If You Want to Conquer Fear …

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie

I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past few months about how my life has changed. Most people seem to be impressed and / or inspired by what I’ve done. Which is funny, because in the doing of it I’ve felt none of what they seem to see. What I’ve mostly felt is nearly debilitating fear and overwhelming anxiety.

I’ve always thought I was unusual, and somehow lacking, for never going anywhere on my own up until now. I even went away to college with my best friend from high school. I’ve thought so much about this, and can’t find a time in my life where I went somewhere alone, and stayed there alone (driving somewhere alone to meet up with friends doesn’t count). I had a conversation with a woman recently who said she’s never been alone – she went from her parents’ house at 19 to her new husband’s, and has been with him ever since, and she’s not the only one who’s told me a life story like this. So, perhaps I’m not all that unusual in this, not flawed in the lack of some important personality trait.

I took a Dale Carnegie course way back in the late 1980’s, when I first started working and had to give presentations. I was incredibly shy and so nervous when I got up to speak in meetings, and my boss thought it would help me get more comfortable leading business meetings. It was excruciating, because I had to get up in front of the entire group and speak about different topics, some very personal and emotional. The group was much larger than any meeting I would have to run (over 100 people), and the entire experience was basically awful. I dreaded those classes all week, and couldn’t wait to get to the end of them. It made my smaller meetings slightly less stressful, but I never did (and still am not) comfortable speaking in front of groups. I did get better at it, and came to realize that it was only getting slightly easier with practice. With going out and doing it.

My boss also had all of us take the Myers-Briggs test, to see where our strengths and talents were. Everyone else (basically all the men) tested into personality types that were extroverted, rational – good for business professions. Me? I tested INFJ, and so far over on the “I” that it was kind of ridiculous. My suggested professions? Chef, florist, artist, writer. Luckily my boss was quite a creative and open-minded man, and didn’t hold this against me too much.

All this is to emphasize something about me and fear: I am afraid of so many things: going places where I know no one; traveling by myself; going to restaurants, movies, concerts by myself; talking to people I don’t know (I always feel stupid, and like I’m either interminably blathering or coming off as a snob because I don’t talk enough); an unknown future; instability of any kind in my life; financial instability; anything outside my comfort level (which has been incredibly narrow); change. Good grief, have I hated change – to the point that I’ve stayed in jobs, and relationships, for far longer than I should have because they were known and comfortable.

This past year and a half has been nothing but change on a massive scale, in just about every aspect of my life, and learning to be completely on my own. Moving from the east coast to the southwest, and not only doing it alone, but quite literally knowing not one soul here. Living in a completely new and foreign place, alone. Joining the local art association, alone. Joining the local continuing education association and going to their potluck dinner meeting, alone (and good grief, was that hard!!). Joining a local hiking group, alone.

And now I’ve made plans to face my fear of traveling alone head on: I’m going to Taos, alone, for a weekend. I have grand dreams of traveling more – of going back to Scotland, England, Ireland, and more. Of sitting on some exotic beach, with myself for company and all the time in the world to do whatever I want, or not. I love to travel (and didn’t do nearly enough while married). Now, if I want to go, I will more than likely go alone. If I do go with a friend or friends, that will be a lucky happenstance, but not something I can depend on (and surely not something I can base my travel plans on, if I hope to go anywhere). So Taos is the first baby step on this journey; as Carnegie said – go out and get busy.

I don’t mind driving alone. I’m all about road trips, and have never minded being in the car by myself, even when driving all day. But on all my previous road trips, there have been friends waiting at the other end. This time, there’s no one waiting. I’ll be going to restaurants, alone. I’m heading up for the Taos Wool Festival, so I’m going to that, alone (unless I happen to find out someone I know is going, which is possible but not what I’m basing my plans around).

I know now the fear will never go away, at least not for me. But I also know now that it’s up to me whether I let it stop me or not. I’m learning to embrace this part of me, but not let it control me, who I am, or what my life becomes. I think going out and getting busy doesn’t mean conquering fear, at least not for me. It means no longer allowing it to be any sort of controlling emotion in my life. It means saying, “Yeah, I’m scared. But I’m going to do it anyway” – to whatever causes me to feel afraid, or uncomfortable, or insecure.

Embrace it, and move on.

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