Moving Beyond The Fear: Discover How to Own Your Fear Instead of Letting It Own You
It had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. The first time I said out loud that I wanted to go skydiving, I could feel my nerves surfacing and haunting my whole body with a new realization: “if you say it to other people, now you have to hold yourself accountable to make this happen.” But rather than let a fear of heights cripple me, I felt like I needed to take a big bold move to stare my fears in the face. It felt like the ultimate way of showing myself that my fears would not be in charge. Even so, every time I’d envision what it’d be like to see my feet slowly inch off of a plane while I looked down 13,000 feet below, nausea would swallow me whole.
A few months ago, I told my boyfriend that I wanted to make it happen at some point in the near future. We had planned a few trips and had looked into skydiving in a foreign country, but the overall cost was pretty hefty in the countries we were traveling to, so we opted out. Part of me was relieved that there was a reason why we couldn’t commit to the plans – that I could push it out of my mind for a few extra weeks until the situation arose again.
But when my boyfriend asked me how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, I knew that it was time for me to face my fears and cross an item off the bucket list. I confidently told him that I wanted to go skydiving. Kevin’s face lit up with a surge of joy and energy that only a daredevil would express at that moment. It would be his second time jumping out of an airplane and so, aside from the security that just having him there would offer me, I knew hearing about his prior experiences might help me conquer my own fears.
Me: “Were you scared?”
Kevin: “Absolutely not. I was excited. I actually insisted that I go first!”
I laughed at his sincere enthusiasm and immediately dismissed his courage as something that was purely in his nature: as the adventurer and thrill-seeker, these types of thrills didn’t make him feel bounded and trapped by fear. For my boyfriend, these experiences gave him an opportunity to step into his bravery and release the limitations that he felt like daily life placed on him. I looked up to his fearlessness… but in contrast to the anxious butterflies fluttering in my stomach, it also made me feel like we were fundamentally different.
“I hope I’m not the one person who can’t follow through with this when the time actually comes.” I’d repeat in my head.
I allowed myself to process Kevin’s response further and had an idea: I would channel my “inner Kevin” and insist on going first. It occurred to me that rather than running to hide behind fear, I could run TOWARD the object that was stirring the fear inside of me. I realized that the idea of skydiving felt like it was coming toward me with force while I was shivering in the corner. But this didn’t need to be an instance that was happening to me; I could just as easily adjust my mentality and recognize that I needed to approach this experience and continue to step forward.
As soon as I made the decision to go first, the fear seemed to dissolve. The day came and I eagerly awaited my turn, insisted on going first, and stared my fear of heights in the face during an exhilarating, blissful free-fall from thousands of feet in the air.
My fear no longer shackled me to the floor. By understanding it, acknowledging it, and going toward it, I (literally) gave myself the opportunity to fly.
So why did this work for me? What is fear really? And how can we use it to our advantage?
Understand why the fear exists
Your fears are trying to protect you. They’ve identified something as potentially painful or life-threatening and are signaling to your body that you need to avoid the fear-provoking thing to keep yourself safe.
But how often does fear arise in areas where the threat is surprisingly low? People all over the world experience stage fright – and I think we can all agree that the potential for real-life harm is extremely low and doesn’t equate to the nervous energy that stirs us up. Or how many times has the fear of telling your partner a difficult truth when you cannot guarantee his or her response evoked real fear and anxiety inside of you? Again, not a life or death situation, and yet, it can be crippling to some.
Whatever your fear is, ask yourself how it is trying to protect you. You can then assess whether or not the activity’s risk warrants the fear – if you are thinking of slacklining between high-rise buildings, perhaps that fear is warranted and you should listen to it. However, if you’re excited to launch a business, have done your necessary planning and financial allocation but continue to allow fear to hold you back, maybe that’s worth reassessing.
Welcome your fear into your world
If you’ve done the work to understand why your fear exists, it is time to welcome it into your world. Contrary to popular belief that fear needs to be eliminated in order to move forward, fear is a basic human function and there is a NEED for it!
Instead, we can MAKE SPACE for our fear to exist. We can welcome it into our world and appreciate our body’s way of trying to protect us. Once we’ve done so, we can determine if the fear is positively serving us. If we decide it is NOT positively serving us, we can recognize that maybe the stirring we feel inside is really just FASCINATION rather than fear.
And what do you do when you’re fascinated by something?
You GO TOWARD it rather than run from it. You emit curiosity and leap at the opportunity to learn more. You embrace your courage and your body’s movement and boldly step up onto the stage. You trust in yourself and your relationships and you lean into the difficult conversation. You insist on going first rather than anxiously clinging to your chair.
So the next time you’re afraid, slow yourself down, make peace with your fear and allow yourself to see it for what it truly is. You may find that once you channel your bravery and fascination, nothing can hold you down.