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.