To Be Fearless
My 13-year-old sister is fearless. I once stopped by her gymnastics practice and watched her climb a 20-foot rope without a moment’s hesitation. The only thing between her and the mat below her was open air and her own strength. I swear I was on the verge of a panic attack. And there she was, hauling herself up that rope entirely unbothered. For her, reaching that height is worth the risk of falling.
That kind of daring is hard for me. I have a long list of fears because I’m uncomfortable with risk. The idea of falling terrifies me. The thought of intentionally putting myself in a position to fall is even scarier. That explains my aversion to things like roller coasters, water slides, bungee jumping, and skydiving. I like my feet on terra firma. I am happy on familiar ground.
The risk-aversion doesn’t stop with thrill seeking. I’m afraid of taking any risk that might result in failure. I know what I'm good at and what works for me and I play in that realm. Putting my foot out without knowing where it will land just isn't something I like to do. I see it in every part of my life from my investment portfolio to my university transcript. Everything about me screams safe. But it also screams limited, boring, and afraid.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, once asked the graduating class of a high school, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" It's a question that's been playing on a loop in my head a lot this year. I've been considering the fun, success, and unique experiences I've denied myself by always choosing safety. I don't like the answer because the list is long. I think of the times that fear kept me from speaking up, pushing myself, and jumping in with both feet. I can think of way too many times that I stayed quiet, kept my back against the wall, and my hand down.
So, I've been making a concentrated effort to push fear aside and leap into things. In a year of yes, a la Shonda Rhimes, I’ve begun to venture into things that scared me. I extended my writing resume, performed at RISE, gave a motivational speech, and got published online. I know it's nothing groundbreaking to most people, but every one of those things required me to put my foot above the void and trust that there would be something for it to land on.
And there has been, every single time. I’ve been lucky. I am preparing myself for the moment I step out over the edge of my fear and plummet into failure. In those moments, I’ll be tempted to go back to shrinking away from the things I’m afraid of. It will be a reminder that sometimes fear is a warning that the risk isn't worth it. But it shouldn't be the thing that shackles you to an unexciting and unfulfilled life.
So my bucket list is a little longer now. I’m willing to take the risks to succeed at some things even if it means I fail at others. Don’t expect me to jump out of an airplane anytime soon and you probably won’t catch me on any rollercoasters at Wonderland next summer. But when new opportunities arise and fear jumps up to greet them with a "no, thank you," I'll put fear in its place and ask myself if I’d take the chance if I wasn’t afraid. If the answer is yes, I’m jumping. Wish me luck.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Let me know in the comments!