The Hall of Fears

I think everyone is born with some instinctive fear–of falling, of the dark, of speaking in public, and/or of the words “Some Assembly Required.” I’m personally afraid of big machinery–pipes, cranks, dials and grease. Big wheels and fan belts. Maybe it was all the hydraulic equipment my engineering father showed us when we were young (read “family vacation”). At least I’m old enough now to say “no” to tours and museums that involve big machines and not apologize for it.

Louisa May Alcott is famous for saying “I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I’ve been driving a car for 36 years, but I’m still afraid to drive in a blinding rain storm- the kind where the wipers on the highest speed don’t keep the windshield clear, and you’re lucky to see the red taillights of the car right in front of you on the highway. But I get her point. I’d probably say “I don’t mind being afraid, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Feeling fear is just a part of life.

Probably the more debilitating fears are the irrational ones that keep us from living our fullest lives. We all have some of those, right? I found this great exercise in a book called Life is a Verb by Patti Digh.  Try this: create your own Hall of Fears (picture something at the state fair, without an exorbitant entrance fee). Set the kitchen timer for three minutes and write down everything you can think of that creeps you out. Things you avoid. Things that are scary. Keep going until you hear the timer “ding.” Next read over the list and notice which fears actually keep you safe, and which ones keep you small. Circle the ones that inhibit you, that keep you from doing something you’d really like to do. For the most part, fear is actually a learned behavior, so think about how and where you learned the fears that you’ve circled. Finally, pick one fear and spend just five minutes writing a short children’s story about unlearning that fear. How would you teach a child not to be controlled by that fear?

That will give you something to stew about for the rest of the day. I’m sure Louisa May Alcott would agree that application is always the hardest part.