Fear & Doing

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I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear, too.

–Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

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This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

This is not the story of the trail, how it was created, what kind of rock or vegetation you will see, or when it became a public trail.  It’s not the story of our family vacation, who came with us, everywhere we went, or the retelling of events in order.  Those are good stories, beautiful stories.  But those are not this story.

This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

 

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You see, a few years earlier, I hiked most of the Angel’s Landing trail with mostly the same group of people.  On that first trip to Utah, I discovered just how real and present a fear of heights could be.  I found that fear could actually stop me from doing what I really want to do.  I experienced that fear could make me miss out on an irreplicable moment.

On this trip, in August 2014, I was pretty determined to crack the code to my fear, to find a way to defeat it.  I wasn’t expecting to not feel fear.  But I wanted to be able to do things and have adventures and cherish them without fear getting in the way.

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The night before our Fisher Towers hike, we had talked about the trail extensively.  A couple of people in the group had hiked this trail before, and they spoke of a spot where you had to climb a ladder down into a small canyon and go up on the other side.  I had seen a picture of my brother-in-law sitting on an outcropping off the overlook point, and he said he had “hopped across the ravine” to get there.  You can’t know an experience from a description, and you can’t see everything in a photo.  But my imagination was not interested in this logic.  I was imagining coming to the top of the ladder and being in tears, unable to continue.  I was imagining getting to the overlook and sitting alone, far away from the edge, while everyone else enjoyed the experience together.  I spent much of the evening looking online for pictures and descriptions, thinking that knowing was the way to defeat the fear.

Finally, after so much perusing and not feeling any better, I made a decision.  I would go first, as much as possible.  I wouldn’t say anything to the group; I would just lead the way.  When we got to the ladder, I wouldn’t hang back and let someone else go first; I would just put one foot on the top rung, and then step to the next rung, and go.  I would just keep moving.  I couldn’t freeze if I kept moving forward.

I also had this instinct that the way to defeat the fear was to do the exact opposite of what I felt like doing.  Fear said, watch other people do it first.  Fear said, sit still, don’t move.  Something deep in my adventurous soul said, push back.  Push directly into those forces.

I didn’t tell anyone about my thoughts.

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By the time we reached the overlook at the trail end, I had done quite a bit of internal, unspoken fear-conquering.  I did, indeed, do the ladder first.  It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the situation my imagination had created, maybe 8-10 feet down the ladder then up a steep switchback, but that doesn’t matter.  What mattered, for me, was that I kept moving forward when I knew this unknown ladder situation was somewhere in front of me.  When it arrived, I put one foot on the ladder and just kept going from there.  Before the group had completely caught up, I was down the ladder, and up the other side of the ravine.

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Shortly after the ladder, I was again leading the way, and the trail seemed to end at a wall.  When we got close, we saw a small opening in the wall, about the size of a large doorway, and I moved forward into that opening — and found myself looking out at a steep drop-off and a huge landscape view.  My heart jumped into my throat, my veins felt like they were buzzing, and my hands were shaking.  I sucked in a sharp breath and took a step backwards.  I couldn’t even tell if it was still trail on the other side of this opening, or if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

While I recovered myself, my brother-in-law went through the opening and found the trail alongside the cliff.  My sisters offered to go next, but I recited my “one foot in front of the other; keep moving forward” mantra and stepped through the opening again.

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“The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear.”

–Shonda Rhimes, TED Talk

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At the end of the trail, I spent some time on those rock outcroppings.  There was a light buzzing in my veins, but it was nothing compared to the view.  And if you can believe it, the feeling of satisfaction was even better than the view.

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It was somewhere along the trail that day that I realized I might like come back someday and hike Fisher Towers alone.

Alone.

No Sarah or Megan to hold my hand when my heart jumped into my throat.  No Jon to confirm that we are still on the trail.  No Dan toggling between light-hearted banter and reciting bible verses.  No Amy chatting and getting to know each other better along the trail.

