Overcoming fear: necessary skills in rock climbing and newspaper delivery

When I was nine or ten years old, I had this paper route: the Norfolk Shopper. It was a small, once-per-week free paper filled with ads. They paid me a whopping $1 per week for my labors, which meant that every four weeks I had enough money to go to our local record store and buy the latest Jackson 5 album! Not a bad deal.

Except for the swallows in the spring.

One of the homes that I delivered to had a swallow nest; and momma and papa swallow were determined to keep any predators away from their precious little chicks. I, apparently, was deemed a predator. That fact alone was pretty rad, seeing how I was this skinny, pre-pubescent kid with a crew cut and thick glasses. The not-so-rad part though was that they would dive bomb me every time I came within 30 yards of the house! It’s been said that intimidation is 90% of winning any battle. Well they were definitely winning. I would start hyperventilating as soon as I turned the corner to this particular block.

Fear can obviously be a good thing. The fact that I am fearful of dismembering one of my limbs with my chainsaw causes me pay much closer attention to what I am doing when using it and the fear of falling to my death gives me sufficient motivation to check and re-check my harness before each climb.

There is also a darker side to fear. It is what Mr. and Mrs. Swallow were attempting to do with me: paralyze any progress.

I am all about safety and health and comfort and peace. In our modern world, we have learned to expect these — which undoubtably makes for a better world. We have food inspectors, smoke alarms, seat belts, and surgeon general warnings. We remind our loved ones to drive carefully, get plenty of sleep, and avoid stress. And everything has a lock, from our gun cabinets to our homes to our pill bottles. We feel safe.

Until we experience fear.

And since we have become accustomed to avoiding fear, we do what comes naturally: we move away from the fear. We stay in our area of safety: our comfort zone.

Comfort zones are great! You can relax. You can breathe. You can even laugh.

You just can’t grow there.

In order to grow, in order to get stronger or smarter or better at anything, we as humans need to be challenged. And when we are challenged, we feel threatened. And when we are threatened, we feel . . .  your guessed it: FEAR!

What that feeling of fear is really telling us then is that we are outside of our usual safety zone and are in our growth zone. Once we conquer that area, it then is added to our safety zones. 

Remember when you learned to ride a bike?  At first it was scary as hell, but now you probably don’t even think about it.  It is no longer unfamiliar or even perceived as very dangerous because you have mastered that skill.  

When we sense fear then, the first order of business is to recognize that we are being presented with an opportunity to grow and to improve in some area of our life.  Maybe it’s fear of applying for that job or learning a new skill.  Maybe it’s fear of approaching some guy or gal that you’ve had your eye on, or of engaging in a difficult conversation with someone of significance. In climbing, it’s often fear of failing, falling, looking weak (especially on those routes that don’t cater to our own strengths), or injury.

Which brings us to our second step: assess the true risk.  I used to race motorcycles — motocross specifically. There was significant risk of injury and I would frequently feel fear. Each new skill set, whether it was jumping my bike across a sixty foot gap or increasing speed along a very rough section, required me to gauge what the true risk of injury was and then decide if that risk was acceptable. Once I knew the risk and felt that I was ok with that risk, the only thing left to do was to execute the move.

And so that is the last step.  Once we realize that we are at a crossroads that has opportunity for us to grow, and once we understand what the true risk is for our particular skill set and are willing to accept that risk (And that level, by the way, is different for different people. There is no right or wrong answer and it will likely change throughout your life), then the final step, the most important step, the step that will change your life and lead to real growth and improvement, is to execute the move: say hi to her, launch your great idea, practice your broken Spanish, or get on that overhang sloper route and don’t scream ‘take’ quite so many times. 

What you will likely discover is that first, it wasn’t really as scary as you thought; second, that it might actually work, and finally, that you eventually enjoy embracing the fear.

That’s when you know you are growing.

By the way, I kept the paper route, learned to lip-sync J5’s A-B-C, and became one with the swallows. 

Namaste . . . bitches!

Face your fears and follow your bliss,


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