8 Lessons from Fear!
Fear is a curious thing. It’s something we all experience in varying degrees. Some of us go out of our way to avoid any feelings of fear and then others of us subject ourselves to fearful situations just for the fun of it. Some fears we play with – like roller coasters and horror movies – and others we stay far away from – like the edge of a cliff. We all know the big tough guy that isn’t afraid of taking a fist but a spider will send him screaming from the room. Fear is truly nonsensical.
Fear, for as real as it feels, lives in our mind. It’s a glorious ability we have as humans to go into the future, picture the worst thing that could ever happen, feel the terror involved in that and bring that craziness into the present just for the “thrill” of experiencing it now. Most times though, it’s not much of a thrill – it can be debilitating even if we are the ones creating it for ourselves.
If you’ve been feeling stuck, one of the factors in that “stuck-ness” is that you are unable to move forward. A large part of what prevents forward motion is fear. We have to come to a point of surrender. We have to realize that while there is a lot we can control – the future is not one of them. If facing your major fears seems too daunting yet, start with something really small – for me, a couple years ago, it was going out in public in very small ways…like getting the mail. In the wise words of Darren Rowse from Pro-blogger, “Even wobbly courage is courage.” It will get easier as you practice it.
What Fear Taught Me
This past week we were camped by a little stream that had a small dam to create a quiet swimming area. Each morning, I spent time watching the water pour over the little dam and splash down the rocks. And I wanted to kayak it. People often give an appreciative look when I say I like to kayak. Often they say, “You’re brave.” and I imagine they picture me careening through white water rapids, my paddle expertly whipping from side to side to keep me afloat. It’s a good picture – but not an accurate one. I live on the prairies, my kayaking usually consists on a reclined seat, paddle stationary and the only thing I’m careening through is a good book.
But this river wasn’t my usual waterway. It had spunk and rocks and it called to me. One evening, 4 people with inner tubes and paddles showed up, plopped into the river below the dam and disappeared around the curve. That sealed it for me. If they could tube it, I could kayak it.
Lesson #1 – Fear is legit. There are things you should be afraid of. It was put in our system for a reason. Sometimes it should be listened to and sometimes it shouldn’t. Fear doesn’t have to stop you. You can “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” (Susan Jeffers)
My husband was quick to point out that tubes are smaller than kayaks, they are easier to get into and out of. Over the next day the list of ‘what-if’s’ became extensive. What if I got stuck and there’s no cell coverage? What if I have to portage – I didn’t have proper footwear. We didn’t know how long it would take. We didn’t know where it ended and I could get picked up. The list grew and grew but all I knew is that his list was starting to scare me and if I didn’t just go, he might stir up enough fear in me that I wouldn’t go.
Lesson #2 – Other people’s fear can play a big role in how you manage your fear. Differentiate – their fear doesn’t have to become your fear.
Something inside me wanted to experience that river so bad – I just went for it. The Man agreed to find me at the end of my journey and I set up his phone so he could watch my progress on “Find Your Friends.” (There was no coverage so that didn’t work.) I started above the dam because I figured getting through the rocky downslope would be harder than anything I would face down the river. That proved to be true and I got hung up almost immediately. I worked to unwedge from between two rocks while ignoring the ‘I told you so’ look that I suspected might be coming my way from The Man on the riverbank. It worked and off I sailed around the corner to the great unknown.
Shortly after I left, a bald eagle soared low above me, winding his way down the river valley. So majestic. So beautiful. I wished I could soar as I bumped and splashed along. The river was more challenging than anything I’d been on, riddled with large rocks, shallow water, some rapids and lots of dead tree debris. There were times I’d hear the water rushing around the bend of the river and I didn’t know what I was in for. I learned to trust my kayak – it’s good at staying afloat. Each time I successfully arrived through a difficult stretch, I breathed a sigh of relief. The fear of what it might be was worse than the actual getting through the rapids and shallow stretches.
Lesson #3 – You are not in control of the universe. Most often you have to trust something other than yourself to get you through.
Lesson #4 – What we fear is often far worse than the reality.
On one of those switch backs I came flying around a corner trying to slow myself down and there on the steep bank ahead of me was a little bear. I frantically, and unsuccessfully, tried to back paddle because was trajectory was aimed right at him. Fortunately, he heard my paddle hit the water and his cute little bear bum scrabbled up the bank and out of sight. He was soooo cute! I was soooo scared! This was approximately 15 minutes into my trip and gave me brand new fears to contend with for the next couple hours.
No one had mentioned we were in bear country. The lidless garbage cans at the campground weren’t secured like they usually do in official “bear country.” Later that evening, I asked the campground owner if there were a lot of bear around. “Oh yes!” she said, “We shot 5 here last year. One of them, right on the beach!” That’s nice to know after I had spent an hour each morning hiking up and down hills. Had I known that ahead of time, there’s no way I wouldn’t have gone.
Lesson #5 – Sometimes there are things to be afraid of that you never even thought of! (I realize that’s not very encouraging but it is an exercise in surrender.)
Back in my kayak, shaking my way down the river I finally reached a point where it widened out and slowed down. Breathing with relief, I pulled out my phone to see if I had cell coverage. I didn’t. I looked up from my phone and there on the bank looking back at me was another bear. His head was poking through the tall grass on the bank, his ears were forward, and he had the most amused expression on his face. It reminded me of my dog when he’s hoping I’ll take a moment to play with him. I had my phone in my hand and could have easily snapped a picture but that was not my first reaction. My first reaction was to let out a loud guttural “HEY!!! Hey!Hey!Hey!!!” Poor thing turned and ran, crashing through the bush. My legs and hands were vibrating…I was terrified…and never more thrilled.
Lesson #6 – Pushing through your fear can give you the best gifts of your life.
The river finally deposited me into a lake and I worked my way to civilization and cell phone coverage. Whatever did we do before cell phones? My husband found me. All was well. A campground attendant where we reconnected asked where I’d been. He then told us that they used to do tubing runs down that river but someone had died a few years ago so they stopped doing them! Again, that was good to know AFTER my trip was over.
Lesson #7 – You’ll never have all the information you need to made an informed decision. Sometimes it’s better to just act on the information you have…and trust. (Are you seeing a theme here?)
I am so glad I never let my fear hold me back. This trip is definitely a highlight of my life so far. Would I do it again? By myself, probably not. With a friend, absolutely and I’d pack a whistle, those bottom gripping shoes, a hat and have food in case a bear encounter got personal!
Lesson #8 – There’s always something to learn!
This trip reinforced so much of what life has taught me about fear. So many of the fears I’ve wrestled with have led to the best moments of my life – like public speaking and business ownership. Have I overcome them? No. When I think I have, I become painfully aware that there’s more work to be done. It’s a powerful journey though.
What are you afraid of? Get curious about your fear. Your best moments in life may be on the other side of that fear.
What are your fears? Have you been able to work on any of them? Have they given you any ‘gifts’? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section or by email: trishwhite.ca