Doing things you're afraid of

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

"Always do what you are afraid to do."

Last week, I had a task before me that was scary. Not rationally so, of course. But I was afraid. But, I needed to do it. I didn't want to, and as I raised protests about why I shouldn't, or why I couldn't do it, someone asked me, "Why? What are you afraid of?"

I didn't know.

So she simply said, "Well, you need to think about what you're afraid will happen... and then do it anyway."

So of course, I immediately left that conversation and went and did The Big Scary Thing.

Nope. Not me. Instead, I put it off for the next several hours, which turned into the next several days. I made excuses for not doing it, rationalizing to myself why it wasn't the right time, why I needed to think about it more. All the while, ignoring the very simple and yet vital instruction someone gave me to first examine what I was afraid of.

A few days later, having still not done The Big Scary Thing, or identified what was so scary about the it, I brought it up to some friends. Maybe I was looking for empathy or understanding, or better yet, some justification of my fears and my inaction. But, I don't hang with friends who let me take the easy way out. And while they didn't kick my butt, they lovingly encouraged me, pushed me, and challenged me to do it -- reminding me that it wouldn't be as bad as I thought it would be.

The next morning, I finally stopped long enough to examine what made me so afraid. Yes, it was pretty consequential. The fear was real -- not unjustified, not irrational. It was rooted in history, in experience.

But I decided to do it anyway. I did the Big Scary Thing. And... it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. And that fear, that was real, rooted in the past and in my experiences, shrank a bit. It didn't disappear, it didn't go away. But it got smaller, thinner, or more transparent. It lost some of its intensity, and I've begun to see through it.

And I felt awesome. I swear, I had so much adrenaline pumping in my system, I felt like I just sky-dived. Or went toe-to-toe with a polar bear. Or won the World Cup. (Slight exaggerations). But I know that my sense of victory and the feeling like I had just accomplished something great came from the time I spent looking at the fear. I didn't walk into this blindly. I knew what lay before me, how it would try to win, and the number of times I had given into this fear before. I knew what I was afraid of, but I didn't let it win this time.

So, here's my challenge to you this week. Do one thing you're afraid of. Find one thing, look it in the eye, write it down, tell your friends about it, and then do it.

It won't be so bad.


Disclaimer: this only applies to things that you're afraid of that aren't dumb or unsafe. So, I do not advise doing stupid things that you're afraid of, like riding a bike blindfolded, or parasailing without an instructor, or trying to overcome an irrational fear of lactose products by drinking a gallon of milk upside down. 

Photo credit