I recently conducted a telephone interview for an article for my company; my interview subject was the president of one of our divisions. I had never met her. I was new to the company. I could not believe she said yes. This was not even my primary job, just a lifelong wish to write and go big, do a real interview and write a great article. I sat by my phone doing deep breathing exercises as I dialed and cleared my throat 17 times. GULP. My brain: “Why did you think you could do this? Okay, you heard her presentation, she seems kind. But she’s THE PRESIDENT. I’m just the “junior mint” (a phrase she mentioned in her talk). I am prepared, but I have no idea what I’m about to do. Please, Universe, let this go well. Do not laugh too much. Try not to say ummm, uhhh, 5,000 times (which I did). OMG, it’s ringing, ahhhhh!
One of the things she mentioned in her career presentation the week before my interview was Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Do something that scares you every day.” I broke the ice with that, telling her this was my “scare for the day” moment. She laughed. She pointed out that fear can be healthy, that it allows us to come prepared. She then proceeded to ask ME questions about me. My breathing slowed. She’s funny, she’s NICE! I can do this. I hope. It’s 2 minutes in, and 28 to go. When I hung up, I felt the rush of having done it. Cool!
So I began thinking about that phrase. Sure, I’ve done some scary things in my life. As a child, I flung myself backwards and sideways, often on a 4-inch beam of wood 6 feet off the ground, near-misses all over the place, and one ankle crunching dismount. I climbed towering trees. Woohoo! In my military Air Force days, I flew in a Jolly Green copter with some nutso Army guys and did “auto rotations,” which are basically like spinning out in the air toward an untimely death, then righting the craft at the last second. AWESOME! I also had the good fortune of flying in the backseat of an F-16 fighter jet over the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, Mach 1 with my tresses aflame, taking the stick control from the pilot and flipping upside down and straight up, my brain on supersonic and my body squeezing with G-forces, trying to appear uber-cool, like this was just another day for me. Ha! Fly by wire fab. WILDY EXCITING. (No, I did not get sick.) So there were those things.
I am not a natural adrenaline freak. Repeat. I am NOT a thrill-seeking extremist. Am I?
In my later years, I gave birth, twice. This was scary to me but not out of the norm. Gazillions of women have done it and survived to tell. The resulting offspring…well, that IS scary…but in the happy, fun, scary way. Every day has been different, and parenting is like groping in the dark for the light switch, which is sometimes right there, but quite often you’re left in the dark to find the candles. (Did someone forget to buy candles?) Wonderful.
I must admit, I dig being scared. Scary movies, creeping around a dark campsite, critters above and below, no light and weird noises. Goosebumps… delicious.
Next, I found myself strapped to a giant piece of fabric in a not-so-perfectly good aircraft, borderline rickety, in fact, with some gauges and cords, and a full-fledged maniac attached to my very being. The first time I jumped, surprisingly, I was not afraid. The air hit my face at 90 miles an hour and adrenaline surged through me in sheer joy. UNTIL I could not find the rip-cord. The dots on the ground were getting larger…where’s THE CORD? OMG! Aha. Rip, pull, FLOAT. Silence. Like a butterfly floating on the breeze, then a perfect 4-point landing. My exact words, “When can I do it again?” UNBELIEVABLE. There’s a piece of my soul that is so fully alive in these moments, nearly nothing can touch the physical and mental feeling of the chemical cascade that happens when pure fear lights up the amygdala, the reptilian part of our brain that registers fear, love and the base emotions. A drug-free, internally produced high. Amazing.
I’ve swum with sharks, giant sea turtles (oh my!) and dolphins. Anything bigger than me in the water is ominous, at best. The 500-plus pound female dolphin that was playing tag with me decided she wanted to show her affection by sliding her smiling mouth around my midsection, my body fully surrounded by gleaming little teeth. Her teeth did not touch me, but I was basically a human snack if she chose me for lunch. She did not. She looked up and gently backed away, circled around and bumped my back with her nose. WOW. Days later, I was cave-diving, and my dive-buddy and I found ourselves lost in a stunning underwater cave, far from the boat, land, and any humans…in Honduras. Air tanks getting lower. Thump-thump. Finally at the surface, a long, exhausting swim back to the boat. Exhilarating.
And, oh, yes, there’s the mental fright… job interviews, near-miss accidents, speaking in front of 10 people, 200 people. These are the day-to-day things that scare the wind out of me and cause me to quake in my well-worn combat boots. The first time I spoke in front of about 40 people I thought I was going to die on the spot, and it was a raised podium with a spotlight. The beautiful part was that the audience was darkened. The not-so-beautiful part was that this was one of my top fears. My voice shook and people were feeling uncomfortable for me. Ugh. A few minutes in, though, I found my groove and rattled on for 30 minutes; then afterward, proceeded to shake for the next 30, veins coursing with residual adrenaline. I still get that feeling years later, now having spoken to groups of 200-plus people. My secret dream is an amphitheater with thousands, which is on my bucket list. Ssssssccary!
Anytime I do something even a few levels removed from my comfort zone, ZING, breathing quickens, pupils dilate, heart gallops, temperature rises, beads of sweat form on my brow and on my brain. But I am ALIVE, in the moment, and always, always, charged up and grateful that I can try anything, no matter how scary it appears. I am not fearless; I am willing, a “junior mint” working on becoming the Peppermint Pattie. I can think about these things all day long, but unless I give it a whirl, I haven’t grown and faced the fear. So try it. You won’t be sorry. You cannot fail if you haven’t tried, and it’s never a “fail” if you did it and remained alive to tell (a critical point since I do not recommend putting yourself in abject danger!) You are you, not me. You know what you’ve thought about but have been afraid to do. It could be asking for a raise, telling someone how you feel, running a 10K (or marathon!), joining a new group, speaking to that person you’re afraid will reject you, standing up for your position, starting your own company, interviewing the president of anything. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. What scares you?
The next thing I am going to do is very, very scary. It’s a conversation about how I feel and what I want to do. It may not be well-received; I may get shot down. But I’m going to try…and learn from my attempt either way. It is not the end of my existence if it doesn’t go my way. It is, however, the continuation of “doing something that scares me,” which, to date, has not killed me off. In truth, it has kept me alive and growing. I challenge you to face the fright. Try something outside of your soft, cozy little world and feel the fear, taste the magic of having stretched your wings wide. If you come out on the other side and still feel scared, you’re onto something. Fear not, there’s always a lesson, an inspiration, a truth that’s revealed. Go forth and scare yourself. You may be wickedly, happily surprised.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers it.”~Nelson Mandela