“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.” – Judy Blume
This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my all-time favorite writers. These words are on my mind today because of a conversation I had this morning with two ladies from Seattle who are on vacation in Caye Caulker.
They asked me about my week here on this stunning little island, and upon hearing about my snorkel with sharks, my day spent paddle boarding on my own for five hours into some semi-remote areas and going diving in the Blue Hole, one of the ladies said to me, “Wow, you are so fearless!”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I blushed and got really awkward and changed the subject, and then the ladies left. What I really wanted to say was this: you are so wrong, lady.
I am absolutely not fearless. Most of the time I do stuff, I’m afraid. I’m fucking terrified. I lie awake in bed almost every night, running through the list of things that I am doing the following day that scare me, thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong.
But here’s the thing – I wake up in the morning, and then I just do those things anyway.
Because I’ve already signed up. And to not do it, at this point, would be embarrassing. And also because I’ve now done enough things that scare me that I’v realized nothing bad will probably happen.
The key to having an adventurous life is not living without any fear. The key is recognizing you’re afraid of something, and then getting your ass up, going to your computer, Googling “how to do ______” and then signing up for it.
Steve from Nerd Fitness calls it summoning your 20 seconds of courage. I call it just pretending – pretending like I’m tooooootally one of those cool people who do awesome adventurous things like it’s nothing. Even though I’m toooooootally not.
This is a skill I only started honing a few years ago, about the time I started this blog. I used to have a serious fear of sharks for years (laugh, I know you want to.) I lived in LA but would never get in the ocean for ANY reason, for fear that Jaws would emerge from the deep and bite me in half. No swimming, absolutely no surfing, and when I would get into knee deep water, I would start to get shaky.
When the Brit and I went to Hawaii three years ago, he will gleefully recall the time we were snorkeling and the air sirens went off. I was so CONVINCED that meant there was a giant shark sighted nearby that I screamed and swam to the shore as if my life depended on it, collapsing on the beach in a trembling heap.
It was just a monthly testing of the air siren, we came to find out.
But since I’ve always loved fish and dreamt about learning to dive, I decided I needed to break this irrational fear of sharks. So I signed up for a shark cage snorkel in Hawaii with my friend Tiffany. I was struck by how graceful and harmless the sharks seemed as they breezed past us, even though my heart was beating out of my chest.
I started reading up on sharks, watching videos, devouring every Shark Week special I could find on Netflix. When I finally learned to dive last year in Utila, I found myself hoping to see a shark while I was on the reef learning my open water skills.
Then a week ago, I went snorkeling with my parents (they joined me here for three days) in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where I asked our guide to take us to places where sharks congregated. When we got to an area called Shark Ray Alley, the guide stopped the boat and I looked down to see over a dozen nurse sharks and countless large fish swarming the side of the boat. The guide smiled and said “Jump in!”
I was afraid. My heart was racing. But I flipped my fins over the side of the boat and inched forward until I was leaning so far overboard, I couldn’t talk myself out of it and plunged in.
The adrenaline rush was incredible – surrounded by so many sharks bigger than me, I felt scared. But I also felt so alive, and so lucky to be seeing these amazing creatures in the wild.
A few years ago, I would have shuddered at the thought of seeing a shark in the wild. But now, I relish it. And it all started with signing up for a super-touristy (and in hindsight, pretty lame) cage swim.
I’ve used this strategy to get over a lot of fears that have held me back from doing cool stuff.
- A couple years ago I left a more steady paycheck to go freelance in reality TV, despite fears I wouldn’t be able to find enough steady work. I did.
- I traveled solo in Southeast Asia for two months early last year, despite being afraid that I would get lonely and feel unsafe. I didn’t.
- I ran a half marathon last month, despite being so afraid I wouldn’t finish. I did.
- I started a blog, despite my fears that people would roll their eyes at yet another self-indulgent amateur writer adding their voice to the fray. They probably did, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore.
- I sold almost everything I own, quit my job, gave up my apartment, saved my money, and left for a life of full-time travel, despite countless fears that it was the wrong decision. I’m only five weeks into it, but I can safely say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
All of these things, from the sharks to the blog, all were rewarding in their own ways. With each fear slowly erased from my brain, it becomes easier to face new fears. With each step out of my comfort zone, I find that I’m more capable and resourceful than I imagined. While there have been challenges, they allow me plenty of growth.
If I had remained in my bubble and never challenged myself, these last couple of years would have been a lot less interesting.
The point is, facing your fears – going out of your way to do the things that terrify you – is the best way to get over them. You’ll probably be surprised by what you’re capable of. And you’ll be just a little bit more likely to embrace the unknown the next time you’re afraid.
A suddenly someday, someone sipping coffee next to you might call you fearless.
So go ahead – sign up for something that scares the shit out of you.
Let’s all kick fear in the ass together!
What are you afraid of? Is there something you’ve always wished you could do – learning a new skill, traveling on your own, or even a career change – but fear is holding you back? Tell me by commenting below!