It was like something inside me bloomed to life, something that was strength of my own, something I didn’t realize was missing.  Or maybe I didn’t quite realize that it was something that was possible to have.

In fact, almost two years later, I can see a trajectory that I think began that day.  I do hike alone now.  Better than that, my inner conversation is less and less wanting to find someone to imitate, and more and more knowing who I am.

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But that day, I also felt solidarity with my fellow hikers.  Giving in to my fear would have meant that I didn’t get to be on the trail with them.  It would have meant that they wouldn’t have been there to witness my accomplishment, and I wouldn’t have had the joy of the adventure.

Instead, we enjoyed the accomplishment and adventure together.

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And that steep drop-off right before we went back through the opening in the rock?  I knew I could walk right past it, or stop and enjoy the view for a moment.  Fearless is a powerful semantic, but courage is much more empowering to an experience.  Fear would come with me.  But the doing undid the fear a little bit.  And exploration and adventure were leading the way.

Make A Wish…Don’t Be Scared!

Do you ever feel like everything in your life comes together?  Like all the unrelated pieces are suddenly all on the same topic?

Tonight I was having a conversation with Sarah about a quote I heard last weekend: “Reaching maturity means you no longer need to be lied to.”  The whole talk was great, but I really hate this quote, if it’s true.  I still want to be lied to.  I want someone to tell me that everything will be okay, that true love is real, that I can live happily ever after.  Maturity is crappy because it blows wide open all the hopes and dreams you have always had.  Adulthood has shell-shocked me in ways I didn’t realize were possible.  The pervasive unhappiness in life, the unlikelihood of people treating each other with goodness and love, the impossibility of happily ever after…

But…

It occurred to me as Sarah and I were talking that the fact that I believe that happiness and goodness are lies is a bigger issue than the thought that I still want to be lied to.  The truth is, I don’t want to be lied to, I want happiness and goodness to be true!  I don’t want someone to tell me that my dreams are possible, I want my dreams to be possible!

There are people in this world…I believe the word is “cynics”…who will say that’s just the way life is, crappy things happen, you just have to get through them.  People aren’t good, you have to protect yourself.  Love isn’t real, you have to keep your walls up.  Happiness is an illusion, just waiting for something bad to expose it for the hoax it is.  This cynical viewpoint is tempting, because you can’t get too badly hurt.  You expect the bad stuff, you protect yourself from it, and it doesn’t surprise you when it shows up.

I don’t think I want to be a cynic, though.

There are people…who the cynics might call “naive”…who believe that happiness is the default setting on life, that pain makes us strong, that the bad sweetens the good.  They expect good things to happen, and they rejoice when they do.  This viewpoint is scary, because you open yourself up to a world of pain if you’re wrong, if things aren’t going to turn out just fine.

Being a cynic is tempting, but I don’t want to live in a world where happiness is a lie.  I don’t want to go on unless I can go forward believing that people are good, that love is real.

And then I had a phone conversation with someone special…you can probably guess who!…that reminded me that what I feel for him is real, and reciprocated.  And then I was catching up on and episode of One Tree Hill, and the quote during the ending montage was this:

Make a wish and place it in your heart.  Anything you want.  Everything you want.  Do you have it?  Good.

Now believe it can come true.

You never know where the next miracle is going to come from, the next smile, the next wish come true.

But if you believe that it’s right around the corner, and you open your heart and mind to the possibility of it, to the certainty of it…

You just might get the thing you’re wishing for.

The world is full of magic.  You just have to believe in it. 

So make your wish.  Do you have it?  Good.

Now believe in it with all your heart.

The Countdown Resumes

SEVEN DAYS LEFT!!!!  In the midst of everything that’s been going on in my life recently, I stopped counting down.  I move in ONE WEEK!!!

Today’s task…pack the bookshelves.

