FEAR. It is one of the most powerful four letter words. Sometimes, fear is a good thing. Being fearful of catching yourself on fire and therefore staying out of said fire, is good. Yet, fear is more often the big ugly gremlin that keeps us from doing some really cool fun stuff, being our best, living a full life, loving others… the list goes on. It can affect every area of our lives.
I grew up in the country where the only place to swim was local ponds. They were dark and yucky with slime covered bottoms. That paired with a dad who was a bit of a “sink or swim” kind of guy gave me a fear of the water. I was terrified. As I got older, the fear got bigger. Eventually we moved places where there were pools but my fear stuck. My friends would dive and flip and look like fish in the water. I would sit on the side with a book.
When I turned 35 a friend of mine convinced me to do a triathlon – with a 1000 meter swim. It was time to face my fear. I spent hours in the pool with another guy (who was in his 50’s!) learning to swim. Day in and day out we practiced. Slowly my fear receded. Yet, I never could get the hang of the crawl stroke so I tried the side-stroke. I loved it! It was relaxing, my face was out of the water, and I could actually see where I was going. And I was good at it.
Everyone told me “you can’t do a 1000 meters side-stroke.” My response, “why the heck not?” So I completed my triathlon doing a 1000 meter side stroke. Yes, I was the last one out of the water and it garnered a lot of commentary from other athletes. My goal though was to finish, not to place. I completed my goal with my head held high and can now say I am a triathlete. How cool is that?
Did I completely overcome my fear of the water? No. I still sometimes get anxious around the water. And yet I learned a ton about fear in those few months in the pool.
1. Your fears are real to you. I watched babies learn how to swim at the YMCA. My logical brain would say “A baby is doing this, so can you.” That didn’t make my fear go away. So don’t let anyone tell you your fears are crazy. They are your fears and they are real to you. That’s okay (and human by the way).
2. AND… you can face those fears, live to tell about it, and do it in a way that is authentic to you! There are lots of ways to face your fears. You can just decide to do it (people have done that before…). You can enlist the help of loved ones or professionals (the YMCA teaches adults to swim every day). You can take baby steps and move towards your fear. The point is, your fears don’t have to be bigger than you OR define you.
3. Facing those fears will make you stronger. Like I said, I’m still not a champion swimmer, yet just completing that race made me feel like I could try millions of other things outside my comfort zone.
4. Living in, or working from a place of fear is not very fulfilling. You don’t have to sit beside the pool (figuratively of course) for the rest of your life. Your career, your relationships, your outlook, and your overall life will all be improved if you are willing to take a chance and step into your fear. We were made to do so much more than shrink in fear!
So what are you afraid of? What is holding you back in life? In love? At work? As a leader? Where is fear testing your faith? What step(s) do you need to take to face that fear? And who can help you along the way?
Let’s step out of fear together. Come on, the water’s great.