Stories that define me: facing fears.

*This is the third in my mini-series on stories of my past that define me. I’ll write these periodically, as the ideas flow. Enjoy.*

I think fear is largely innate…and maybe that’s just my opinion because of the observations I’m about to share. But think about it…I don’t know anyone that was born fearless. I think facing and overcoming fears is a learned trait and one that everyone has to overcome in their lives at least once, or maybe over and over again until they see fear as a propeller towards growth rather than a paralysis mechanism.

Growing up, one of my biggest ‘innate’ fears was being alone and doing things alone (I touched on this in one of my last posts in this series). I firmly believe this innate fear for me is because I never had to do anything alone. I always had my sisters. We experienced every ‘first’ together during childhood and adolescence, for the most part. Moving away from the pack was unnatural for me and well, scary. Enter fear.

For me, fear meant being shy. It also meant sticking with the status quo. And that meant never sticking my neck out there or making decisions that were different from what my sisters did or different from what I was comfortable with. Enter comfort zone. See, fear and comfort zone are so closely tied together for me, it’s ridiculous. (and I realize that this isn’t a unique fear or finding…I am sure this may be more normal for many, but looking back at my patterns is really helping me continue to break out of comfort zones and unseat them more). And once I am stuck in my comfort zone, it’s really REALLY hard to climb out and decide to do something different.

While I’d love to say that my divorce helped me face fears more than anything else, that wasn’t a decision…it was forced upon me to cope with. That first year of separation and living alone and facing all sorts of fears was not by choice, it was not something I ever would have done on my own. And not to diss my own growth or discount what I went through, facing fears during that time was involuntary…but looking back, it really made me realize just how many fears I had and how many were so deeply seated. Living alone. BEING alone. Doing things independently. Taking chances, risks, trying new things. All foreign concepts to me. So while I faced my fears during this time, what I faced more was just how comfortable I’d gotten in my little nook of comfort and how little I was actually growing. I think fear, fear of change, routine and being in a comfort zone were contributing factors to my divorce, unbeknownst to me until…now. I firmly see that more than I ever did before. And it makes me more thankful for where I am today in my life.

I think that the ultimate change for me, in facing my fears head-on rather than pushing them aside for sake of the status quo and comfort zone, was starting my job. And not just any job. But a job halfway across the country. A job that would force me to be more verbal, present myself more confidently, and prove myself. A job that would also allow me to hone the skills I’d cultivated for the past 8 years at my previous job (8 years PLUS…talk about comfort zones!!) and learn new ones. Teach myself more about the areas I consider myself weak in. ASK QUESTIONS. <<-for some reason, I have always been afraid of asking questions for fear of sounding stupid…but ya know what? if I don’t ask the question and try to fake it, that usually backfires more than just asking the damn question. Truth. A lesson I learn all the time, over and over again. 

Taking this job was sort of the seachange moment for me…where things all of a sudden felt just a little bit less scary. Traveling alone. Being alone. Standing up in front of people alone. (notice a theme here…being ALONE!). alonealonealone. This is what has allowed me to face my fears. Doing it by myself. Alone. Sometimes because I have to, but other times because I choose to.

And on days where I feel that shyness creeping back up (today, for example, as I face a few meetings and things I need to do on my own as my boss is on vacation…it’s those fearful moments I had for almost the entire three-month maternity leave she had, where I was forced to ACT and BE and DO…but I did it then, and I can do it now, right?!), and that fear driving me away from what I need to do, instead of towards it, I am going to harness the fear for good and ACT and BE and DO all over again.

Because that’s how I roll now…I face fear. I use it to motivate, not paralyze. It’s an everyday process and an everyday learning cycle for me, but for me, facing fears has been more rewarding than almost anything I can think of to equate it to.

How about you? Are you good at facing fears? Do you instinctively shy away from it? What have you learned from your own patterns when it comes to fear? 