So, what’s been going on in my life?  You’ve read bits and pieces, how about a little update?  I’m procrastinating the packing…I’d much prefer to unpack once I get to the new place!

The Boy…there is no more confusion or wondering.  We are definitely a couple.  We are taking things nice and slow, because we care so much about each other that we don’t want to screw it up by rushing things.  We are finally past the part that makes me so uncomfortable…We know how each other feels, the lines of communication are open.  Every time I’m in a relationship, I say that it’s different from any other relationship, but it’s always true!  It doesn’t mean that I know if this relationship is “the one,” because I don’t know that yet.  How could I?  But this relationship is different from the others because I trust him.  Completely.  I trusted him completely a long time ago, when we were just friends.  This is the first time I’ve trusted a guy so completely so soon into the relationship.  The Boy is first and forever my friend, and I honestly don’t think he can ever screw that up by anything that comes along with the “couple-ness.”  It surprised me when I realized how much I trust him.  But then again, everything has been surprising me about him!

I do this thing in relationships, usually.  When I find out the guy is interested, I stop being myself.  I try to be whatever I think the guy would like the best.  It’s ridiculous.  The Boy doesn’t let me do that.  He pushes me to stand up for myself, for my opinions, for whatever I think, no matter if he agrees or not.  I don’t know how.  🙂  He brings out the most “me” in me.  If that makes any sense.

Westroads…We as a city, as a community, are moving forward and healing.  A friend of a friend explained her experience of going back to Westroads on her blog, and the one thing that stood out to me was how healing it was for her to go alone.  I was not ready to do that on the day it reopened, but I will be.  And I need to go alone.  As I’ve said, I’m not afraid to go to the mall, I’m afraid that something will happen to me while I’m alone.  That’s a theme that runs through my life, it really has nothing to do with malls.  I’m fearless, for the most part, as long as someone who cares about me is right beside me when the bad stuff happens.  That’s a selfish feeling, I realize that.  If something bad happens to me, wouldn’t I rather that the people who I care about are safe, away from me?  That would be the selfless thought, but I just can’t get there.  So I need to turn “alone” into a positive.  I need to go to Westroads, look at all the snowflakes people have made, add my own, and then get on with life by shopping at New York & Company, The Body Shop, all my favorite stores.  Asking someone to go to the mall with me won’t solve the problem.  I’m shaken, and I’m a little bit scared right now, but I refuse to give up my shopping.  Wandering through stores on my own is how I clear my head sometimes, and I refuse to let this take that away from me.

I’m so sad…

I didn’t want to blog about this, because of my strict “you will not find out who I am” policy.  If I blog about this, you will not know who I am, but you will know where I live.  I think I’m fine with that.  I don’t think I know how to process this without blogging about it, because you, the reader, are who I tell my stories to.

I am so sad for what happened at Westroads.  It was here, in my city, practically walking distance from my apartment.  It was so close to where I live that on Wednesday I had to take a different exit to get home.  I am sad for the families of the eight people who were killed.  And I am so, so sad for the five people that were hurt physically, and the hundreds more people who were there and had to witness it, and now have to deal with that hurt.  I am so sad for the people who now feel unsafe walking into a mall, who feel like their world isn’t safe.  I am so sad for anyone who is dealing with their anxiety about this on their own, who doesn’t have someone to hug them and hear their concerns and reassure them.  I am so sad for anyone who feels alone in their pain tonight.

At the same time, I wonder if anyone else, or at least those of us who weren’t there or didn’t know a victim, is still feeling the hurt.  On Thursday morning people were calling the radio morning show I was listening to, sharing their tears and their feelings about the event.  I was still sort of shell shocked, I think.  Today, it feels kind of like the world has moved on, and I’m finally sad. 

