A Bridge, A Bicycle, And A Baby Step Toward Facing Fear

Have you ever felt afraid to do something?

Maybe it’s rather insignificant, something other people do all the time – but it just scares the hell out of you. An insistent voice  tells you that such things are for other people – those that are braver, more fit, more experienced, more talented, more…well, you get the picture.

A wiser part of you knows that if you can bust through that resistance and do this thing, you’d feel so good about yourself. A shift could happen.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this many times – after all if you’re reading this you’re probably human, and even the bravest of us battle trepidation, fear and the lizard brain.

(It took me almost 50 years to realize that the ‘cool people’ get scared too – but guess what? It’s true!)

My question to you today is:  What do you do when these fearful feelings come up?

Perhaps you found it easier to push through the resistance and be daring when you were younger? Or are you finding yourself with an irresistible urge to leap into new territories at midlfe – now that you’re finally comfortable in your own skin?

I think a lot of us retreat a little into our safe and comfortable shell as the years pass by. Our bodies aren’t quite as flexible, we get attached to the routines that nourish and comfort us, we’re convinced we know what we like and what we don’t like.

It begins to look like a lot of work to try out something new – even if we sense there’s something missing from our safe routines.

Although I’ve definitely fallen into that trap (my day just feels a little off when I can’t start it with my cup of tea or perhaps don’t have immediate bathroom access), the realization I’ve likely lived through more years than I’ve got left has sparked a new interest in taking risks.

This is huge for me.

I’ve spent most of my life being sensible and cautious – studiously avoiding risks that might bring me physical or emotional pain.

I mean, pain sucks. I hate it. I don’t like feeling it and I don’t like getting into situations where I must inflict it (the emotional kind – I’m not the violent sort) on others.

And that has sometimes meant a choice between the integrity of saying what I know to be true, or the safety of remaining silent or uttering a half-truth that protects egos and/or feelings.

It’s also meant deciding to opt out of opportunities that might result in heartbreak or hospitals.

But in these last few years, I just can’t hide from this essential truth: If I don’t risk any pain I don’t get to  experience my true capacity for joy, love, exhilaration, wonder.

Staying safe is like shutting down all the windows in my heart and making sure they are airtight.

On the other hand, stretching out beyond my comfort zone – taking a risk – is like cracking open those windows one by one.

If not now, then when….?

About a year ago, I wrote a note to myself (which I didn’t often look at since it sat there amid the thousands of other little notes and reminders). It said:

Do something you’re afraid of every day.

I wasn’t challenging myself to do something like bungee jumping every single day. I just wanted nudge myself to make that intimidating call, try that new dance class, introduce myself to that interesting-looking stranger at the coffee shop.

Maybe it would even be purchasing a different food I’d never tried. I wasn’t talking big, big fears here.

I just had a feeling that if I pushed myself, even by a tiny increment, each day that I’d be working that ‘taking risks’ muscle that had atrophied a bit as I’ve aged.

Seems like my hunch was right.

As some of you know, I recently took a big leap – I moved away from everything safe, cherished, comfortable and reassuring.

Pulling up roots and making a move like that after 30 years in the same community took some doing. You’ll be reading much more about this adventure in future posts, guaranteed!

A week into this move I’m still feeling somewhat suspended in midair, and I have no choice but to tackle something that scares me every day. No forgetting about that note these days!

Cross The Bridge, Face Down The Fear, Feel The Joy

Here’s one example. I’m now living in the bike-friendly city of Portland, Oregon and I’m determined to get to know the city by riding around on my (somewhat funky) bike as I search for my permanent home.

This has been easy in the neighborhood where I’m staying. Wide tree-lined streets, low to moderate traffic. But each day I’m stretching a little more and venturing out further. Those busy streets still scare the hell out of me!

The Willamette River divides the eastern and western areas of the city and several bridges connect the two. For some reason the prospect of riding my bike over one of these bridges seemed particularly daunting. Each time I needed to traverse one I’ve resorted to the car.

But yesterday I decided to confront that resistance. I’d scheduled an apartment viewing over on the west side, the day was sunny and warm, no reason not to take the bike.

Except that darn bridge.

