I grew up fearful. Fearful of a mother whose two forms of communication were silence and rage.
Fearful of a father whom I adored but whose reserve and strict demeanor kept me worried every minute that I would lose the love of the only parent who cared for me. Fearful of not being enough – as a black girl then young woman struggling with societal messages of less-than. Fear. Of the men on New York City subways showing themselves or groping a 14-, 16-, or 17-year old me. Fear. Of looking stupid in Geometry class. High school Trigonometry. Then Chemistry. Fear that I wouldn’t get the job. That if I got the job I might not be able to keep it. So I practically killed myself working ridiculous hours for employers to prove my worth.
I was tired of being afraid.
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In 1993 I relocated to Hartford, Connecticut. I didn’t love it but I stayed for 15 years.
I met someone who would change the trajectory of my life.
I was deeply committed to not living in fear.
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I Got This
What I’ve learned is that acting on fear morphs it into the familiar.
The action taken is now called “experience.”
Think too long about scary, and you create doomsday pictures in the movie reel of your imagination.
The idea of leaping into what you fear feels nothing short of an unnatural act.
Round and Round
For years I had it backward: talked myself into circles about how not to be fearful – read self-help books, recited affirmations, unloaded in therapy.
The only thing that moved me beyond fear was this: dive head first into the maw of the thing scaring me witless.
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I was terrified of traveling around the world solo. So much that I postponed that significant dream for 10 years hoping to find “someone to go with me.”
After a decade of talking about it, I was bored listening to myself. Finally I said out loud, “Just get on with it.”
Still, I remained terrified.
Until I did it.
Iconic painter Georgia O’Keeffe had it right: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
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After failing 10th grade geometry, the New York City public school system required that I repeat it. Barely passed it the second time. When I finally fulfilled the math required to earn a high school diploma I vowed: no more math. Ever. A few years later, I decided to attend graduate school. For Exercise Physiology. Which is science. Which meant…Bwaaaaaaaa…math.
Still, I was more committed to my new career than listening to myself drone about math phobia. I got into the graduate program and aced statistics, among other math courses.
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Fear Is Exhausting
It was one of many factors that contributed to a low-boil chronic depression – psychically pressing down on what needed to surface.
Once I began to reverse the early lifetime habit of running from what scared me, my energy soared. With newly acquired bandwidth, I explored deep-rooted “what ifs.”
Curiosity got my blood jumping and propelled me forward: curious about leaving my hometown to relocate to different parts of the United States; curious about what it would be like to live a year in Singapore. Before I left the U.S. friends and colleagues asked, “Do you know anyone there?” Sure didn’t.
And it was that very absence of the familiar that excited me.
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Run Directly Toward It
If you’re trying to shore up courage, fuggedaboutit. You can spend years doing that and not much else.
Commit an unnatural act. Ignore the oldest part of your brain wired to run from the saber tooth tiger or the competing tribe.
Run directly toward them.
Because here’s the thing; taking a math class when you are historically “poor” at math, or traveling the world solo ISN’T A SABER TOOTH TIGER.
You have the power to override that part of your brain which says, for example, that leaving a crappy job is life threatening.
See? I know it took you a microsecond to go from I’d love to quit my crappy job and sociopath boss, to a clear vision of you and your family lying face-down in the street.
That’s what happens when you try to think your way through fear. You lose.
Want to win? Live the life you dream? ACT.
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