Be (not) afraid

I hate New Year's resolutions. Hate them, hate them, hate them. For me, making resolutions is usually a straight and narrow road to Failure Town and that's a place I really, really don't like to even think about, let alone visit. 

But I just finished reading Brene Brown's brief book The Gifts of Imperfection, and I've been inspired. Brown's a researcher at Harvard who specializes in shame, vulnerability, and living what she calls a "wholehearted" life: that is, a life full of all the emotions available to our fragile human hearts—and not filled with the numbness that's the inevitable byproduct of our too much food, too much TV, too much debt Western culture.  

She argues, in an eloquent TED talk, that we use this numbing behaviour to avoid feeling shame, guilt, anger—all the nasty emotional bugaboos—but, in the process, we numb the good feelings too. 

When we numb pain, we also numb joy.

This leads me to my very first New Year's resolution: be afraid.

I need to explain that, I think. After all, who wants to be afraid? 

Well, me.

In the spirit of feeling everything, I've decided that I need to start feeling afraid.

You see, I never really got the phrase "feel the fear and do it anyway," because a great deal of what makes other people quake in their boots—public speaking, performing on stage, rock climbing, flying, eating in a restaurant solo—totally turns my crank. 

In fact, one of the greatest compliments I ever got was from a rock climbing guide who looked at me admiringly after I'd nimbly hoisted myself up an escarpment rock face and said, "Boy—you're fearless."

So I figured I wasn't really afraid of anything.

Silly girl. 

I may not fear many activities, but turn the spotlight on feelings...and, well, watch me quake in my boots.

Rejection. Disappointment. Failure. Conflict. Anger.

I do some pretty acrobatic dances trying to keep those feelings away. Even typing them is tough. Right now, my chest is getting tight and I can feel my cheeks heating up. So you can imagine how I feel when I'm in the midst of a situation that might actually cause me (or someone else) to feel that way for real.

Many of us spend a crazy amount of energy trying desperately to appear in control, cool, on top of it all. I know I do. I always have. (Ironically, I don't do this very well. Any of my friends would chuckle at the idea of me being "on top of it." But it's the trying that counts.)

And, frankly, I'm tired of trying to pretend that's the real me.

So I'm going to be afraid. I'm going to court rejection by asking for things when there's a real chance the answer might be no. I'm going to risk people thinking I'm clingy or weak or flaky by taking down the perfectionist mask I've tried so hard to hold up. I'm going to risk conflict by speaking up when I feel wounded. 

Or at least I'm going to try.

I'm going to be afraid—and I'm going to lean into the fear, and I'm going to discover that the things that terrify me are never as bad in reality as they are in my head. Never.

I have this quotation from Martha Beck on my fridge: "Most of humankind's great achievements—the sorts of things that make you say, 'Oh, wow'—were accomplished by people who were muttering 'Oh, shit.'"

I'm going to mutter, "Oh shit."

And I'm going to remember that nothing great—relationships, careers, self-discoverywas ever accomplished from a place afraid of fear. 


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