Last May, with most of my belongings in storage, I loaded my two boys and our 80 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback in the minivan and headed into the next little chapter of our lives – a near-epic road trip meant to fill the gaping expanse of being between homes for three months as we moved from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
I was terrified.
So much of my identity is tied up in the longing for home and security…belonging. Becoming totally unmoored while also being in charge of people who depend on me scared the daylights out of me, yet it was also irresistible. I could have insisted that my husband move out of his one-bedroom corporate apartment into a larger home for us all for three months, but honestly? Where’s the fun, or terror, in that?
So, off we went, only a vague plan in hand that involved jumping from Airbnb in various locales, house-sitting for generous friends and family who didn’t really need house sitters but offered me their homes anyway, and a Hamilton fueled drive from Atlanta to Houston by way of New Orleans. By and large, it was amazing to let go and fly with only the thinnest of nets. As clichéd as it sounds, I was transformed.
As I learned, fear is a gift…a reminder that what you’re doing is important.
Whether it’s being the first to say “I love you” in a relationship or asking for a promotion, putting yourself in a position to be rejected is at the heart of most of our fears. Being comfortable with that vulnerability is also part of growing into our full and true selves.
That fear of rejection was at the heart of my experience. I thought I was afraid of something going wrong, someone getting hurt, lost, or worse. I thought I was afraid of having to make every decision alone for three months. In reality? I was afraid that I was not enough and that if something went wrong my inadequacy would be revealed and I’d be rejected and ridiculed by the people I thought loved me.
As Brené Brown points out in her famous TedX Talk on Vulnerability, the concept of shame is inextricably tied up with fear. She says, “Shame is the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” It’s this fear of being rejected that too often holds us back from living amazing lives!
Once I got past my initial fear of looking stupid (and hence being rejected), I had a great time, and I learned a few things along the way:
Facing your fears is addictive.
Research has shown that experiencing fear releases the same hormones as experiencing pleasure. A small jolt of fear floods your brain with dopamine and serotonin, two of your brain’s favorite feel-good hormones. I’m terrified of heights and can be in tears before boarding a roller coaster or ride like Disney’s Tower of Terror, but get off feeling exhilarated and ready to conquer the world! Start taking baby steps to confront the lesser of your fears and before you know it, your courage will increase until you can’t resist taking on even bigger, more important challenges.
Vulnerability strengthens relationships.
Allowing your friends an opportunity to support you through your fears allows them to see you in your full humanity. It’s not only endearing, but it also allows them to apply their experience, knowledge, and compassion in a way that rewards their need to be useful. Letting your friends in on your fear helps strengthen your ties. I feel much closer to two women I was only sort of close to after publicly sharing on Facebook last year that a leg of my trip had fallen through and we had no place to stay for two weeks. These two women stepped up, each offering me and the boys a week in each of their homes while they were away.
You’ll discover exactly how strong you are.
Remember the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons? Dressed as a magician, Bullwinkle says, “And now for my next act, I will pull a rabbit from this hat,” right before he pulls out an angry, roaring lion. Then with a befuddled look on his face he exclaims, “Gee, I didn’t know my own strength!” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout our moving process as I took on the day-to-day responsibilities of solo parenting, packing, hiring movers, getting repairs completed, and figuring out what we were doing over the summer. I wanted to lie down and freeze in panic at the thought of leaving everything I knew behind and starting over. I wanted to hand all the parts that scared me off to someone else. But there was no one else, so I did it. And today, I feel confident that I could do it all over again if I needed to and even more, I know I can tackle any other challenge I haven’t faced before. I know now I can do hard things because I’ve done them before.
Worry is wasted energy.
As I said above, fear is a gift…see it as a road sign pointing you in the right direction. Worry, on the other hand, is simply a speed bump slowing you down. It literally accomplishes nothing other than making you feel badly. So, whenever you’re setting out to accomplish something or face a new fear, instead of letting worry keep you locked into place, create an attack plan. Break your goal down into concrete, manageable steps and let the momentum of taking each one carry you forward.
You’ll become a rockstar to your kids.
Seriously. I can’t think of a better way to teach your kids an important, tangible lesson than having them see you confront a fear. Depending on their ages, you don’t have to let them in on every detail, but letting them see you grapple with a life-changing decision like leaving a job to start a new career or having the courage to walk away from a detrimental relationship even when you don’t know what comes next, teaches them that it’s okay both to take chances in life and to prioritize their own happiness. In all, much better lessons than letting their dreams or joy pass them by.