What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
I asked this question to friends and readers ages 20-65. Here are a few of the replies:
- Write a memoir and not worry about what my family thinks.
- Quit my job and find a better one.
- Start online dating. Again.
- Become a foster parent.
- Ask him out on a date.
- Learn ballroom dancing at age 65.
- Travel the world–all 4 corners
- Overcome fear of water and scuba dive the Barrier Reef.
- Be more adventurous outside my comfort zone.
- Dial up my appetite for taking risks to say things that might upset others.
Interestingly, one responder wrote: “My first thought is that I would make foolhardy mistakes that my justified fears keep me safe from making.”
Good point. But fear and caution are not the same.
And here’s a response from a middle-aged man that touched me most.
“If I wasn’t afraid, I would become the Me I was born to be.”
Notice the essential verbs in the above answers? Start, become, go, ask, learn…
Fear can hold us back from achieving our goals, realizing our potential, and trying new things. We know this in our hearts but have trouble moving past it.
Fear of risk.
Fear of discomfort.
Fear of failure.
Fear of being judged.
Fear of looking like a fool.
Fear of getting emotionally hurt.
Fear of the unfamiliar.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of the Blank Page
Writers are no strangers to fear.
Do I really have any talent? Will anyone care what I have to say? What if my writing is crap? What if I lose my creative spark? What if my book never gets published?
Name your writing fear. Say hello. Shake hands. Then wrestle it to the ground.
You’ll probably have to do this on most days.
Know that wherever you are in your creative journey, you have plenty of company. Face the fear and write anyway.
“Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last.”
― The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Here’s one of my answers. Ride on a space shuttle.
Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by people who do bold, physically demanding activities. Motorcycle stunt riders, platform divers, tightrope walkers. My mother tells me that while watching the Ringling Bros. circus I was drawn to the woman being shot out of a giant cannon. Astronauts were my heroes.
Lest you think, I was a kid daredevil—not a chance. The scariest thing I did was ride a bicycle down a hill while sitting backward. Oh, here’s where I should mention my fear of heights. While I loved amusement park rides that spun me around, fear of heights kept me from the Ferris Wheel and giant roller coaster.
Me, age 11, on the high dive in Miami. Never jumped. Just wanted to impress my friends.
Then came claustrophobia. (Perhaps its origins can be traced to my brothers zipping me inside a sleeping bag. Or maybe getting forcibly held underwater in a swimming pool?)
Yet, I still wanted to be that girl who could blast into space.
Along with dreams of becoming a teacher, writer, and dancer, I harbored a secret desire to ride in a rocket ship one day.
Then, in my early twenties, I developed an extreme fear of flying.
So much for going to the moon.
Enter my fearless friend George who thrived on physical risk-taking. George tried to get me to go skydiving with him.
Jumptown in Massachusetts
He showed me videos of his fantastic jumps. He broke down the mechanics, safety features, let me examine the parachute. He promised to hold on to me. I enjoyed this vicarious adventure but knew I’d never jump out of an airplane.
Performing a grand jete in ballet class would have to remain my “airborne” thrill.
Learning from the Pros
In June 2017, Alex Hunnold, 31, became the first person to scale El Capitan in Yosemite–a 3,000-ft monstrous granite wall…without using ropes or other safety gear. Only his hands and feet. Alex’s incredible historic event is documented in a new National Geographic Film, Free Solo.
Just watching a clip gave me vertigo.
In this crazy sport, there is no room for error. A mistake means death.
National Geographic, Free Solo.
Most of us will never have what it takes to climb a rocky ledge or become an astronaut. Most of us probably wouldn’t even want to. What draws me to these fantastical feats is the question of how he or she overcame the Fear Factor.
Through years of intense training, Alex developed an astonishingly strong mental ability to control fear. So much so that neuroscientists are studying his brain. In an MRA scan experiment, Dr. Jane Joseph reported zero activation in Alex’s amygdala–the “fear center” of the brain.
“A lot of people say I don’t feel fear, or that I don’t fear death, but that’s just not true!…I think I just have more of an acceptance that I will die at some point. I understand that, but I don’t want to baby myself along the way. I want to live in a certain way, which requires taking a higher degree of risk, and that’s acceptable to me.” (National Geographic)
There are lessons for us normal folks on the ground.
Challenge your fears.
Set a goal.
Plan and Prepare.
Take baby steps.
Focus on the rewards
This all takes courage.
Courage doesn’t mean fearlessness. Courage is facing your fear and doing it anyway. Courage is a muscle.
I’m happy to report that I’ve worked through some of my long-time fears. Though I’ll never be a comfortable flyer, I still board the plane, anyway. I practice relaxation techniques. I focus on where I’m traveling to and who I’ll get to see. The fear is no longer in charge.
I can now drive across major bridges without getting panicky.
But don’t ask me to go caving or enter a submarine!
The kind of risks I’m comfortable taking are mostly in the emotional realm. Relationships. New experiences. Adventures…as long as they take place on the ground.
Writing fiction gives you a chance to live other lives. The main character in my new story is an 11-year-old girl who plans to ride every roller coaster in the world and grow up to be an astronaut.
Sometimes when I feel discouraged by the limitations my fears bring, I remember the prolific writer Ray Bradbury, whose science fiction stories launched his readers into outer space.
In real life, Mr. Bradbury was terrified to get on a plane.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Have you faced a fear?