Something’s out there—I just know it
I have a life-long, irrational, and paralyzing fear of the dark. On a related note, my previous two attempts at backpacking involved a bear (first) and anti-anxiety medication (second).
So what on earth got me to do this for two nights?
I was ready to set down my fear.
I got sick and tired of being paralyzed by what-ifs.
I’d had enough of the unending and predictable litany of possible catastrophes (most of which ended in me being ripped to shreds by the teeth of a faceless wild animal).
As Liz Gilbert says, my fear started to get kind of boring.
So when Carol invited me to go backpacking with her, and the weight of my tent surpassed the fear, I went for it.
Carol’s been camping in this picturesque spot for thirty years and hasn’t once encountered a bear or cougar. She told me so. And she was willing to be a guide through this spontaneous initiation.
The first night, as the sun disappeared for good, I asked her, “So if I do hear an animal in the woods, can I wake you up?”
Her “uh, yeah!” was so emphatic and reassuring that, in two syllables, she communicated both how willing she was to contend with a wild creature and how unlikely it was to happen. I let go. The stars and silence were stunning.
Although I didn’t sleep especially well, I never awoke in a cold, suffocating sweat, fearing irrationally for my life. Not once. A year ago, I would have rather died than sleep on the ground without a tent in the wilderness.
Something’s in here—I just know it
Today, someone I like a lot said some truly unkind things about me. Really, some of the most unkind things I’ve heard in a long time. His complaint wasn’t entirely unfounded, but his delivery was critical and mean-spirited.
And like the dark, I am petrified by conflict. Annihilated.
My whole life, I’ve run from my fear of words spoken in anger. Shrunk myself to avoid disagreement. Honed diplomacy to so fine a point that my words had no meaning. I’ve hidden behind a veil of generalities to avoid a single harsh word.
In other words, I’m annihilated just the same in avoiding conflict.
Here’s the thing: the world doesn’t need a muted version of me (or you). It needs us in full 3D beautiful color.
So today, instead of running from my fear, I held my ground and found common ground with my critic—who was actually hurting, confused, and scared. I know he is a good person, and I wasn’t going to let him get away with the meanness.
“You’re actually right,” I told him. “I shouldn’t have done what I did. I made a mistake. You are right to feel angry. I can’t fix what’s done, but maybe in the future, you can tell me you’re upset so we can work it out.”
“You’re right,” he said, as his ire cooled. “I could have talked to you about it.”
And in this courage to stand with him—to face my fear of conflict—we eventually found mutual caring, shared values, and even laughter underneath our initial judgments.
A year ago, I would rather have died than bear witness to another’s anger—especially directed at me.
Although the exchange rattled me, now I know that I can face the fear, and it won’t eat me alive. I can survive anger and conflict—and most importantly—show up as myself in it. I can choose this.
So can you.
What do you feed?
So often we optimists speak of “conquering fears” as if they magically disappear. They just don’t.
Conquering means the fear may remain, but we stop giving it our power.
Because our power is meant to be used for much better things. Like climbing mountains. And sleeping under the stars. And connecting with our whole hearts.
In the end, the only thing that grows is what we feed: love or fear.
What are you choosing—and are the rewards worth it?
Inspirational Jenn – thank you. What a fabulous experience and a wonderful friend to help you through it too – but you took the step and have shown us the way. Also your speaking about running from criticism and conflict is awakening tears in me – so something for me to look at too! Thank you. oxo