Once you “give up work,” it’s easy to excuse yourself from doing scary stuff. But every time you opt out because something is a bit scary, your life shrinks. Maybe a class looks interesting, but you’re afraid you’ll get lost trying to find where it’s being held. Joining a group that bikes together regularly sounds like fun until you start thinking about falling. And going over to meet your new neighbors makes perfect sense until you start worrying that they might not like you.
Fear can talk you out of a lot of things (except maybe running away from a grizzly bear). Every time it does, you wave off an experience that might have been worth the risk.
Earlier in our lives, this sense of self-preservation was offset by other things so we did the scary stuff anyway. As teens, it was peer pressure. We came up with really daring, really dumb ideas and acted on them—and are still laughing about some of them. During our work years, getting the job done pushed us to act even when we were terrified. That presentation the boss wanted you to do, that had all the appeal of eating of a live cockroach? You did it. As parents, we stepped up to things we were afraid of so our kids wouldn’t be afraid.
Now that the reasons we have to do scary stuff have evaporated, we don’t. And the sad part is that we are the ones who lose. Stepping up to fear builds confidence and helps your world expand. It makes you feel alive.
To be sure, there’s a lot going on that makes our world feel less than safe. But most of what we do to avoid “danger” doesn’t really keep it away. Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, put it this way in 1997: “Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” She goes on to urge “Do one thing every day that scares you.” That’s probably the very best thing we could all add to the daily routine.
This doesn’t mean you need to swim with the sharks or skydive solo. We do best when we take moderate risks. Sometimes, that means there’s some work to do to find the right middle ground before you step up to the thing you really want to do.
I was in that situation a few days ago. I’ve had both health and relationship changes that have me not so sure of my physical capabilities and on my own. Because of the fears those two issues can generate, I’ve been talking myself out of international travel I truly would love to do.
As the calendar turned to January again in 2018, I vowed this year I would do it. But the first part of what Schmich said is where I needed to start. What were the real elements of the decision and what were the silly worries? Once I could see what I truly needed to be wise about, I found lots of ways I could do it. What made the most sense was a river cruise. On this cruise, I can literally watch the French countryside from my bed if I need to (not likely, but reassuring as a fallback). I’ll have the support of a crew who speaks both English and French and 99 other passengers as new friends.
Much as I am excited about the trip, the euphoria that came after I booked it was even more amazing. My sense of possibility exploded. It was like I’d walked back into my own skin. I remembered what it felt like to be alive by taking a risk.
It doesn’t have to always be big stuff though. For me, deciding I would make this big thing happen has recharged my commitment to doing at least one thing every day that scares me. Maybe it will be just be doing a longer walk than I’ve been able to do so far. Maybe I will taste something I don’t expect to like. Maybe I will clean my coffee maker. (It’s new. I might break it.)
Fear is not an enemy to be vanquished. It’s a way-finding sign. It says “More life, this way.” So how about it? Can you do one thing a day that scares you? It’s an incredible way to remember you’re alive.
Mary Lloyd is a writer and retirement coach. She’s still trying to figure out what to do with her way-out-of-date website www.mining-silver.com. She can be reached at email@example.com. For her books, check out her Amazon author’s page: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Lloyd/e/B001KECHEW.
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