The Benefit of Fear
For my 40th birthday I invited a bunch of girlfriends to do a rope course with me.
I have always wanted to do one and I found a facility nearby that had a 50-ft climbing wall, ropes course, and this crazy activity where you climb up a telephone pole, stand atop of it, and then jump off to try to grab onto a trapeze. All with a safety net involved, of course.
While I've never been afraid of heights per se, I also never had a desire to go sky diving or bungee jumping. No interest whatsoever. But I have always wanted to do a ropes course, so I figured my 40th would be a perfect time to do it with a few great girlfriends.
On the day, once we got to the site, it was interesting to see all the different reactions to the obstacles. Some of my friends were super pumped and couldn’t wait to get going. Most of the ladies were freaked out and immediately stated that they just wanted to watch.
The difference was so surprising and, before being faced with the obstacles, I would not have been able to guess who went to which group - fearless or freaked out.
My first obstacle was to climb the 50-ft vertical wall. I had only done rock climbing once before, and I always felt safe on the rope, so I wasn’t too nervous. It was actually fun to climb. Figuring out the next step while my friends shouted from below help me and direct me to the best path to take.
At one point, when I was about 30-feet up, the handlers at the top said that I was doing great, but asked that I stay put for a bit. They told me nothing was wrong, they just needed a second. When we were ready to proceed, I was climbing up and jumping from one spot to the next. I figured that I was safe with the rope and that the worst thing that could happen was that I would fall a few feet and then keep on going.
Eventually I made it to the top and I was full of adrenaline and my limbs were shaky. I was belayed down and it was so fun! When I was safely on the ground, my friends informed me that the guys had me stop on the way up because they realized that the ropes were not being held correctly; the ropes weren’t locking in place.
What?! A million crazy thoughts went through my head. I literally could have died if I jumped to one spot and lost my footing! Also - crazy to think what we can accomplish when we are unaware of the dangers and when we feel safe.
All this drama did not deter me. The next obstacle was the telephone pole.
None of my friends were able to make it to the trapeze, which only motivated me more to be the first of the group to get it done. So I sprinted up to the top, struggled a bit to stand atop of the telephone pole... but I made it!
It was such a mind struggle to “just step up on top” but I did it. Then having to launch myself off the super high telephone pole to try to grab the trapeze, I froze. I asked the ropes people at least a dozen times if I was secure (I might not have been so nervous if I didn’t know about the trip up on the climbing wall).
They reassured me that I was safe and after a very, very long time, I leapt!
I jumped and launched my body up and over! I reached. I felt the trapeze bar in my hand. I squeezed. I lost my grip and fell a few feet until the rope caught me, but I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I jumped and reached the trapeze!
The whole time on that little telephone pole I kept telling myself, “This is so stupid. You can die if you do this. You have two kids and an amazing husband, and if this is how you die how selfish can you be?! How will people tell your kids that you died because you leapt off a telephone pole?!”
So this whole scenario got me thinking of the role fear played that day for all of us. One of my strongest girlfriends (she can do weighted pull ups!) only went a few feet up in the air before saying she was done. She knew her limit and she was proud of how far she made it.
Then on the flip side, I made it to the top and leapt, but I was still afraid. People often knock fear, or applaud someone when they are "fearless".
However, I think it is important to acknowledge that fear has benefits as well.
Fear can be a life-saver.
While it's certainly a skill to learn which fears we listen to, it's also important to understand our fears.
Why are we afraid to do things?
What is behind the fear?
What is really stopping us?
For me, it was a fear of death and a fear of my children growing up without a mom. It was a fear of not seeing them grow up. Fear of not having the privilege of growing old with my husband.
I also had a fear of failure around doing the ropes course. I think that fear encouraged me to make it to the top of the telephone pole and climbing wall. This type of fear often propels me forward, but has also made it difficult for me to start some things.
That fear got in my head when I was studying for the psychology licensing exam. That fear was a real when it came to creating Virtue Supplements.
We all have fears that manifest in different ways. Fears serve a purpose and, with patience, they can help us grow with the knowledge and insight they provide.
One of my patients taught me these fear acronyms that have stuck with me: FEAR -- F*ck Everything And Run or FEAR -- Face Everything And Rise.
How do you want to react to fear?