Notes on doing the thing that scares you
Fear is a tricky thing. In many ways, it’s meant to protect us: it’s a mental shield to keep us from doing things that are physically dangerous or emotionally risky. Fear keeps our feet firmly on the ground, our words safely in our minds, our selves squarely where we should be (instead of where we wish we could be). I’m often asked if I get scared: afraid of the big things like traveling myself in a new country or moving alone to a new city, but also nervous about the little things like going to a new gym class by myself or trying a new food. The short answer is: of course. But I’ve also found that the mind is a muscle and fear is a weakness.
This past weekend in yoga teacher training, we focused on inversions: headstands, handstands, forearm stands. Honestly, I was terrified: I’ve only started inverting in the past year, and I’m still not incredibly strong or confident when I’m upside down–especially amidst a room of strong, agile yogis. But somehow, not only did I survive–albeit with sore shoulders–but I came out feeling lighter, more poised and more confident in my practice. I didn’t nail every pose, but I dared to try–and sometimes, I succeeded (even when I thought it was impossible). That quote about doing something every day that scares you: it’s stuck around this long because the thrill of daring to do the thing that scares you is often fulfilling enough in itself.
What’s the worst that can happen?
When it comes to headstands: a lot. You can do serious damage to your neck and your spinal cord if you don’t have the proper placement or weight distribution. But in traveling and life, we often overestimate the risks or worry about the things we can’t control. We expend all of our energy worrying about the plane arriving on time or getting lost in a new city, but there’s little we can do to make the plane move faster and often the best things are discovered accidentally.
When I moved to France and Australia, a lot of my friends and family were blown away: why would I risk leaving a good job with no promise of finding another when I came back? Why was I building this giant hole in my resume and my bank account? How I would ever find someone to settle down with if I was constantly running away? But my mom always told me that there are jobs for good people, and that you can always make more money. And I always figured that my worst case scenario would be failing or running out of money, and if that happened: I could always beg a loan off my parents and get on the next plane home with my tail between my legs. It wouldn’t be glorious, but hey: real life, it’s not the end of the world.
Once it’s done, it’s done.
One of the components of yoga teacher training involves memorizing and leading Sanskrit chants. It’s tough in a lot of ways: there are syllables and vowel combinations that we just don’t use in English, you have to establish a sense of musicality and rhythm and then you have to get over the fear of leading a chant out loud in front of a group. It’s terrifying. But the other day, I volunteered (confession: accidentally) to lead the most difficult one. And somehow, I managed. It happened. And then it was done.
So often, we spend our time worrying and anticipating and spending a much of needless energy–and then it happens, and it’s done. When I went skydiving over Mission Beach, a friend told me to smile: that so many people spend the whole time feeling nervous and looking miserable (and having it all caught on film), only to end up having a fabulous time. You might as well look like you’re having a good time, the whole time–because you might as well have good memories once it’s done.
Everyone else feels the same way—at one time or another.
In my freshman dorm, there was a banner that proclaimed that everyone was too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you. That’s always stuck with me: most people are too wrapped up in themselves to notice you. I always worry about wearing the same thing a few times in a week and having a coworker notice—until I realize that I pretty much NEVER remember what my coworker wore the day before.
Whether it’s travel or yoga, everyone’s been scared at one point. Everyone’s a beginner at one point. Everyone has a fear point, something that scares them whether it’s rational or not—and everyone has gotten over something that’s scared them. It’s just the nature of life. But you can dare to go much further if you can take away some of that stigma imposed by yourself, that personal ego that stops you.
This is just a mental block.
For a long time, I never extended up into headstand because I told myself that my core wasn’t strong enough. Until I thought that if my core was strong enough to do full plank and roll-ups and sit-ups: why wouldn’t it be strong enough for headstand? I realized that I was just scared of going upside down; it had nothing to do with my strength.
It’s easy to be scared of things. Fear keeps us very squarely where we think we “should be”: it keeps us from chasing our dreams, from going after the things we want most because we don’t believe we deserve them.
The hard part is realizing that most of what keeps us from pursuing greater things is fear. It’s scary to get rid of the excuses, to accept that we have the control to do whatever we want to do—whether it’s a headstand or a one-way plane ticket to paradise.
How do you get past the things that scare you?