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34 thoughts on “Stories that define me: facing fears.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I know, I am, we all are, but exploring what drives me and what paralyzes me is so helpful! And I just read your post! Awesome!

  1. You know I write about fear a LOT. And I’ve been reading about becoming intimate with fear (as Pema Chodron says). I think becoming intimate with it means facing it, looking at it… not FEARING it.

    Sadly, sometimes it is forced upon us… but when it is, that is when we realize we’re stuck… when we’re reacting out of fear. But yes, the growth that comes after is exactly what we need.

    Awesome AWESOME growth and beautiful insights!

    1. Being intimate with fear…that is a really good way of looking at it so as NOT to fear it but to learn from it! And I think you are so right on about when we are forced into it, that we realize we are stuck. Absolutely agree. Thank you!

      1. Ohhh I love that concept T – of getting intimate with fear. HUGE if you can get to that point, such a major transformation can happen if you can not only learn to embrace change but to embrace the fear that often comes with change? Giant step forward.

  2. Ah, fear…my old nemesis. One important thing that I’ve learned is that bravery isn’t about not having fears…it’s about feeling the fear and not allowing it to stand in my way. And when I feel fear, I stop for a moment and remind myself that I’m being presented with an opportunity for learning and growth, as the boundaries of my comfort zone get challenged. I’m getting better at moving ahead despite fear, but it’s tough sometimes.

    Great post!

    1. Bravery isn’t about not having fears – amen…all about not allowing it to stop me and also FEELING it, because I think that’s still important. it’s not about NEVER being scared, it’s learning to live with and learn from it!

    1. Thank you! I am glad you like this post too! It is a natural inclination to say NO when you are afraid, than to say yes and take that leap. But it’s almost always worth it, even if it is a little scary! good for you!

  3. I can totally identify with your fear of being alone and doing things alone – and like you, I was forced to face this fear due to my divorce. It’s a painful process, but as I work my way through it, I’m realizing more and more the benefits it brings to the way I experience life.

    1. Thanks for visiting! I am glad that while it is painful, that you are realizing how much you are learning and growing too. very important. Hang in there!

    1. It is easier and safer, isn’t it? But sometimes when you just go for it, the reward far outweighs the fear. Not always, but usually! I gotta remind myself when I am scared to do something, that it’s probably because it is out of my comfort zone, but it probably is worth a shot anyway!

  4. I both agree and disagree that you are not born fearless – whilst I recall being shy(which lasted for years… okay, I still am!) and hiding behind my parents’ legs, kids **must** be fearless at some point because they learn by experimenting, especially when it comes to food. They’ll put almost anything in their mouth to taste it up until a certain age, and they’ll usually throw themselves around or climb things without considering the consequence. Maybe because, once you learn the consequence, that’s when you become afraid.

    I was painfully shy for years, but a couple of years back something clicked for me. I think it was seeing what a hermit my mum has become. Watching how she lets her fear cripple her and prevent her from doing very simple things like picking me up from the airport (oh no! It’s dark, and who knows what the traffic or parking might be like!) or going somewhere she has never been before has really shown me what I **don’t** want to be like. It’s easier to hide but the payoff for facing your fears is worth it.

    So now, even though I have a very good (medical) reason to fear unfamiliar activities, it is my fear of mum’s style of fear that actually makes me get out there and do things! You’re right, fear is a good motivator, provided you use it to your advantage as you and I seem to.

    1. You bring up a good point, Ness. I guess as a child, being fearless can be innate, because until you experience fear, how would you know what it is or to shy away from it? As for shyness, it is easier to hide and run away from things because of it, but as you say, I’d rather try and work on it then get into a bigger hole of shyness and solitude where I just don’t face anything. Good points!

  5. Facing fear and using it as a motivator makes you a very mindful, successful woman, Jo. :) You know that I have two sisters, and we all grew up together as military brats supporting each other in new territory. That’s just how it goes when you have sisters, am I right? I think that when I was forced to move away from home to go to college, that’s when I first learned how to face my fears. I’m super shy at first, but as soon as I see that I have the ability to do something, I’m pretty confident and never seem to have an issue. (Of course, I get that natural nervousness just before something important goes down, but hey, that’s just how it goes.)

