Ninety percent of the awesome stories I can tell about my life began the same way … “Once upon a time there was a shy girl who was worried about what other people thought of her, embarrassed to express herself in public, and afraid to venture off on her own.”
Thankfully this protagonist knew there would be dry endings to her stories if she sat back and let fear, worry and embarrassment stop her. So the stories have gone something like this: “Once upon a time there was a shy girl who was worried… embarrassed… afraid… but she was more concerned with stunting her potential if she let fear stop her.”
I am here to tell you we are NOT born with a bone that makes us fearless. We become fearless by acknowledging our fears and taking them on, even if you have to “fake it until you make it.”
“20 years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Here are some “scary” moments in my life that shaped who I am:
I was a freshman in college when I recognized that my shyness could hinder my ability to socialize and make friends throughout life. So when I saw a sign-up sheet for a dance class on campus, and a part of me was excited about the dancing while another part of me was terrified of having to mingle with other people in the class, I said screw it to the fear. I signed up before I could talk myself out of it, and then I showed up on Day 1. I wasn’t there for the dancing (although I love to dance) but for the challenge to be comfortable in front of others.
Naturally, when I was approached by a fellow journalism student to host a fitness show on our university’s TV network (the first of its kind on our campus), I was better prepared to take the challenge. I had doubts about my talent, but I did it because I didn’t want to say ‘no.’ Soon I was seeing my face on TV screens around campus, and I didn’t turn away in embarrassment.
Similarly, I didn’t balk at the idea of studying abroad in Russia during the summer of my sophomore year. Many other students gave the idea a thumbs down, which is perhaps why only five students took this trip. I knew nobody. I knew only the Russian word “Preevyet,” meaning “Hi!” But I knew the experience would be unforgettable. In my eyes, it was an experience I was meant to have, even if I didn’t know what I was getting into.
But the mother of all look-fear-in-the-face-experiences that I’ve conquered thus far was spending a summer in NYC to study at New York University. To your average city girl, this is no biggie. To the shy, scared girl I used to be, this was huge. I wondered if, like the old me, I would feel lost and afraid and alone in The Big Apple. To my surprise, I didn’t. I lived 24/7 in a bubble of excitement and pride in myself. The new me was confident, smart and secure – without having to fake it.
It’s taken work, but just like developing a muscle, you can build up strength in other areas. I’m living proof, though there are still some things I wish I was more comfortable with – like cooking! But that’s another story.
The best part of all is how this no-fear attitude can start a chain reaction. Upon returning from NYC, a dear friend of mine with whom I worked announced that she was leaving for another job after nearly two decades at our company. I was heartbroken, but it was kinda my fault. You see, this coworker said she was so impressed that I wasn’t afraid of a challenge – that I just went off to NYC like it was nothing, and it inspired her to find something new.
“It’s really not how it looks,” I told her. “I closed my eyes and jumped.”
But hey, if it looks like this all came natural to me, I’m fine with that too!