FEAR is the second strongest emotion in humans. Everything we do in life is either out of love or fear. We can either be paralyzed by fear or we can be propelled by it. Fear can enslave you to a limited life confined in safety, staying in the realm of the known, or it can fuel you to grow and evolve. The choice rests solely on how one chooses to use this intriguing emotion.
I was reminded recently about the power we allocate to fear and the impact it can have on our lives. I was in Cancun, Mexico this past December with my daughters. I am amazed at how two girls who came from the same bloodline can be so different. My younger one is fearless when it comes to adventures and new experiences, while my eldest daughter is fearful.
As a tradition on our trips, I try to do something adventurous, something memorable that we can look back at, as a highlight of the trip. A hot air balloon ride, zip-lining, riding ATVs, snorkeling, horseback riding, swimming through dark caves with hundreds of bats, to name a few. As a consequence of this tradition, my eldest daughter and I have had many encounters with fear (like the bats) as sudden changes affect us.
Being the type of mom that I am, I pride myself in teaching my girls not to feel shame or stigma when confronted by fear. If you attach shame to this emotion then you are bound to live with it because fear cannot be avoided. Fear is part of your DNA and designed to keep you safe. So rather than shaming it, be grateful for its presence. Fear is alerting you to become aware of possible danger. So I invite you to think of fear as your ally.
It is perfectly alright and normal to feel fear. What is not alright is to have it prevent you from taking risks. Fear should not be your door stopper to new and exciting experiences. It should not be used to box and confine you into a life of knowns, because the only way you grow is by constantly embracing the unknown and by stepping out of your comfort zone.
Feeling the fear — but doing it anyway
We arrived in Cancun and immediately made our way to the beach. Ahhhh the beautiful warm, bright sunshine was a surreal contrast to the very cold -8C and grey-gloomy sky at home. The beach was packed by all those, who like us, were escaping their cold homes. On the horizon, the beautiful blue sky looked as though it was painted and adorned by massive colorful parasails.
My attention was interrupted by a voice, “Would you like to go parasailing? We have room at 4 pm,” said the voice of a Mexican salesman in his broken English. Emma looked at me with eyes of excitement “yes, yes, yes” — Victoria looked at me with a ‘deer in the headlights’ “no, no, no way.” Before I could even think, I found myself shaking hands with the Mexican as I negotiated a super deal, once I spoke to him like a proud local.
From the moment Victoria witnessed the transaction, her fear grew. She gave me every conceivable excuse as to why it was not a good idea to do this. I told her we were doing it and not to worry because she would be connected by cables to the boat at all times and wearing a life jacket. In addition, she wouldn’t be going up alone. I would be next to her to hold her hand through the entire journey.
It did not matter how much I reassured her. All Victoria could do was play her story in her mind. The more time passed, the more fearful Victoria became. I held my ground and told my eldest daughter that it was a done deal and she had to do it because it was a good opportunity to face her fear. My poor baby’s nervous system went into overdrive. Rather than enjoying the beautiful moment on the beach, all she could do was replay what was to her a very scary experience.
Fear can rob you of your joy
Victoria went into a fight-or-flight mode anticipating the event that was to take place in a few hours. The event playing in her mind caused so much anxiety that she experienced high levels of stress because the body responds to the thought with the same chemical reaction as if the event was real.
Finally, the feared moment arrived. We were taken in sea-doos to the boat. Ironically, the waves were rough and the sea-doo ride ended up being the scariest part of the entire adventure for all of us.
We made it to the boat and the two Mexicans on board explained what would take place. The more they explained, the more I could see Vitoria tensing. She kept whispering, “Mommy, I don’t want to do this.” I kept explaining to her why it was important for her to step out of her comfort zone, “Life is going to have many ‘parasailing moments’ when you will be confronted to undertake an experience that will scare you and you cannot possibly go dodging your way through life. Better you train yourself now to face your fears while I am here with you.”
Even the Mexican guy pleaded with her as he explained all the safety mechanisms of the adventure and even offered to go up with her. Nada! Nothing worked. Victoria was adamant about not going. I began to feel defeated, which is not easy for me as I am pretty relentless and very persuasive when I want something. Yet I was seeing that my efforts were futile. Her fear was proving to be stronger than all my pleas and my heart began to sink.
I really believed in my daughter’s ability to overcome her fears and experience a life that goes outside of the confines of her home-school-barn (she loves her horse) routine. I also know her better than she knows herself. I know her soul and as I often joke with her, she would still be in diapers if I had not pushed her.
She texted all her friends who were also on vacation in other parts of the world and told them, “My mom is forcing me to go parasailing.” Thank God her friends know me well, otherwise, I could see how this could have gone the other way in light of the ‘forcing’ allegations. Her friends chuckled in the text and a few of them who had done it reassured her it was a great experience.
I went up with my youngest daughter first and she loved it. She wanted to go higher and higher and wished for all the wind in the world to fly in the sky. Victoria was observing from the boat every move from being clipped to the parasails to the moment we returned to the boat and decided at the last second to take a chance and use her fear to propel her to a new adventure.
I was so happy. I was preparing to go back up again with Victoria when her sister Emma asked to let her be the one to go up with her. Victoria agreed. I stood there to witness how the two loves of my life went up in the sky and my heart filled with so much pride. Victoria did not disappoint. She found her inner strength.
The best things in life are found on the other side of fear
My daughters arrived back on the boat safely and loved their adventure. To Victoria’s surprise, the choppiness of the boat ride, due to the rough current and the harsh winds significantly contrasted with her ride high in the air. Victoria reported feeling immense peace. All she could experience was stillness, calm and true bliss. Victoria looked below and could see all the wonderful shades of the ocean water beneath and suddenly she was connected to the enormity of this miracle planet we have the privilege to be a part of.
Victoria so graciously thanked me for not giving up on her and for pushing her out of her comfort zone.
It was never about the parasailing. It is about teaching your body to recognize fear, to critically assess it and use it as fuel to push and propel you forward rather than limiting your life’s experiences. Fear is a real emotion. Sadly, we are programmed to think of it as bad when in reality, fear can be a great promoter and ally — if you let it!
FEAR is conquered in very small moments. The next time you find yourself debilitated by fear, don’t feel shame because of it. Know that is a normal, evolutionary reactor built-in to your system. Fear always appears to highlight the areas of your life that need confronting, healing and overcoming.
Learn from your small moments as my daughter did and feel the fear and still LEAP!