Fear is not an inherently bad thing. We are biologically hardwired to be hesitant in situations where we might be put in danger, so fear keeps us safe in a fight-or-flight situation or prevents us from eating something foreign in the forest. Feeling fear could also mean that we are trying something new. This is also a good sign because it means we are doing something that is outside of our comfort zone so we are treading into a new territory.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not fear itself that’s the problem — it’s what we decide to do with that fear.
Fear can be a motivator, like the adrenaline that courses through your body when you’re on a wild roller coaster. It pushes you to try an even faster/steeper roller coaster until you feel invincible to the forces of physics. However, fear can also paralyze you — it can squeeze your chest, keep your feet glued to where they are and take your voice away.
This is something that I really want to talk about because I have always felt burdened by fear and self-doubt. I have felt afraid of trying new things, meeting new people, getting the wrong answer in class, failure in general. I have held myself back from new experiences, job opportunities and even trying out new hobbies because I always thought, “I’m not good enough,” or “someone else is better at this than me,” or “if I don’t get it right the first time I should stop trying.”
This is the point at which fear and self-doubt become self-sabotage. It is so harmful to get caught up in this cycle of negative talk not only for your self-esteem but your overall development as a human! Recognizing the fear is a relatively easy first step, but addressing it and pushing it aside when it doesn’t serve you is a bit more difficult.
Telling your fears to hit the road is hard. And it’s an ongoing process. Making the decision to travel by myself for the first time at 24 was the pivotal point for me. I had been playing with the idea of WWOOFing at a farm and doing some traveling after, when one fateful day I came across this beautiful farm in the south of France that checked all my boxes. I think it was mid-September at that point, and they had an opening about three weeks later. I panicked because I realized that this could actually happen and it could happen really freaking soon.
I spent a couple of days with knots in my stomach, convincing myself that even though there was this incredible opportunity in front of me, it was too scary and I should just stay home. After I wrote a pros and cons list and agonized over all the things that could go wrong, I mentioned the idea to a select few family and friends who enthusiastically listed all the things that could go right. The next day I booked the time off from work, sent my confirmation to the farm, drove to Ottawa to renew my passport and booked a plane ticket to Paris.
But the fear didn’t just end when I booked my tickets. Traveling sleep-deprived and solo through a place that was not my first language with tight timelines between planes and trains was stressful. I even cried on the plane because I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived and all I wanted to do was turn around and go home. The entire adventure wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but I learned a lot about myself. I forced myself to get to know the other people at the farm, practiced my French with the people who didn’t know English and got myself from point A to point B all by myself. It was so liberating.
“It isn’t always comfortable or easy — carrying your fear around with you on your great and ambitious road trip, I mean — but it’s always worth it, because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, you’ll never do anything interesting.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
You might be reading this and thinking, “Way to go, you fearless warrior! What is life like now without fear holding you back?” To be honest, not much has changed. I’m still a chronic over-thinker who deals with self-doubt as much as the next person. But I’m more aware of it now, and I’ve learned to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of being outside my comfort zone. I force one foot in front of the other to walk over and say hello to someone new. I take a deep breath as I get up in front of my classmates for a presentation or debate. Sometimes I stumble, but it’s always worth the risk.