It didn’t help when I asked my friend, Tom, about the best route and bridge to take.

He assured me the Broadway Bridge was a good one and drew a little map to get there.

“Once you get to the end of Russell, you’ll see signs for the bridge,” he said. “Stay on the walkway as you start to cross. It’s pretty high up.” His eyes widened as he looked up. “You might think that’s a little scary, but it’s fine. You’ll think ‘wow, this is pretty high’”

My own eyes grew big as my heart sped up  a bit. How freaking high was he talking about? Would I feel like I was going to roll right into the river? Should I just take the car?

At that point I seriously considered bailing on the whole bike-over-the-bridge idea.

I’d like to say that my commitment to conquering those little fears is what propelled me onto my bicycle. But honestly it was my embarrassment of losing face with Tom if I went and hopped into my car after this long discussion about the bike route.

So off I went, pedaling westward toward the bridge.

And yes, I was way up there suspended over that river. And guess what? It was beautiful. And perfectly safe. A spectacular view that I would never see from the car.

And here I’d almost missed it because of an irrational fear of biking across a bridge.  I’d worried I’d be squeezed up against the bridge railing while speeding buses whizzed past. Of course it was nothing like that.

The point is, even if it had been, I probably would have made it just fine.

Once we stare them square in the eyes, those little fears usually just melt away.

How about you? What small or large fear will you stare down today? Or, what were you recently afraid of only to find it wasn’t so darn scary after all? Let’s share some stories in the comments!

 All photos by Sarah O’Leary except featured title photo:
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Showing 21 comments
  • Carol Hess

    I can well imagine that every day these days is about confronting plenty of fears.  And I am in awe of both your grace and courage, Sarah.  It is the stuff spiritual warriors are made of.  Tonite I’m off to the third session of a local women’s empowerment group.  I was mightily intimidated by this group, mainly because the person facilitating it is quite well known.  But I also “knew” in that special way of knowing we have that I was supposed to be a part of this group.  So I kept hounding them until they let me in.  The old Carol would never have confronted the fear of being rejected once, much less persevered and risked it several times.  And I’m so glad I did.  Next time I face a similar situation and fear, it won’t be quite as hard to take action.

    • saraho

       @Carol Hess Thank you for this encouragement! It’s interesting how each time I confront and move past a fear I get this great, happy feeling inside. I’ve cultivated happiness in my life anyway – but this is more than just contentment. I’m reaching for pure joy I think! Love this story about your perserverance in pushing through your fear about that group. I think fear of rejection is one of the greatest for us humans. After all back in the caveman days rejection from the tribe could mean death! Lizard brain doesn’t want us taking any chances! So glad you were able to tell her to back off and push for what you know would feed you! You are also a model of grace & courage Carol!

  • joeyjoejoe

    Hi Sarah,
    If the question, “What have you got to lose?” is a worthy one, then my general hypothesis is this: the older you get – and by simple math the closer you get to death – the more you should be willing to take risks and say “screw you fear!”
    I’m not saying it’s unimportant to try and secure a healthy future for our children’s generation or our parent’s generation, assuming you’re old or young enough to have either. But we can take risks and harness fear to force us into doing something we otherwise would never dream of attempting.
    When I answer the question “What have you got to lose?” with something other than “All my money, my life, the love of people I care about, or my general reputation,” then it’s normally go time. Regardless of how scary the “thing” is.
    OK, that was a lot of quotations for one comment. I hope the message I’m trying to send is coming through.

    • saraho

       @joeyjoejoe I get the message loud and clear Joel – and you are so speaking my language! That’s the #1 question to ask when we are quaking in front of something scary? And another might be ‘what have I got to gain?” And sometimes the ‘what’s to lose’ question really just comes down to “my life” I believe that if the feared thing can lead us truly in the direction of our dream then sometimes risking the money, the reputation and even the love and approval is worth it.

