What are you afraid of? And more importantly how is it holding you back from what you most want to achieve?
When I look back at my own life, I realize that at times fear was both the fuel and the fence to my successes. It was fear that motivated me to learn a new skill or simply grow because I needed it. It was fear that other times kept me from going for it.
"Yes, I Can!"
Years ago, I was home from college for the summer. After sifting through the classifieds, (this was before Mr. Gore invented the Internet,) I found an ad for a delivery driver job that seemed appealing. I guess I aced the interview based on my strength of personality or something like that.
When the interviewer asked the all important question came at the end, "..and, of course, you can drive stick shift, right?" I somehow blocked out the memory of gears grinding like the transmission has just been torn out when my boss from the previous tried to instruct me on the basics of driving a standard. Surely, somewhere deep down inside me was a truck driver extraordinaire.. right?
"Yes, of course," I managed to say with an utterly convincing lack of hesitation.
So with that I rushed home and called my friend, Mark. (These were the days before cell phones..) "Hey, you gotta teach me how to drive stick - I got a job driving trucks!"
Now Mark knew me to be someone who still didn't know his limits. But this time even he had to shake his head in disbelief at my nerve. In any case, soon we were sitting in the parking lot behind the local grade school all afternoon. "Ok, ease the clutch.. as you give it some gas.."
Somehow I managed to drive out of the company the next morning without the alarming screech of missing gear shifts. Next thing I knew I was driving! Quite pleased with myself, getting stuck at a stop sign on a steep hill brought me back down to earth. I still had a bit to learn..
"Jump Before You Look!"
Fast forward to a swim test - I'm standing on a 50' high dive, looking down at my friends cheering me on. Over and over again, I repeat to myself, "Fear is the mind killer.. fear is the mind killer.."
Generally, heights haven't been too much of a challenge in my life. Sure, like everyone else I get that rush of adrenaline from roller coasters and that occasional nightmare where you wake up with that falling sensation , but I don't really have a phobia of heights.
No, my problem was that I didn't quite exactly know how to swim yet. Here I was - a grown adult about to embark on my Navy career - remember, "it's not just a job; it's an adventure."
Yeah, I bought into it - the pitch, the promise of "hey, you'll get a college education on us by just drilling one day a week." Well, what Mr. Recruiter conveniently left out was "oh, but by the way you'll spend the rest of the week preparing for that one day.."
Still, I read an article out of the New York Times Sunday magazine, proclaiming Navy pilots to be the best in the world. It was the Reagan years, and Uncle Ronnie being the Great Communicator convinced me that it was my duty - nay, my birthright to personally sign up and combat the "Evil Empire." For those of you not quite old enough to remember there was this thing called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) with Mother Russia.. Game on!
Back on the platform.. I'm shivering. What do they say are signs of going into shock..?
* Cold, clammy skin; sweaty forehead; weak, rapid pulse; irregular, rapid, shallow breathing; dilated pupils, weakness, anxiety, confusion.. oh, and loss of consciousness. Well, at least I wasn't THERE yet..
Years ago, scientists proudly declared us the dominant species because we mastered tools. Then, they found those darn monkeys on that island that taught each other how to use sticks in various clever ways. Next, the learned scholars decided that language was what separates us from the animals. But soon we discovered apes could learn sign language as well. Well, for now it seems that we humans still have the upper hand in our ability to change our programming. That we can choose our thoughts and internal responses.
Somehow I broke it down that I didn't really need to know how to swim. Once I was in the water, I reasoned, I could simply walk underwater to the edge of the pool and climb up the ladder. Technically speaking, according to the rules of the swim test that I was preparing for the next day, that strategy would qualify me for 3rd class. Then, I could skip remedial swim classes requiring me to get up at 0-dark-thirty and instead take lessons that better fit my schedule of already minimal sleep.
Nevertheless, the animal part of me was petrified up there. There's some experiment where rats eventually just go limp when shocks were randomly given. Learned helplessness, they call it. In other words, they learn to simply give up.. to go down for the count and stay down.
Somehow, some way I made a choice. My mind said I wasn't going to let fear control me. I stepped forward and..
I did take those swim lessons. I even managed to qualify for jet training that summer. If it had been today I might very well have posted a video online of my joyous ride in a TA-7, which was basically like strapping on a big jet engine with stubby wings. (YouTube? I don't think it was even a twinkle in her daddy's eye yet..)
Yes, I survived my trial by fire and although there was no cut to triumphant anthem as the sun sets, the real victory was conquering the hold that fear had on me that day. Was it the end of all my fears? Of course not. It's a daily mission.
Just like finding our meaning - our life's purpose - I now recognize that there is no-gold-sunshine-breaking-out-of-the-clouds moment when you attain enlightenment from the wise man on top of the summit. Each day, each moment is an opportunity to find meaning - to find our purpose.
And while we tend to think of fear as some gruesome boogieman waiting in the dark alleys of our psyche, it's really us and how we face ourselves moment by moment..