When I was a second grade teacher, I taught a unit on bravery. There I was in a room of seven year olds having deep conversations on what being brave meant. Every year every class came to the same conclusion; being brave did not mean that we did not get scared, it meant that even though we got scared, we still acted. It was the fact that we could act when were scared that made us brave. Ahhh… The wisdom of seven year olds.
As an adult, I have had to remind myself from time to time to take fear out of the equation. As much as I can, I try to set fear aside and ask myself, without fear – what would my decision be?
When I was going through my divorce, I was filled with fear. Truly. Everything in my life had suddenly changed, and I was facing a life that I had never prepared for. I was not prepared mentally, emotionally, or financially. Before my ex-husband walked out the door, I had always considered myself to be pretty fearless. Suddenly, I was in unknown territory, rather dark, murky waters, and fear was getting in the way of my living. Fear was affecting my decisions, or in some cases causing lots of indecisions. One day I realized how much fear had crept into my life. I made a conscience choice to look at everything through a lens absent of fear. Having practiced fearlessness in the past, I was able to reach back to times when I was able to set fear aside, and like the second graders said, still act even though you are afraid. In their words, then you are brave.
Learning to Live Fearlessly
It’s important to practice fearlessness. The first time I ever participated in a ropes course was one summer in Lake Tahoe with my former husband. I was excited and nervous when I signed up for this high ropes course. To start the day off, everyone in the group first participated in trust activities; we needed to learn to trust one another. We then headed over to the trees. Looking up from the ground the ropes looked incredibly high in the air. I began wondering why I choose the high ropes course. The ropes were some 50 – 60 feet up in the evergreen trees. Maybe I should have signed up for the 30-foot course, I thought. But no – sometimes I have that go big or go home mentality.
As I began climbing up the tree, I was all into it. The adrenaline was kicking in, and I was feeling all-powerful. I climbed higher and higher. Then at one point the foot and hand grips started to get further and further apart. The higher I climbed, the more and more I felt the tree sway. About thirty feet up the hand and foot postings were very far apart; they seemed almost nonexistent. I had reached the point were we now needed to mostly scooch up the tree on our own – using the branches where we could. Suddenly with the absence of postings, I became very nervous – OK scared. Maybe even terrified.
I was breathing really fast as I looked up. The next post was way out of reach. I looked down. The ground was far below me. The tree swayed. I froze. The others on the ground yelled up to me, but I pretty much blocked them out. It was the tree and I, and right then I was not sure who was going to win.
Many doubts flooded my mind. Mostly I was wondering what the H was I doing up on this tree? What was I thinking believing I could do this? I looked down again. I was at a point that going back was still easy. I could get myself down to the last posting and then work my way back to the ground. The tree continued to sway. I held on to the tree trying to figure out my next move. Down or up? I looked down and thought, I came here to do this. I took in a giant gulp of air, tensed every muscle in my body, and shimmied up.
I shimmied up just enough to make that last footing hard to go back to – too hard to really make going back a viable option. I had pushed myself past the point of no return. When I looked down again, going back was scarier than going up. I sat there for a few more minutes trying to steady my breathing and compose myself, but I knew I was still all in. From that second resting place, the top was within reach.
I have used that strategy other times in my life as well. Push yourself to just past the halfway point. When you get yourself over halfway to your goal, then turning around no longer makes sense.
I made it to the top ledge, walked across a rope bridge to another tree, and zip-lined down. I did make myself stop a few times to look around and take in the scenery. Even as white-knuckled as I was, I was in awe of those giant evergreens. It was beautiful up there – terrifying, but beautiful!
I did a few more activities that day. I climbed up the eagles perch, I walked the catwalk, and I worked with the group to get up and over Jacob’s ladder. But nothing the rest of the day compared to those minutes sitting in that tree hugging the tree trunk for dear life. I had worked myself through a fear barrier. I had practiced fearlessness. I learned that day; if you want something bad enough, get yourself to the point of no return. When you eliminate the possibility of going back, you have only one way to go.
The picture above is from the day I hiked to the top of Half Dome. Another day I conquered fear.
YOU DO IF