When I was a kid, I thought fear was something you eventually grew out of. You’d come to a point in your life when you’d have such deep confidence that every new thing would be a total adventure and not something scary.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that fear is a part of every worthwhile new venture. I’ve been told that if you’re not afraid when you’re about to get married that you’re not in reality about what you’re about to do. And who isn’t nervous the first time they go on a professional interview or when buying their first house.
So I’ve been thinking about fear lately as I’m making changes in my life. A recent ski trip was the best analogy for how I handle fear now. I can ski easy and intermediate blue runs. When I’m on an intermediate slope looking over the edge of that steep hill, I’m afraid. But once I start skiing, I remember, “Ah, I know how to do this.” And I feel the challenge of being at the edge of my ability.
This the kind of fear I’ve learned to gently press through. When I have these types of challenges, whether skiing or creating art or teaching a class for the first time, I find that when I step into what I’m afraid of, the fear almost instantly disappears and I’m enjoying myself like I do skiing down an intermediate blue run.
Now other times, I have unintentionally gotten on an advanced blue ski run. I look down the steep, narrow hill and feel fear again. In this situation, there’s no turning back, so I go. But since this is beyond my skill level, I feel terror the whole way. I use an enormous amount of effort to get down without having a serious fall. By the time I finish the run, I’ve lost my confidence and I’m physically exhausted.
It’s not productive for me to push through this kind of fear, unless I have no choice like in the case of accidentally getting on a difficult ski run. So if I’m afraid to do something I’m considering doing and I start to do it and my fear sustains or increases, I know it’s time to back off and try something different. I’m not ready for that challenge yet. I don’t want to have to take time to recover from the lack of confidence pushing through a situation like this would cause. It actually sets me back.
I love dealing with fear this way. I’m not limited by my fears. But instead I use fear in a way that helps me know what will be a fun new adventure and what I need to do further work on before I attempt it.