Fear- How to Not Let Your Fears Kill Your Dreams

by Lisa T

So there I was, 272 feet above the ground (which actually sits atop a very steep hill aptly named Steep Hill) outside of Lincoln Cathedral's central tower with one of my best mates, Will. It may as well have been 27,000 feet; it wouldn't have made a difference. The wind was whipping, the guide was spewing out facts and figures, my fellow tourists were listening with nary a care in the world, and all I could think was, “So this is how I die.”

This wasn't my first time thinking I would die somehow by being up high. I'm absolutely, completely, paralyzingly petrified of heights. And it doesn't take much to scare me, a small ladder will do it. Think of someone you know who is afraid of heights and in a contest of most afraid of heights, your friend will point and laugh and say, "Oh my God, she's SO afraid of heights!"  But...if there's a mountain, I'll climb it. If there's a bell tower, show me the stairs. Skyscraper? Elevator to the top floor please. And I will look like an idiot every time- my fear is easily recognized by the profuse sweating, pale complexion, that unmistakable look of about-to-hurl, and the pools of blood collecting in my oddly swollen ankles. Clinging fiercely to the wall that will also surely fall if my fears are somehow realized, I whisper to my pathetic self, “I'm so afraid. But I'm here.”

The bad news is I've never gotten over my fear. Try as I might I don't feel one step closer to prying my hands from the death grip of the rail. The good news is, I know I'm in good company. Every one of us has at least one fear- sometimes many- that we either will or won't conquer. For a long time I was paralyzed to inaction by my acrophobia, afraid to go places that might scare me, afraid to do things that might trigger panic, afraid of looking like an idiot! Then I read something by Dale Carnegie and this ridiculously simple quote struck me like a bolt:

“If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Simple, but not easy.

Still, it's a simple enough concept. So I tried Dale's idea, slowly, step by step, inch by inch, painful panic breath by painful panic breath. Every time I said (and still say, by the way), "I can't do this," I remembered Dale and knew I had two choices: sit home and think about it or get busy. And I made myself get busy. And so I still do, every time, I get busy. I'm not in any way special or brave, I'm just no longer willing to let a silly, irrational fear of heights be my undoing. Sometimes I hate getting busy, sometimes I'm even angry about getting busy- sitting at home sounds nice- but how I feel about it is now less relevant (and not as story-worthy) as getting out and getting busy. I've done it so many times now that it would piss me off much more to sit home and think about it.  And maybe that's the point; I've turned the tables on my fears so many times that I'm now more afraid of what would happen if I DIDN'T do it.

It would be nice if “heights” were my only fear. Not true, but Dale's advice still holds. Getting out there and getting busy for me means looking at my fear squarely, acknowledging it exists, and still saying, “You don't win today, Fear. I may not win the war, but I will win this battle.” That applies to all of my fears- traveling without a net, earning money to remain on the road, living from foreign cultural immersion to cultural immersion, believing in my own abilities to succeed at this lifestyle choice, the possibility of failure- the list is long but I go out and get busy. And your fears- your fear of flying, fear of travel, fear of giving your heart away, fear of being alone, fear of failing, fear of living your dreams- whatever it is... you have two choices: sit at home and think about it or go out and get busy. It is your choice, but you'll have to answer to yourself for your choices.

Remember, your present reality is your future self's memories. May as well give 'em a good one...

Logic told me this cathedral has been standing for nearly 1,000 years. The odds of it falling with me on it are infinitesimal, and regardless, I'd miss a hell of a view if I didn't climb the stairs. Your fear of flying is preventing you from riding on BY FAR the statistically safest mode of transportation that exists, but it's also preventing you from seeing worlds and peoples and sights you've dreamed about and would otherwise never see. Can you live with depriving yourself of such an experience? Your fear of giving your heart away to another after being burned is not only based on terribly flawed logic, it prevents you from any chance of growing past where you are now. You should be far more afraid of being stuck. Or worse, your fear of being alone drives you to choose bad relationship after bad relationship. Are you really so awful to be around that even YOU can't stand being alone with you? Impossible. And honey, you are NEVER going to get that job you're afraid you're not good enough for if you don't apply for it, guaranteed. Your fear of failure? Erin Hanson says it best:

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, 'What if I fall?'
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

Indeed...

Now I want to be clear about something: I will in all likelihood die still petrified of heights. But I will not die letting that fear overtake my desire to see and experience. I won't let that fear rule what I do and don't do or deprive me of living my fullest possible life. We can either let our fears tell us to sit home and think about them, or we can go out and get busy. Sure, next time I need to climb I'll be afraid, but I'll climb anyway. What if I fall? But what if I fly?