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