  • BobbiEmel

    Hi Sarah, I’m so glad you’re enjoying Portland! I’m a Washington native now living in California (I call myself a Washifornian) so I still have my Pacific Northwest roots.
    I have a story about confronting just a teeny-tiny fear, but it has to do with bikes, so I’ll share it here. After toying around with the idea for a great while, I finally got Andrea’s ancient bike out of the basement, pumped up the tires and rode a few miles on it. I haven’t been on a bike in almost twenty years! 
    That’s not the scary part.
    The scary part was realizing I needed to take the bike into a bike shop to have it “tuned up.” The area I live is absolutely bike-crazy and so there are a lot of very advanced, complicated bicycles serviced by advanced, complicated bicycle shops. I could just imagine me taking this 20-something-year-old mountain bike into one of these places and have the men in there look down their noses at me. 
    I hate that.
    But I did it anyway. And, of course, the guys turned out to be really friendly and it wasn’t scary at all. But still, I had to face my own little demons about others’ perceptions in order to get myself to do it.
    Here’s to our new two-wheeled hobby!

    • saraho

       @BobbiEmel  Thanks so much for this!! You have no idea how pertinent it is since I’ve been wondering how I’ll summon up the guts to bring my clunky bike into one of the numerous shops around here to figure out what that strange clicking noise is. They all seem to be populated with young, super athletic serious type bikers. And here I am the eccentric middle aged lady riding around with a big crate on the back of her bike. I don’t even know how to change the tire if I needed to! Now your story has motivated me to move through this next little fear! Ride on!

  • Priska

    I am going through mid life reinvention which is all about facing my fears.  Maybe Joel is onto something, the older you get, the closer to death.
    I left a job after 20 years, using wordpress (technology and maths have always been very scary), joined a zen meditation group (to some friends this is weird and cult like), joined toastmasters (public speaking, my biggest fear).  To top it all off, in less than a year, my partner and I plan to rent out the house and live a transient life traveling and working our way around Australia.

    • saraho

       @Priska Wow – what an amazing goal! I’ve met younger folks who did the working in Australia thing and they absolutely loved it! I can’t wait to hear more on your adventures once you take off! I absolutely agree that as we get closer to end of this life all those fears take on a different look. Is it really worth hiding from what you truly desire and ream of? This question looms much larger the older we get. Sounds like you’ve taken some huge steps in conquering many of your old bugaboos! Kudos to you! Just one of these things would be huge to a lot of us – and you’re doing ALL of them! Serously, that’s awesome!

  • Pacificcheryl

    Hi Sarah, It sounds like you are having a great adventure in Portland.  Funny thing… I have a picture of The Hawthorne Bridge right above my computer.  Your post has given it a completely new meaning.  Now when I see it I’ll be reminded to face a fear and try something new everyday.  Thank you for that.

    • saraho

       @Pacificcheryl That is so cool that my little story can do that for you Cheryl. I love it! Truly, that is the reason why I write – to create a little inspiration for those that read these words. What serendipity that this story weaves right into the picture on your wall. Best of luck on your fear-facing adventures. Keep us posted!

  • ZenCaffeine

    Congrats on the triumph, Sarah! I’m glad you overcame your fear (even if you were just trying to save face 😉 ) and took the bike. Sounds like it was totally worth it.
    I like how you refer to taking risks as a muscle – you’re so right. Regarding my interests, I haven’t taken a risk in a while. Hell, a risk to me is just going to explore the local coffee shop in my new town. It’s interesting, isn’t it: why don’t we do the things we’re interested in? Like going to the coffee shop – that’s the smallest risk ever! But I suppose it has much to do with comfort zones – why try something new? What we know is oh sooo comfy.
    But you’ve got a great point, Sarah, and you’ve inspired me. I’ve been wanting to take a ballet class since I was about, oh, SEVEN, but have always been too afraid. The local park district has one for adults – guess who’s signing up? 😉 Thanks lady!

    • saraho

       @ZenCaffeine Hey, I’m thrilled I’ve lit a fire under you to sign up for that ballet class! Yay, I can’t wait to hear where it leads too, Kaylee. Actually a dance class is one of the next things up on my own  fear list. I’ll get to that once soon – it’s a little bigger for me than some of those smaller fears that I’m busting through on a daily basis here in  my new city. Just talking to a stranger can be so daunting, and yet so rewarding. And yesterday I biked across ANOTHER bridge! (Instead of staying safe and sticking to the one I know.

