I’ve come to realize that I live a lot of my life in fear. Fear of failure. Fear of judgment. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the disaster just around the corner. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Oh, and cliffs, I am terrified of cliffs.
At its most basic level, fear is a protective mechanism that helps to keep us safe from danger, like being killed by a mountain lion, which my husband tells me is less likely than being killed by a vending machine (I’m still waiting to see the source of that little factoid). But in the extreme, fear is a barrier to our success, our creativity, our growth and FUN.
Applying to Harvard for graduate school was a mental cliff jump, but I did it. And boy did I grow as a result. But how many times have I passed up other really cool opportunities because I was afraid? Too many.
When my husband and I were travelling in New Zealand on our honeymoon, a once in a lifetime occasion, I had the chance to go Zorbing, which is basically, climbing into a giant plastic ball and rolling down a hill (I think New Zealand is a less litigious society). But I passed it up because I was afraid that I would look silly climbing into the ball! Or worse yet that I would get stuck in the ball because of my less than perfect figure. My husband had such an awesome time without me! And I have regretted my decision from the moment I made it because let’s be real, I wasn’t going to get stuck in the ball. I let my irrational fear keep me from a once in a lifetime experience. And even if I had gotten stuck in the ball, what did I really risk losing? One pair of scissors, and I’d be free!
Finding that balance is the trick. Risk vs. Reward. Maximizing your potential without risking losing it all. You define the “all” in that sentence. And the less you put in that basket, the more risk you will take and the more growth/fun/creativity/success you will experience.
Despite the fear that I sometimes allow to hold me back, I have accomplished a lot. Mainly because I’m stubborn and driven, taking things on even when I am afraid. I have an ivy-league education, a well-paying and meaningful job, a loving husband and family. What more might I accomplish if I was less afraid?
I’ve come to realize that taking a year-long sabbatical is my first step toward living a life free of fear, but I don’t want it to be my last. So I am committing myself to doing at least one thing every day of sabbatical that scares me, breaking the rut of fear and acceptance of an average, boring life that has been creeping in.
So what fears am I going to tackle?
I’m busy making a list (I love lists) of the fears that I want to conquer since I’ll need 365 of them. Of course, I’m sure that I will come across new fears throughout the course of sabbatical as we go to new places and try new things on a daily basis. They range from little fears to “oh my god I’m going to die” fears. They are physical fears, abstract metaphysical fears, emotional and mental fears. I’ve got them all, and I’m going to face them all so that it becomes my standard approach to take more risks!
Sampling of fears to face on sabbatical
- Cliff jumping
- Running in a race
- Not having a plan
- Standing up on a paddleboard
- Missing out (I believe they call that FOMO these days)
- Being boring or average
- Letting people down
- Wasting time
- My husband’s driving (he gets so close to the car in front of us!)
- Leaving my dogs
- Being late
- Wearing a scuba suit
- Scuba diving
- Being attacked by a mountain lion while hiking or camping
- Hissing cats
- Giving a lame gift
- People seeing my house when it’s a mess
- Freddy Krueger in a dark alley
- Asking a stupid question
- Telling people my weight
- Not living up to my potential
- Forgetting to lock the doors
- Missing an episode of Survivor
- Hang gliding
- Not having an income
- Being a bother to anyone
- Being poor
- Having an insignificant (or non-existent) job that nobody cares about
- Not making a difference
- Mountain lions (did I already say that?)
- Falling off the edge of anything tall
- Looking like I don’t know what I’m talking about
- Falling down the stairs and knocking out my teeth
- Getting cancer, diabetes, heart disease or any of the other awful diseases that run in my family
- Losing touch with people
- Not following through on commitments
- Not being included in the decision making (AKA being out of the loop)
It’s also important for me to remind myself of all the times I haven’t been afraid (or was afraid but took the leap anyway). That’s my Big Brave Brag List. Make your own brag list. It feels really good; we need to remind ourselves sometimes of all the awesome brave things we have done so that we keep doing them!
My Big Brave Brag List
- Majored in theatre in college because I loved it not because it was going to make me a lot of money.
- Moved from Texas to Massachusetts after college with no job, a little bit of graduation money and a desire to live in a new place. I stayed for nearly 8 years and made some of the best friends of my life.
- Applied to Harvard for graduate school and got in! Oh, and graduated with my Master’s degree!
- Moved from Massachusetts to Colorado to follow the love of my life after only a few months of dating.
- Blackwater cave rafting in New Zealand (I wasn’t going to relive the Zorbing regret)
- Applied for a job for which I wasn’t sure I was good enough, and have been promoted since then to second in command of the organization.
- Decided to take a leap of faith with my husband on a year-long sabbatical!