I recently had a grocery-store conversation with a young woman who graduated with my son last June. She didn’t get into the program she had applied for so decided to work for a year and upgrade the pesky class that thwarted her post-secondary plans.
Me: How are things going with your math?
Her: I don’t have to do it! I’ve been accepted into my program for next fall without having to upgrade my mark.
Me: That’s great!
Her: Yeah, but I think I might post-pone school for another year.
Me (confused): Why?
Her: When I got the letter, I was really excited. And then I got scared. I think I’ll just stay home for another year and work and save more money. I don’t think I’m ready yet.
Me (dismayed, but suddenly tongue-tied and brain dead): Oh. Well . . . um . . . sometimes we don’t really know if we’re ready or not until we plunge in.
Her: Yeah . . .
And then we parted ways, me kicking myself for all the things I didn’t have the presence of mind to say in that moment.
Oh, to be able to push the rewind button. There’s so much I’d tell her:
Sweetheart, there is nothing worth doing in life that won’t be prefaced by fear.
If we wait until we’re ‘ready’ for the things that scare us, we’ll be waiting forever. Especially if we think that readiness is signalled by a lack of fear.
Life will always present us with things that will set our hearts to pounding. And they should. The things that scare us are initiations into a new way of being.
Remember what it was like to climb into the vehicle for your driver’s license test? Or maybe your moment of terror was the first time you drove the car with your learner’s license. An adult was with you, but it did little to mitigate the fear of finally doing what you had only been reading about. Consider the difference between those fear-filled moments and the first time you drove alone after you had achieved what had scared you so much.
And that’s just the beginning of life’s initiations. There are so many! In any given lifetime there will be moments when you may feel the call to:
* proclaim your love,
* commit to a partnership,
* become a parent,
* embark on a business venture,
* share your artistic creations with a wider audience,
* leave home and make your own way in the world.
These are some of the more common initiations that most people will face at some point in their life. This list doesn’t even include the deeply held desires that are peculiar to an individual’s life path — the ones unique to you — the really, really scary ones.
Here’s the thing — our most deeply held desires will generate our biggest fears because they matter. We wouldn’t feel such fear if they weren’t important to us.
Here’s the other thing — if you let fear stop you now, it will do nothing but grow so, when the next call comes, that fear will have expanded in weight and heft and scariness and make it that much harder to move forward.
I’ve heard fear described as False Expectations Appearing Real. Chances are very good that the things we imagine (in heart-stopping detail) will go wrong when we step forward will never actually materialize. And, if they do, the fact that you’ve taken action anyway proves that you are capable of taking action and gives you the confidence to handle any glitches that may come your way. The momentum generated by taking that first step makes it easier to keep moving forward, despite the fear.
Or, rather, with the fear.
Because fear also has generative power, if we harness it rather than run from it.
My favorite definition is ‘fear is excitement without the breath.’ This perfectly captures what happened for this young woman.
She received news of her acceptance. She got excited. And then she stopped breathing and fear muscled its way in and sucked up all remaining oxygen.
“Gasp! I better not do this.”
Please don’t let that happen.
We — the world — life–is waiting for you.
You are waiting for you.
Take a deep breath. And another. And one more. And keep breathing, deeply, into the center of that fear. Let yourself feel the excitement at its core.
And let that lead you forward.
Short version? Embrace that prickly little bugger and move on.