I write a lot about fear. They say “write what you know.”
I’m something of an expert in being a scaredy cat. I’ve been doing it since birth. As a kid, I was afraid of loud noises, the dark, spiders, water (especially the ocean), and Santa Claus. And you still don’t want to see me when some eight-legged thing comes into view. Or perhaps you do – if you enjoy watching other people’s hysterics.
When I was little, fear was so straightforward. It had a specific cause – a clap of thunder – and a specific result – me, crawling under the coffee table.
As I get older, fear is trickier to identify. Sure, when I’m afraid to turn the lights off after a particularly edgy episode of Murder She Wrote (I wish I were kidding), that’s pretty easy to see. But the trigger isn’t always so clear.
Sometimes I’m not sure what’s making me afraid. And sometimes – and this is what I’m really trying to get at – I don’t even know that what I’m feeling is fear.
Recently I signed up for a new type of exercise class. It was something that I’d heard about other people doing, and it sounded interesting. But as I neared the day of the first class, I started thinking about how inconvenient the time was. I started to wonder whether I really had time to go or whether it might be better if I just skipped it so that my afternoon routine would go more smoothly. I headed to work the morning of the class with a bag of workout clothes on my arm, but I was beginning to think it just didn’t make any sense to go. It would mean my dog would be at home alone longer, that I’d get home late and have to rush to get dinner ready and prepare a blog post for the next day and probably get to bed late. The whole thing was very inconvenient. Instead, I decided, I’d just take the dog on a longer walk and call it a day. And then around lunch time, the instructor emailed all of us who had signed up to say how excited she was that we were coming.
And I realized I had to go.
And then I realized that my heart was pounding. My breathing was shallow, and my hands were trembling a little on the keyboard.
I was scared.
I was really scared. I was scared of trying this new thing. I was scared of being in a room with lots of people I didn’t know doing something I didn’t know how to do. I was scared of watching that process in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. I was scared of the uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable in my own body.
And all my chatter about inconvenience and my busy schedule had absolutely nothing to do with inconvenience or my busy schedule.
It had all been about fear, and I didn’t even known it. If the instructor hadn’t emailed, I may never have.
I’d like to tell you that I went to the class and that it was wonderful, and I was so glad that I overcame my fear.
But I can’t.
I did go to the class.
It was awful. I hated it, and I cried after it was over. And I vowed never to do any class like that ever again.
But of course, it stayed with me, as hard things tend to do. Over the last few months, I’ve remembered it again and again – mainly the way I felt beforehand and the way I felt during the class – uncomfortable, exposed, embarrassed, weak. For a while I thought about how there must be a lesson in there, and it must be that I’m supposed to go back to that class and push through my fear and learn to love it.
And I suppose that would be one option.
But I decided that I don’t have to recognize my fear and overcome it in the same breath.
Maybe right now it’s enough to see that it’s there and begin to move, slowly, in the direction of courage. For me, the result is that I’m training for a 5k race, something else that makes me afraid in similar ways – of appearing weak, of experiencing physical discomfort, of not doing it well enough – but something that feels more attainable.
I’m starting off small, but every time I finish a training run I feel strong and courageous.
I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to one of those classes, but I hope that I keep challenging myself. The biggest fear for me as a creative soul is that my creativity will stagnate, that I’ll get stuck in a rut and remain at a stand-still forever.
The experience in that class, awful as it was, certainly got me moving.