Being present / Fear / Nature & Hiking

Free to Fear Fear

Still working on that fear of heights!

Today, before heading out for a hike, I had a conversation with my Mom. Her parting words were, “I don’t like when you hike alone. Please make sure you are prepared.”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I said. “I’ll be okay. I’ve got some pepper spray in the car.” But as I huff and puff up this steep incline, I am haunted by her words. I am not prepared today. I forgot the pepper spray and didn’t search for a whistle as planned. My heart is pounding in my chest, and I wonder how the heck I hiked 25 miles in Yosemite last year with a 35-pound pack on my back. All I’m carrying today is water and a writing pad, but I’m out of breath. I stay on the wide trail. It’s pretty empty here today. I stop periodically and listen for signs of human life. I’ve wandered far from my starting point. Fear creeps up on me exponentially with each extra step I take. I hear voices. I stop and strain to listen. Male or female? Or both? Fear whispers, “Two males.” But I’m not sure. The mountains are playing games with me. I reason that the voices are further away than they appear. I continue hiking. Around another bend, I hear it again. I freeze. They’re close this time. Two males. I’m sure of it. I’m pretty far from safety. Stupid me. My heartbeat quickens; I turn abruptly, pick up the pace, and head back. I should have listened to Mom. I should have been prepared.

Fear. I really hate it sometimes. But, in a way, I could not live without it. My life has not been glorious. It has been a long string of failures and successes, mistakes intimately mingled with good judgment. But as I step back and take a walk through it all, it becomes clear that fear has been the fuel I’ve lived by.

To recap some pieces of my life:

  • Fear of failure made me avoid college after high school.
  • A decade later, fear of failure made me go to college and finally get that degree with honors.
  • Fear of needles made me hyperventilate in the doctor’s office until I was 30 yrs. old.
  • Fear of needles inspired me to purposely donate blood from age 30 and on to break the fear.
  • Fear of heights made me afraid to jump off diving boards.
  • Fear of heights inspired me to jump from a plane at 13,000 feet to break my fear of heights.
  • Six months later, fear of heights made me still afraid to jump off a diving board. (I’ve yet to work that one out.)
  • Fear of being attacked kept me from hiking, camping, or traveling alone most of my life.
  • Fear of being attacked inspired me to learn martial arts to defend myself.
  • And fear of living my life without ever hiking, camping or traveling alone motivates me to want to hike, camp and travel alone just to know I can. That might be a reckless goal these days, but not if I prepare.

When I am prepared, I will be stronger.

When I am stronger, I will be more prepared.

Fear is the muscle we must constantly flex so we can use it to our advantage. If it lays dormant, it will stiffen until we are paralyzed. But if we keep working it out, it becomes a necessary part of our success–the fuel that drives the mission, that allows us to reach that all-important goal: to truly live.

If we feed fear with more fear, it will consume us entirely. If, on the other hand, we feed our fear with a nice dose of love and respect for ourselves, we can use fear to become the strong and healthy person we want to be.

Sometimes I marvel at the advice my Mom gives me. She’s so right; it is reckless to be unprepared. She also sets a good example when it comes to fear. In my eyes, she doesn’t seem to entertain fear for too long. She’s 78 years old now, and, despite suffering some emotional blows recently, is so active and positive. When I ask her how she does it, she just smiles and says, “I just keep moving. They can’t shoot a moving target.”

Fear keeps me moving.


What part has fear played in your life? Has it ultimately been you enemy or your ally? Do you live with it or does it own you? Can you make a list of what fear has done for you like I did above? You might be surprised as I was today when I had as many positive results from fear as I’ve had negative. If fear has primarily been your enemy, it might be time to reclaim your life by having more love and respect for yourself and feeding that into the fear formula. Make sure you are using fear to your advantage and not the other way around. Remember: you are free to fear fear–or not. It’s always your choice.

10 thoughts on “Free to Fear Fear

  1. Susan, what an insightful post. I agree with most of your points, but I understand your Mother’s point about a hiking partner. Fear can be a motivator and a protector of sorts I think. As long as it doesn’t paralyze you, it’s okay. I’ve let it keep me from doing a few things I’ve always wanted to do. Sooner or later, we either give in or let go — maybe it all leads to same path in the end, regardless. :).

    • You know, I’ve always envied men… specifically, their ability to wander off on their own and not have the same level of concern I think women do. What I wouldn’t have given back in the day to go hitchhiking across the country like my older brothers did. Those days are changing now for everyone–men and women alike–but now and even 40 years ago, women have that added concern of sexual assault that men simply don’t have to be concerned about (as much… unfortunately, I’ve heard more and more accounts of men assaulting men sexually as well in the last decade or so, but the norm is for that to be more of a concern for women.).

  2. I am a member of my local hiking group Susan and safety comes first always. I have also hiked on my own in Italy and other parts of Europe for example but did my homework, stuck to any advice I received and carried on moving. Think the rules of hiking can be applied to life as well…and it’s necessary to keep the old internal fear in check…or you would do nothing, go nowhere and stop moving.

  3. Hello Susan – found you via Brigitte and wow! really enjoyed the posts I read. Fear — is motivating that is for sure. I too share your fear of needles btw and diving and I have my own fears of water – I have yet to try swimming.Guess you’re inspiring me. I love to hike as well but have never struck out by myself. Glad you’re out there blogging and being creative and living : )

    • Oh, I guess I didn’t mention I have a fear of water too! Nearly drowned in my neighbor’s pool when I was very young, and even with swimming lessons shortly afterwards, could never feel at home in the water. So, what did I do? Took up windsurfing for a few years in my early 30s and certified in scuba diving as well. I’m still uncomfortable in the water, still a terrible swimmer. I even almost got swept out into the channel and had to ditch some of my windsurfing equipment because I couldn’t get back in under sail, but I made my way back to shore paddling on the surfboard. I kept on wanting to give up, my arms had no strength left–I was pretty far out–but I knew I alone could get me out of the mess I was in. Terrifying to be sure, and although I no longer windsurf (I gave it up after that, but really should have just prepared by sailing with a friend a.k.a. having a buddy system), I think I will try again on vacation some day or at least go scuba diving again. I don’t like when fear gets the best of me. We only have one life to live and are lucky and blessed to be here in the first place. So, what I guess I’m saying is “Go swimming!!!!” 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed reading our outlook on life and it’s pitfalls. For many years I put off or convinced myself that I couldn’t do certain things because I didn’t have someone to do them with. It finally hit me that a large part of life was passing me by all because I’d been waiting on someone else. Now I hike or mountain bike every chance I have available. If someone wants to go with me then that is great. If they don’t show up then that is great as well. Whether someone goes with me or not no longer dictates how I’m going to enjoy life. Keep on swimming, flying or hiking. Don’t let anyone drag you down. Good luck.

  5. Pingback: One Coyote, Two Coyote: Keeping Fear in Check on the Trail | Swimming in the Mud

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