Finish this sentence. The one thing in life I would be most scared to do is…
Before I turned eighteen, the scariest thing I ever did on purpose was to put myself at risk of public ridicule. I tried out for cheerleading even though I had chicken legs and was far from having the popularity status I thought was required. I auditioned for the spring musical even though I could not carry a tune. I auditioned for the dance troupe, although I never had any formal dance training. I was never the best at anything, but I was a quick study and good at pretending. I showed up. I failed a lot. But sometimes, I succeeded. I did end up being a cheerleader for two years in high school, and again in college. I actually landed a role in the spring musical and ended up dancing in more stage productions than I ever imagined.
While these things may seem silly now that I’m 50, they didn’t seem insignificant when I was a gangly, homely teenager trying to figure out where I fit in my little biosphere. Rewards were easier to obtain back then. You tried out, you checked a list on a wall the next day.
Now, as an adult, the rewards are often less tangible and may often take years to actualize. Getting married. Having children. Starting a new business. Getting an advanced degree. Whenever you embark on grown up adventures, determining the outcome is not as easy as walking down a hallway two days after you take the giant leap, to take a look at the posted list that tells you whether or not you succeeded… whether you made the cut. That may be why, as an adult, especially after entering middle age, it’s a little more difficult to take risks. The cost of each uncertain endeavor is harder to calculate.
Over the past few years, the scariest things I have done were out of necessity. I pushed two children out of the nest, even while worrying they would cut me out of their lives as a result. While navigating the loss of a 25 year marriage, I went to unfamiliar places on my own in order to make new friends. Even after swearing I would never let myself be vulnerable again, I opened myself up to dating.
But, here’s the thing. Just because some things need to be done out of necessity, it doesn’t make the process any less terrifying. You can’t let fear dictate your willingness to perform risky tasks. And, unless you routinely put yourself through the rigor of fear facing, it’s quite possible that you may be unprepared when it becomes absolutely necessary and wise to take an action that involves risk. You wouldn’t go to the gym and successfully deadlift 500 pounds if you hadn’t trained over a long period of time, strengthening your muscles to a point where they would be capable of performing such a feat. The same is true of facing your fears. You are a lot less likely to take on significant challenges, if you haven’t strengthened your resolve to do them despite the outcome. It takes training and time to strengthen your “face your fears” muscle.
Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “Do the thing you fear to do, and keep on doing it…that is the quickest and surest way ever discovered to conquer fear.” So, go back to the beginning of this article and remind yourself of the one thing in life you would be most scared to do. Think about what it would take for you to actually be able to do it, and take small steps towards taking the fear out of it.
I believe there may be some value to intentionally undertaking a risky activity once in awhile, if only for the purpose of developing your instinct to face fears, rather than run from them. There will come a time that pushing through a scary mess in your life becomes absolutely necessary. You don’t want to stall in your tracks. You should never be afraid to move simply because you don’t know where the next step will lead. This is the time it becomes important not to worry too much about the unknowns, because the process of dealing with them as they present themselves is so much more critical.