Choosing to be scared – What happens when you choose to do the very things that make you the most challenged?
It’s autumn, my favorite time of year.
I love the burnt-orange colors, the temperature, the crunching of leaves beneath my footsteps, and cold drizzle. I love being cocooned in familiar, broken-in sweaters which have patiently waited for me all year. I’m entranced by the cozy sound of football games. My soul nestles in the heady scents of pumpkin pies and apple butter from the kitchen. I’m all about the safety, security and blankets that come out in autumn.
This morning as I gazed out my kitchen window, I noticed the leaves beginning to turn high above in my neighbors’ towering maple tree. This past year – autumn to autumn – has been a year of daring. A year of starting everything new from absolutely nothing. A year of choosing to do the things that make me most afraid. To my surprise this past year has yielded some very different outcomes than any year before, and in many ways made me wish I lived this way before.
What’s different? I chose to do what frightened me.
This wasn’t some big, heroic move, mind you. By terrible circumstance I was fortuitously forced into doing things that terrified me. Yet, here I am a year later, wondering why I didn’t do this sooner.
It made such a difference, in fact, I decided to share it here.
How can doing things like forcing myself to plow through things that terrified me change my life?
First things first – I am a wimp. My natural habitat is eating hot chili in the recliner, on a coldish fall Sunday night as I binge-watch missed cable shows on Netflix. I don’t crave adventure. I’m don’t want to skydive. But it seems life has led me off of that path and onto a mountainous, jaggy, uncharted one – and this has brought some really fabulous things out in life – mostly happiness.
So I thought I’d ask – what would happen if you took one year to do the fun, challenging things that scared you most?
Here are 10 great unexpected things that happened to me as a direct result of embracing the very things that scared me most.
One: I found after I broke through frightening challenges, I began to wake with a different feeling…. absolute, healthy, beaming pride – in me! I discovered that after taking greater risks I began to wake with commending myself and telling myself how great I was the day before – instead my usual whining rant of telling myself I would try again today to meet my goals I’d hoped for yesterday. While I didn’t magically complete my entire to-do list, I approach it differently now – with optimism! Winning in life makes you feel good, but unlike competitions or contests the difference wasn’t readiness or rehearsal. The singular difference in feeling good this time was from me facing and embracing my fears, and pressing forward in spite of being scared.
Two: I quit smoking – something I’ve been struggling for years to do.
Three: I became energized, requiring less sleep and waking up ready to go – because choosing to take risks does that to you. (also didn’t hurt that I no longer smolked!)
Four: I became comfortable in my own skin. This made me slow down and really listen to what strangers had to say. I shared in a lot of joy this way!
Five: When I asked for cooperation I miraculously got it. Like Huckleberry Finn whitewashing a fence, it seemed that whatever I was doing became curiously alluring and contagious to others. People volunteered to join me, and we became a proud team.
Six: Sad things became new things. Sure, I tearfully reminisced about how I’d miss our former couple traditions, like taking photos of our feet on city manhole covers in every town we travelled to. But this and many other things morphed into something new which was no longer sad. I still pay tribute the past I shared with Kevin, but now I incorporate the perspectives I learned from him, mixed them with my own. So in effect, we became something new, in me.
Seven: The new company (Pareti Mobile Walls) started making milestones. Remarkably, in only 9 short months since our beginning, our walls have made it to and through 24 states to notable museums, galleries, and colleges around the country. While this is a cool business milestone, it’s extremely personally gratifying to see customers using and appreciating a product you knew they could use. But what’s even more astounding is that (similar to Hewlett-Packard and Apple!) we started with nothing but a good idea and a garage.
Eight: We’ve played life-size Tetris with 8 foot tall walls fitting into trailers and crates, then played life-size Jenga as we unloaded them. Now, just to play life-sized chess!
Nine: We’ve met some really cool people in all parts of the country, learned some incredible history, seen fabulous artwork, have become inspired.
Ten: I began to appreciate and become more careful with the machine that my human body is. Maybe turning 50 helped this, but the appreciation part was lacking even when I was twenty-something. Positive thinking, weight loss, or generous Dove body soap commercials didn’t do it – it was facing fear that changed my perception of myself. I developed a new respect for myself, body and soul. I now go to bed grateful, and look in the mirror each day with happy approval, in spite of my imperfections. I think it’s a soul-thing.
I learned fear can be a very good thing. Is it comforting to start a company from scratch? No. It’s terrifying, interesting, challenging, and completely fun. It’s risky, but the important thing is marching through what scares you.
So while I previously embraced the homey sights, sounds and comforts of fall year after year, this year I will happily embrace FEAR for Year Two. It doesn’t scare me so much anymore. I’m learning fear is not such an evil contender after all. The seemingly wicked grasps of the unknown or the dark suspense of the risky road ahead actually possess great, unexpected gifts. It’s like spring for the soul, during a season that otherwise brings nature to a slumber.