“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”
It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement. In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.” These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough. I’m trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life. I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list. Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first. Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?: Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams.
Take my friend Heather, for example. Like most people, she is afraid of public speaking. She’ll belt out a tune in the privacy of her own shower, no problem. In fact, she happens to be a talented singer. But she had no intention of ever performing publicly and freely admits that public speaking is not one of her strengths. She’s also not one to let fear get in her way. She’s a big believer in facing fear and not letting it stand in the way of her own, her children’s, or clients’ personal or professional growth. Like me, she’s also a mental health therapist and knows that free-floating fears can play havoc with our lives. So, when the drummer in her husband’s band asked her to sing for an upcoming gig, she decided to use it as an opportunity to overcome her fear. She’d turned down other opportunities before. But she recognized she wasn’t getting any younger and, despite her fear, typically likes to push herself outside of her comfort zone. She was afraid, no doubt about it. But she channeled all that nervous energy, reframed it as excitement, and most of all (as she later reflected to me) was willing to be uncomfortable and even embrace the discomfort. She also consulted a voice coach and practiced A LOT in the couple of months leading up to the performance. Basically, she said “Yes to life. No to fear!” She normalized her fear and thus defused a great deal of it in the process. She was, according to many in the audience, a total rock star the night she performed. She’s also learned to deep sea dive, which makes her even more of a rock star in my books. Learning to snorkel without panicking, in addition to believing I’m already enough, is an example of what’s on my 2012 list of Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live.
Fear, as I’ve written about before, can be our teacher or our enslaver. Courage is not the absence of fear, but harnessing fear’s potential and using it to guide us not only to safety but success! Fear can be a healthy neurobiological response to danger to help us survive, driven by our fear command center amygdalae. It can also be induced through the perception of an uncontrollable or unavoidable threat, resulting in the psychological phenomenon called “anxiety”. Avoiding what we fear has a nasty way of causing anxiety.
Conway’s premise is quite simple really: imagine you felt no fear, now what would you do? Not all of us, especially with kids in our lives, can chuck it all and go live on an ashram in India in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment (my own personal fantasy some days around dinner time). But we can pack our kids in a second-hand RV, telecommute for a few weeks, and travel the country (my family’s reality a few summers ago). If that’s your dream, that is. Conway’s simple question helps open the mind to possibility.
When I asked my kids recently what they would do if fear wasn’t an issue, my son said, “I’d become a pro snowboarder and do more parkour.” For those not yet familiar with this hair-raising (for parents) activity first spawned in France, check out this link. My daughter responded, “All kinds of crazy stuff, like gymnastics or things to do with heights.” Not only does posing this question help us identify some of our dreams, it can also help us recognize the fears that may be in our way.
What will you do in 2012 if fear is not an issue? What do your kids want to accomplish or at least try? Post some examples from your 2012 Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live list in our Comments Section.
Remember: the best way to unleash your inner courage is to harness your fear in ways that ensure not only your survival, but even more importantly your capacity to thrive in life! Check out our Six Types of Courage resource to help you and your kids brainstorm the type(s) of courage you might like to develop in 2012.
Happy New Year! Blessings to you and your family for 2012!
Thanks for reading and continuing to share your courage stories and parenting insights. Enjoy the ride!