisdom, but we still put off till tomorrow the rediscovery we could be doing today. We are afraid.
Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’ll try that later,” or “Now’s not the right time,” when your passion came calling?
Time and fear. Fear and time. Last week, I said that they were joined at the hip. It’s worth repeating.
Fear is uncomfortable, and we work really hard to push it down, do whatever we can to squash it, relegate it to some deep, dark space where we don’t dare venture. But dare we must—if we want to rediscover, uncover, if we want to live most fully now. Fear often lets us know when we’re “on to something,” something that may feed our souls.
Scary as it may be, we can expand the boundaries of our comfort zones, even if we take just one little step at a time. And with each step we take, we will gain more confidence, feel empowered. Truth #1: As long as we grow, we will experience fear. But we need not be chained by it. We truly can “feel the fear … and do it anyway.”
So … what fear is holding you back from feeding your soul? Where do you have to dare to venture to rediscover/uncover your passion?
Please leave a comment or shoot me an email! Let’s build community here at WomanPause and walk the rediscovery journey together.
See you next Friday!
P.S. Here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago.
The Attic Ladder
When I lost you
I was nowhere to be found.
Among the dense pines
Behind our house.
My house now.
The woods you loved
The house too
It had good bones
Always afraid of heights
To boost your rise
A timid mouse
Safe within your shadow.
But then I lost you.
And the attic called.
There were things in the attic.
Papers—the taxes, the deed, the will—all signed in your hand, the curve of the “J” just so
Paintings—the kids’ bright reds and purple on easel paper, yellowed and bent at the edges
Pictures—of you, of me, of us, of time
So little time
I had to climb the ladder.
The attic ladder.
I pulled it down with a rope.
And it swayed unsteadily
As I placed
One foot above the other
To wood rungs
Not looking up, or down, or back
Just straight ahead.
 Layton, Julia. “How Fear Works.” https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/fear4.htm
 Jeffers, Susan. Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway. Ballantine Books: New York. 1987