The first step is often the most difficult.
I don’t know if someone famous first said that, or if it’s just a phrase that resonates with humankind, so it gets repeated. Regardless, it’s true.
The anticipation, the excitement—just before you take that first step, you’re filled with these things and often with fear. They create a thin wall, a barrier between all of your intentions and the goals on the other side.
You can read the books, consult with the experts, and strategize until you’ve charted every course and planned for every potential misstep. But, until you’re willing to push past that thin wall of apprehension, they remain plans and aspirations, no more within reach than the other dreams and goals you’ve set but failed to chase throughout your life.
Okay, it’s just the first blog post, it’s not that serious. But as I was thinking about what to write in this first post, I felt that apprehension, that first-step reluctance rear its head.
I see this blog as a place for me to share what I’ve learned in hopes of helping others fearlessly chase their dreams. But that doesn’t mean, in my success, that I don’t still confront the same psychological obstacles and self-imposed fears that those on the sidelines do. On the contrary, I face them often, sometimes daily.
Facing and Overcoming Fears
More than a decade ago, I worked at a prison. I was in my early twenties, still in college, and a young parent. For the first two years, I worked the night shift.
Let me pause to say: I have always been what people call a girly-girl. I’m easily frightened by creepy bugs and scary movies. People who know me personally don’t often believe me when I first tell them I worked in a prison.
It only took about 10 minutes for me to drive from my house to work. But those 10 minutes were gut-wrenching. I didn’t want to see any fights, to be called ugly names, to be leered at, or have to respond to a medical emergency—all regular occurrences in a large men’s institution. Each night, I faced nearly-paralyzing fear on that drive to work.
For some people, the job wasn’t scary. I came to learn that it wasn’t the men in the facility that frightened me, as much as the ideas and (often false) preconceived notions of who they were. Most of these men were just people who made mistakes, people like you and I, and they didn’t want to see fights or be involved in a medical emergency, just as much as I didn’t. (The leering and name calling may have been another story).
Regardless, I was afraid. Each night, sick to my stomach. Each night, fighting the urge to turn the car around.
This nightly low-grade fear had horrific effects on my health. During those first few years on the job, I gained about 30 pounds. But I also gained a valuable life lesson:
Wait…what? Fear is? Yeah, I know it sounds really vague.
But fear is what it is. How it affects us is entirely up to us. Normally, being put into a situation where I am scared (creepy bug), I run screaming like a little girl. But when I was the single income providing for a baby girl, and this fear stood between me and paying the bills, I had no choice but to acknowledge it and keep pressing on.
This daily interaction I had with fear, the car ride with fear my constant passenger, made me realize that fear itself couldn’t hurt me. Only if I ran from what was on the other side of fear could it limit me, in this case leaving me without a job.
Fear doesn’t have to control you. It will continue being fear, but you can choose its impact.
I would face fear again and again: before leaving my 9-to-5 for a freelancing career, before ending a long-term abusive relationship, before selling my house and moving into the mountains. But in each of these cases, the fear didn’t stop me. Really, it hardly delayed me. At most, it gave me cause to pause and take a quick look at my preparations and plans, before taking a leap.
Now, my conversations with fear go something like this:
“What up fear? Sit down and shut up. I have shit to do.”
More than anything, I sort of pity fear, this emotion that paralyzes so many people. This life passenger who no longer demands a front seat, merely a passing acknowledgement from me.
Before you leap…
Fear can stop you. It can hold you at the gate or it can make you run in the other direction. The role you allow it to play in your destiny is your choice alone.
For me, fear gives me one last opportunity to ensure my plans are solid. It’s a contingency, of sorts. Right before I leap, it asks pathetically, “Are you sure you’re ready?”
To which I respond, toes on the line, with a look over my well-laid plans, “Thank you for checking, now get the hell out of my way,” as I step into greatness.