I’ve found myself contemplating the concept of fear a lot lately. And beyond my contemplation about fear in theory, I’ve been willingly and blissfully accepting it into my life with open arms. I’ve been living it, breathing it, and even finding myself grateful for fear.
All the aforementioned contemplation, has lead to both a shift in the way I view fear, and also a shift in how I’m choosing to work with it. Notice my choice of wording, I said “work with it.” I easily could have said “overcome it.” My new language is a result of my shifted view, and therein lies my biggest “ah-ha’ moment.
Let me walk you through a real fear of mine, to help you understand my new viewpoint. For all my years walking the planet, 32 to be exact (I love my age btw…the 30s are awesome), I can distinctly recall having a severe fear around putting myself in situations where I could publicly fail. One specific way it really shows up is a big, giant, slightly debilitating fear of public speaking. We’re talking work phone calls, presenting to two people, 20 people, 100+ people, conference calls, teaching a yoga class, literally every form of public speaking sparks real fear. Every single one. Some people choose not to believe this, but step in my shoes for a moment, and you know it’s oh so real.
Here’s what it feels like in my body: I get really hot in the face, my heart races, my hands sweat, sometimes my vision gets a little unstable, last to the nerves party is my brain, as it starts planning the ‘perfect’ thing to say (which most times will never be uttered from my lips). It is a real physical response for me.
My deep desire to eliminate this fear led to lots of books, counseling, a hypnotist, and a number of other attempted solutions. None of which ended up working. So I turned to a friend for some advice. “You’ve got to face your fear, then you’ll overcome it. If you defeat your fear, it will go away.” Her theory was , that instead of trying to control the emotional response, choose to do the physical thing that’s scaring you, and it will go away (Kind of like a kid finally looking under their bed to discover that there is actually no monster underneath). Sounded simple enough. So, I figured I would finally give it a shot. The next opportunity I got to stand up in front of a room, I was going for it. And I did. I shot up in front of a room full of my peers, dealing with all my physical and psychological responses, and I spoke. I thought to myself “phew, glad I’m done with that fear. On to the next one. Hi five Kat!”
The end. Just kidding….
A few weeks later, I was presented with another opportunity to stand up. A topic came up that I had a strong and fairly educated opinion on. “Here we go. I’ve got this” I thought. Then, 2 seconds later, my usual responses started back up. Sweaty hands, hot face, racing heart, wonky vision, all my symptoms were coming back. “Are you kidding me? What the hell? I overcame you a few weeks ago.”
You see, the idea of overcoming fear gave me this mental picture of conquering a mountain. Conquer the mountain and conquer your fear. Thinking of it another way, once you get to the top, (you know, do the thing you’re afraid of), then everything else is downhill. Only, the theory, and the actual practice yielded two different results. If fear was something to overcome, something like running up a mountain, shouldn’t I feel at ease once I’ve taken it on? Shouldn’t the view from the supposed top feel like joy and ease?
The short answer is, no! Fear doesn’t work like running up a mountain. Fear feels more like running into a headwind. Some days it’s a light sea breeze, and other days it’s a gail force tropical storm named Kat. The point is, fear never goes away, and we shouldn’t want it to. Wind is also never disappears. They’re both never-ending invisible forces. Some days you want to pack up and head home because the wind is too strong, and other days you feel like a total badass beast mode, flying right into the wind. Either way, its ok. The wind will shift, and so will your fear.
So what do you do when the wind blows hard? You run fucking harder. You don’t pray it ends, you duck your shoulder and trust that while the wind won’t go away, you’re going to become a stronger runner. And what do you do when the fear grows and becomes more real? You lean in. You embrace it, and you really take it on. And while you know that the fear won’t go away, you trust that it will make you stronger.