    And I can’t begin to explain to you how much I can relate to being involuntarily forced into change/facing fear. When I got laid off, it was such a huge slap in the face, but man…I don’t even need to tell you how much of a blessing it’s been. You know it. You’ve read it. Successful people take what’s been handed to them and use it for their benefit. They don’t mope. They don’t regress. They push through, face fear, and they gain wisdom from it.

    Loved this post. :) (Can you tell?)

    1. Thank you friend for an insightful comment as always! You are the epitome of facing fears, especially growing up and now, with a layoff and finding your own way. That’s huge. That takes courage and GUTS. and you are proving you have it in you to do it. I am so proud!

  6. “Alone. Sometimes because I have to, but other times because I choose to.”
    I like that. I stayed in such a crappy marriage because I thought it was better then being alone. The ‘aha’ moment for me came when I realised I was more afraid of being in the same situation in 20 years having wasted my life in a marriage that made me unhappy than being alone.

    In an ideal world I wouldn’t have chosen to be alone but I now know it’s not something to fear – instead its something to savour and look at as a new opportunity. I would never have taken the time to realise that I was worth more than I ever thought if I hadn’t been forced to make the decison to go it alone. I guess sometimes fear gives you the kick in the butt you sometimes need!

    1. Fear does kick you in the butt when you need it! The key is harnessing the fear to move forward, not letting it hold you back. You too are the epitome of doing just that, of getting out of your marriage instead of staying in something miserable. That takes courage too. A lot of it! Good on you!

  7. You have come along ways my friend. Fear is hard for everyone to tackle and that whole being alone part, wasn’t that where we gained so much knowledge about ourselves. I think fear brings good things when you overcome it.

  8. It’s interesting. You and I have many similar characteristics, but our upbringings were pretty different, so I come at this topic from a different angle. I’ve always felt like a little bit of a loner. I have a big family, but I was the only girl. In my 20s, I moved all over the country, facing all sorts of fears head-on. This is not to say that I don’t have fears (ha!), but being on my own doesn’t top the list. That said, now that I am settled back in my home state w/ a husband and children, I am very protective of the stability we’ve built. Now, I kind of fear change!

    1. You’re right! We do! Except the upbringing part. I admire what you did growing up and facing fears head-on like that. I am glad I am doing that now, but in a way, wish I started doing it sooner in life. Never too late to start though!

  9. Fear is totally intimidating. I used to be the girl that quit as soon as things got rough/tough. But I’m proud to say that I how come a long way since then. I think my New York experience proves I don’t quit when things get tough anymore!

  10. i think we are all born fearless, and it’s what we learn from our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, society that sets are standards and our fears. When you trust yourself and face a fear head-on (like you’ve done), you get a glimpse of that fearlessness for a moment. and the feelings of empowerment and pride stay with us a bit longer.

    in my experience, that bit of fearlessness however does grow. With each obstacle we overcome, that moment lasts a little longer and stays with us a little longer. Until one day we realize just how less fearful we are. Here’s to supporting one another in all those moments and relishing in the growth!

    1. Thank you for stopping by!!! And I love your comment and perspective on this one, I think fearlessness absolutely does grow as you face them. And I am all for supporting each other in those ‘fearless’ moments and relishing the growth!!

  11. A timely post for me because I have been working on identifying the things that I fear. There was a period in my life where I also feared being alone and overcame it when I was forced to be alone. My most recent realization is that I have a fear of suffering, which I think holds me back from running to the potential that I know I am capable of – something I’m trying to work on these days. Great post.

    1. Thanks girl! Fear of suffering…yes that would explain feeling like you are holding back, absolutely! I am glad this came at a good time for you. I think we can all explore our fears a little more than we do. It’s sometimes easier to hide behind them instead.

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