I don’t mind feeling like my world is unsafe.  I mean, it’s not a comfortable feeling, but I can handle it if I know that I’m not alone in the world.  My world isn’t safe, that’s the truth.  But I won’t hide out in my apartment all the time trying to prevent anything from happening to me.  If it happens to me, I just don’t want to be alone.  Last night I was out to eat with The Boy and another friend.  I was very aware that we were in a public place, where anybody with anything hidden in their pocket could just walk in.  But at the same time, I was aware that I wasn’t scared at all.  The Boy was sitting right next to me, sharing my fries.  The three of us were there together.  No matter what would have happened, we were together.  I felt more comfortable and safer sitting there in that public place than I do in my apartment all by myself.

I’m not trying to elicit pity.  “Poor Dawn, she is all alone…”  Actually, thinking that you’ll think that makes me feel even worse.  I just hate it so much.  I can’t think of any pain that wouldn’t be made better by having someone hold your hand or give you a hug.  Just the IM conversation between Tara and myself on Wednesday night…Are you fine?/Yes, are you?/Yes, and so forth…that was the most comforting thing on Wednesday.  I might be alone in my apartment, and I might hate it, but I am not alone in the world.  I had Tara on Wednesday night, last night I had The Boy, tonight it was some friends from work, tomorrow it will be The Boy again.  I feel so incredibly sad for anyone who feels like they are alone in the world.  I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t know how to reach out for the comfort that they need.  I feel sad for anyone who knows who they would like to reach out to, but hesitates because they are afraid of being rejected.

I am terrified of the first time I have to go to the mall by myself.  Not because I’m afraid of what will happen, but because I’m afraid of something happening while I’m alone.  In my rational thought, I know I’m just as safe at the mall as anywhere else.  It’s just, that’s an environment I used to love.  On the rare moments that I wanted to be alone, the mall was the perfect place.  I could be alone without really being alone, because I could just disappear into the crowd.  The mall is like a ritual for Sarah and me.  We love to wander through our favorite stores, taking our time, looking through the clearance racks, trying on stuff we want and stuff we know we won’t want.  I hope this event hasn’t ruined that for me.  I’m positive it’s ruined the joy of wandering alone in a crowd, at least for now.  So, I guess I’m sad for me, too.

I’m categorizing this post under fearlessness, because as much as I want to be fearless, it’s easy to be fearless when I’m right next to someone I care about, but I don’t know how to be fearless alone.

I think I’m free…

…or at least, on my way.  About the guy I told you about last night–I was thinking earlier today, I feel nothing towards him, nothing toward that experience in my life.  Not mad, not resentful.  Nothing.  Maybe I need to find a way to view the experience in a positive light.  I’ve been mad, I’ve been sad, but I’ve never been…grateful.  Not necessarily for the boy, but for the experience.

(By the way, if you are not aware of all the details of this situation, you don’t need to be.  It’s not as dramatic as it might sound.  It was just a relationship with a guy that appeared to be just fine, but slowly grew into someone cruelly selfish.  That is all.)

The obvious things came up.  I am less willing to change myself to fit someone else now.  I am more willing to be alone than to be with a person who isn’t right for me.  I learned more about what the right person will be like.  All true, but not that big.

Then it came to me.

I ended the relationship with this boy.  I am the one that finally stood up and said, you may not treat me this way.  I am the one that decided I didn’t want him in my life anymore.  I stopped it.  It was, I think, the strongest moment of my life thus far.

I never thought of it that way before.  As a result of this experience in my life, I know that no matter what kind of situation I find myself in, I can fix it.  If I make a choice that turns out to be the wrong one, I will be able to fix it.  If I take a risk and it goes badly, I will be okay. 

I think I’m free.  Finally.

Risk

I told you there would be many posts on this topic…

 This evening I had a moment of real, true, strong doubt.  Today was the last contract day, which we celebrated by getting together at a coworker’s home.  She and her husband live up in the hills outside of town, which is an area I’ve never been.  It’s…beautiful.  A whole other world.  Every window has an amazing view.  The sun was shining, things were starting to grow in the fields, the trees were full of leaves.  The road to get to her house winds through the hills, showing off beautiful places full of trees interspersed with tiny, secret fields that wind around. 