  • PaigeBurkes

    A big YEAH!!!! to you for overcoming some big fears every day in your new journey!  And there will be more to come.  It’s so exciting!!
    I’m facing my long-standing fear of finally exposing my True Self in the corporate world (my last hold-out).  After going to a couple networking meetings, I’m realizing that I can provide real value by combining my skills in business with my coaching skills by coaching entrepreneurs in building more happiness and balance into their lives and their businesses.  There’s a huge need for this as I watch entrepreneurs sell their souls to raise the money they think they need to grow their companies a certain way.  They’re almost blind to other options because the alternatives haven’t been done by everyone else in the market.
    Once again I’m seeing that the best success comes from being authentic.
    I love hearing about more of your journey!  Big Hugs!!

    • saraho

       @PaigeBurkes Wow, that’s a big fear to face up to Paige – but one that I have a feeling will yield a huge payoff. Entrepreneurs and even ‘regular’ business people are so ready for a fresh and authentic perspective. This soul-selling thing for money is a mindset that has to be blown up. The sooner the better in my opinion! Right livelihood and prosperity don’t have to mutually exclusive, it’s all about a shift in perspective.
      They may be scared too to take the leap, but here you’ll be showing them by your own actions. You do have some real value to give them. Excited to hear how this goes and huge hugs back atcha!

  • Ciara Conlon

    Well done Sarah, looks like a very exciting bike ride. Good Luck with your new home. I also wanted to say that your energy and lust for life jumps from the page and always inspires me to live my life to the full, Thanks for sharing your life with us.

    • saraho

      Thanks for the kind words @Ciara Conlon . Yes, trying new things definitely soars my energy and enthusiasm for life! And I have to toss the compliment back to you:  your productivity tips and ideas help keep me focused and on track. In fact, I’m headed to your site this morning.

  • acordaamor

    I seem to be at a place in my life where I’m trying to do lots of difficult things simultaneously — most notably in the musical I’ve been writing and producing and the leadership roles I’ve been taking on in my men’s group.  And it has changed me significantly, like you say — the idea of starting a big project and enrolling other people in it seems much more “realistic” to me now.  But of course taking on these projects has exposed lots of areas where I could use more work on myself too.  🙂

    • saraho

       @acordaamor  It sounds like you are up to lots of interesting stuff! Writing and producing a musical is no small feat, and definitely takes some courage in putting yourself out there. So kudos to you! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I took a look at your site and can see you’re brimming with creative ideas! Carry on!

  • bougezboogie

    Confronting the fear of writing on a writer’s blog!  First of all, I am so proud of you, Sarah, for leaping into that new world.  I have now spent 14 months in Puerto Rico, also confronting my fears and forcing myself to get out of the comfort zone.  Studying Nursing with a number of younger folk has definitely challenged my ego and sense of technological competence.  Tonight I felt so bold just for posting a comment about abortion on facebook.  For the honor’s program, I am taking an “advanced” journalism class called “Writing for the Media.”  I love it, yet feel so intimidated!  And as for bikeriding in PR, here’s to overcoming your fears!

  • AnnieAndreHacks

    I love hearing about your life adventures and the lessons you impart on us. 
    I’m sure everyone who reads this post can relate to that fear of facing your fear on that bridge. I know I can.. 
    I always find it exhilerating when i face my fears and conquer them and then i go through this stage where I wonder “what the heck was i afraid of”.  
    I try to live by that quote by Eleanor roosevelt, “do one thing everday that scares you”. It didn’t make sense to me at first but now it makes perfect sense. sometimes it’s just getting up the courage to ask directions. I used to be so shy for fear of what others would think of me, it prevented me from just living my life. even now i still have that fear which i mask with my silly sense of humour. But that fear is always there in the back. Many people don’t realise this about me which i guesss means i’m doing a good job of conquering my fears and facing it everyday. 

  • HappierHuman

    I decided to move abroad. That was and still is super scary to me. But you’re right. Now that I think about when I was young, I can’t believe the balls I had. I regularly reached in ways that mattered. Hm… I wonder what happened. 
    Have fun in Portland!

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