I’ve never been a very brave person. That probably would come as a surprise to a lot of people who know me. I have grown up performing on stage with few to no nerves.
Yet, when when I think back to my childhood, to my time in high school and college, and now out of college, one of the defining attributes I see in my person is fear.
When I was a child if you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I might have said a teacher, or nothing at all. But I would never say a dancer or a writer – and the reason I didn’t say this was because I was scared. Those were dreams that were too frightening to achieve.
When my mom asked me why I didn’t want to do Modern Dance, I told her it was because I liked ballet better and didn’t like the style, but the real reason was that I was too scared to try a new style, afraid I would look foolish.
When I had to change schools I was too scared to go to the local high school, so I chose to do a cyber school instead. In college I hid away most of my freshman year because I was afraid of making friends. Even now, I sometimes avoid challenging myself merely because I am too afraid.
Except now I try harder to overcome my fears.
And how did I come to this point?
It was a process, as anything in life is, but it came to me in three steps.
- I challenged myself – and succeeded.
- I traveled – alone.
- I let myself dream.
I know, it doesn’t seem like much. But I think that the principle behind these three steps are applicable to many fears.
Fear can be broadly defined as feeling of failure, of ultimate doom. Of course there are more base fears (fear of death, injury, etc. – but those are instinctual fears, which are quite different and more unavoidable than the sort of fear that I struggled with). The only way to overcome such feeling of doom is to replace it with its opposite. What is the opposite of failure and doom? Success, sufficiency, and hope.
In order to begin to move on from the sense of fear that dominated my life I had to force myself to do something uncomfortable, a challenge, something I could indeed fail at. So I wrote a paper, one that was challenging, that proposed an unusual argument….one that my professor could hate.
And I got a fantastic grade. She admired how I went somewhere that others hadn’t dare go. My challenge ended in success. It was a small challenge perhaps, but it was one that showed me that I reaped greater rewards when I challenged myself. I started to learn to dream of success rather than failure.
The second step happened when I studied abroad. Going to Scotland was a challenge in itself. I was take completely out of my comfort zone. I went somewhere away from my friends and family. Then once I got comfortable there I traveled, by myself and with others. This is when I learned that I could be sufficient. When I relied on myself I could do things, sometimes I would make mistakes, but I would fix those mistakes. I learned it was okay to mess up, I learned to put myself out into the open to be critiqued as needed. By traveling – especially alone – I learned to experience the world from a place of vulnerability rather than of safety.
Finally, the third step was I allowed myself to dream a bit. I fell in love, I began to share more of myself with someone else. I realized I had to open myself up and be completely honest with another person. Not just people I don’t care about (professors and people encountered through travels) but to people who matter to me. My new friend group and my boyfriend both encouraged me to show my true self, to accept character critique and praise and always to grow into a deeper person. This in turn allowed me to start dreaming, by opening up to others I also opened up to myself, examined my life and started to allow myself to dream a future for myself.
Of course I’m not perfect. I still fear. Especially since graduating it is difficult not to be afraid when it seems like this new future I am dreaming is taking forever to get started…when money is tight and student loans looming….when I am isolated from the people who helped me to dream bigger….
But through my experiences I learned that it is better to live in hope than in fear. That my fears have held me back too much and that it is more important to dare and fail, than to play it safe and never succeed. So I continue to work to conquer the many fears that hold me back, remembering to believe in success, to believe in my own sufficiency, and to believe in my dreams.