As I was driving home, winding back through those hills again, I began to think, if I didn’t know this little world was out here, what else am I missing?  Have I really given this place, this situation, my current life, a chance?  Not only that, but I feel accepted by my coworkers.  I feel like I fit in, with everyone.  How long will it take to get there with a new place?

I can feel the difference between those two thoughts.  Being hesitant to leave a good relationship with coworkers–that’s just a “balcony moment.”  (You remember…wanting to go outside and scream on the balcony because I’m scared of the unknown, not because it’s the wrong thing for me.)  The thought that I might be missing out on something by leaving–that makes me think maybe leaving is not the right thing. 

It’s a risk.  There’s no way to know what will happen unless I do it.  And I don’t take risks.  I like to see someone else do something before I try it.  Preferably many times.  When I’m trying something for the first time, I want to do it in a safe situation, where I won’t look stupid, preferably where I can’t fail, especially in front of other people.  I’ll think the new thing through a million times, so that when I do it for the first time, I’ll have a little bit of feeling of knowing what to expect, even if I really don’t.  I find myself wanting to stay in my box, in my safety zone, rather than venturing out to experience things.  I don’t particularly like this about myself, but it’s the truth.

See, here’s the thing about that thinking.  I end up watching and waiting instead of living.  I admire people who always seem to be living life to its fullest.  I love that they would rather be truly alive than be safe.  In theory, I would rather be alive.  But when it comes to reality, I can’t take the step.  I could get hurt.  It happens so easily, so unexpectedly.  It’s in the way I respond, not in what other people do or say.  I don’t like that about myself either.  But to avoid that as much as possible, I stay inside my safe box.

I wish I could stretch my arms out and scream to the world:  Hurt me!  I dare you!  I used to be like that, once upon a time.  I used to be open to risk, I used to be thrilled to face something knowing that it could end in joy or pain.  Granted, this was back in a time when risk meant facing an audition that terrified and intimidated me.  (Okay, I was a boring teenager.)  Or kissing a boy who had a girlfriend.  (Did I mention I was also a stupid teenager!)  But the point is, being scared of something didn’t stop me, it thrilled me!  I used to say that I loved the pain of life, because it is what makes the joy so wonderful.  What happened along the way that changed the way I respond to risk?

The thing is, I know exactly what happened along the way.  More specifically, who happened.  A person who was controlling and manipulative, and cruel.  And I’m past it, I barely ever think about him, I’m not sad or angry when I do.  He was in my life a long time ago, he hurt me, and now he’s not.  Even when I’m facing a risk and knowing that I will retreat back to my safe box, I don’t think about his influence as what makes me do that.  But still, it’s like something in me was different before I met him, and now I can’t get it back to the way it was.  He cut something, and he left a scar.  It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t affect me, but it’s there, and I can’t get rid of it. 

I am not a victim, by the way.  I let him treat me that way.  Tara, who is so often good to me by being honest, tried to stop me from letting him, and so did a little voice in the back of my mind.  But I did it anyway.  Maybe that’s the thing.  I took a risk on him.  I knew that I could get hurt, but I also knew that I could be finding the best thing that ever happened to me.  It turned out I got hurt.  So now I don’t take risks anymore. 

That sounds so…cold.  Closed off.  I guess I am.  That sucks.  There’s not as much pain, but there’s very little joy either.  Even writing this post, I feel nothing.  I know some of the things I’ve said must sound depressing.  But I don’t feel depressed.  I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel angry.  I wonder if there’s any way back to the place where I can live for the thrill of both joy and pain.  Maybe where I can really love taking risks.  The one encouraging thing is that I don’t think it’s my personality, like something innate that can’t be changed.  Something happened to me to make me respond this way.  Maybe I can work my way back.

Wow, upon rereading, this post turned into something rambling and negative!  I really apologize for that!  I want to be a positive influence on the world around me.  I suppose that involves learning to embrace risk…I’m working on it!  🙂

the BIG idea

I love this categories feature!  And also, woohoo, I’ve figured how to put hyperlinks in my blog!  🙂

I’m starting a new category called “fearlessness.”  Check out Amy’s comment on my last post for a great quote encouraging fearlessness.  It seems to be a recurring topic in my life right now.  And you know that means there will be many posts about my struggles with fear!

Right now I’m wrestling with something that I’ve started to think of as the “big idea.”  At first it was a pretend idea, mostly a joke.  Then one day it turned into a real idea.  Like, hey, we could actually do this if we wanted to.  Literally overnight, it turned into a great idea.  Then the reality of it sank in, and now I simply think of it as the BIG idea.  I don’t know if it’s a great idea or not.  But it’s huge.  And it’s scary.  Come on, fearlessness!

Here’s the idea…When my sister Sarah gets done with grad school in a year, we could be roommates.  (When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound scary at all, does it?)  The BIG part is that right now we’re considering being roommates in a city half way across the country.  I have never made a move like this entirely of my own choosing.  I moved to college because…well, it was time to go to college.  I moved here after college because I was placed here, partially against my will, for student teaching.  Both moves turned out to be wonderful experiences, and absolutely the right thing for me.  But I’ve never taken a huge step BECAUSE it’s the right thing for me.

I don’t know yet if this is definitely the right thing for me.  It feels like the right thing.  But it’s huge, so I’m giving it some time to feel wrong, if it’s going to.  It hasn’t yet.  But I have these moments, where one thought will make me want to go out on my balcony and scream.  Things like, I’d have to buy a plane ticket to see my best friends.  And my family.  No more Sunday dinners with Tara and Chad.  I’d have to start all over with a new job.  I’d have to find a new bank.  Will they have Targets there?  If not, where will I buy my toothpaste?  These “screaming on the balcony” moments shouldn’t stop me from taking this step, if it’s the right thing.  (I feel a rambling idea coming, watch out…)  But there’s one thing that keeps pulling me toward the balcony.  I’m 25.  That’s not old, and I know I haven’t missed my chance to get married, if that’s what God has in store for my life.  But I have wanted to get married for so long that I have moments where I feel like if I moved now, I would be starting all over again.  Starting what over, I don’t know.  It’s silly, and later I’ll have moments where that same thought makes me WANT to go.  Like maybe if I started over with whatever it is, it might work this time.  Hmm.  See, it’s silly. 

My brother gave me some great advice on this.  He said that the only way to find the right person is to do things and make choices that are right for me, and for him to be doing things and making choices that are right for him.  If we do that, our paths will cross at just the right time.  I love this perspective.  It reminds me that the only thing I can do to screw up God’s plan is to go against what I know is right for me.  And even when I do make those mistakes, I can’t destroy His plan.  He will get His way in my life, one way or another.  How awesome is that???  🙂

Thinking like that makes me want to go.  I am more excited about living with Sarah than I’ve been about anything in a long time.  The idea of facing such a huge thing with her is thrilling.  Not to say that I won’t have any more “screaming on the balcony” moments.  I might even decide that the right thing for me is to stay here.  Or I might decide to go.  Either way, the point is not to let the fearful moments alter my actions. 

One other thing that calms me is thinking about how I will deal with living so far away from so many people that I love.  I have the greatest career!  I get almost three months off every summer.  I could spend weeks visiting all those people every summer.   That is a comforting thought.

I heard somewhere once that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the ability to act in spite of the fear.  In a sense, fearlessness is not the same thing as having no fear.  Maybe it means feeling the fear, working through it and putting it behind you, trusting God and yourself, and taking that step fearlessly.  The more I do that in small ways, the less fear I experience.  Maybe one day I will be truly fearless.

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