It’s the tail end of winter – no doubt! Winter is a tough time of year. It seems that during the past few months, predictions of doom and gloom have been bigger and badder than ever (badder is not a word, I know, but it sounded good). Lately, I’ve been keeping track of people’s warnings and have become hyper-aware of the fear that can get in our way if we let it.
Fear is a funny thing. It’s like that friend that tags along with us uninvited, ever-present, but quiet enough that we don’t really think too much about them. They are just there and we accept it – pretty much without question.
It is the quiet and subtle nature of fear that allows it to alter our lives without us really knowing it.
It’s bad enough that we have to deal with our own fears, those little voices that sometimes tell us we can’t, or we shouldn’t, that there’s too much risk or too much at stake, but when we are faced with other people’s fears too, the temptation to give in can seem large. If we don’t listen, or heed their warnings, we might appear foolish, or worse, not part of the “intelligent” group facing “reality.”
But what is “real” when it comes to fear?
Last Friday, I packed up my gear for another dance competition. It was 4:00pm and we had to stop at John’s house to pick up some water and then we were hitting the road. His mother-in-law was there with the kids and she started in…
“Oh my gosh! Do you know that there is a huge storm warning for today! I don’t think it’s safe for you to be driving up there.”
We both assured her we’d be fine that we’d make it before the snow even started, but she wouldn’t stop.
“Make sure you have boots in the car in case you have to walk. Is that the coat you are wearing? What if you get stuck somewhere?” She was full of fear and trying to give it to us like a packed lunch or road trip CD, something we could use along our way, but I wasn’t having any of it. I had to tune her out, something I’ve learned to do along the way so I don’t get stopped by people whose fear is out of control.
When we arrived, before even one snowflake fell, another fear-based discussion was already making the rounds.
“Oh my gosh, the floor is so slippery!! People are falling down all over!”
Everyone was talking about how slick the dance floor was, saying you could hardly dance on it. They were telling grizzly stories of those who’d fallen ungracefully. I looked at my pro partner and said, “by the time we dance tomorrow, the floor will be fine.” I didn’t know what the floor would be like, but I felt I had to counter the conversation with something positive. I didn’t want to be up all night imagining how hard it was going to be to dance the next day. The next time I heard someone mention the floor, I just walked away saying I needed to use the restroom.
The next morning, we had breakfast and went down to the ballroom early to try out the floor and the event director was washing the floor. They had sprayed a chemical on it that was supposed to make it less slippery and with rags and a wet mop, they were cleaning it up. By the time we got on the floor, later that morning, it was fine.
Sometimes you just have to ignore fear even when it isn’t being so subtle. The drama and sensationalism of fear can be seductive. Sometimes it seems like we even get drawn into it without our awareness. People get excited about their fear and they want to share it with us, but we don’t have to accept. Most of the time we shouldn’t; we should politely decline. Just say, thank you, but no thank you!
Because fear is only a maybe – not something I would want to put money on. When we hear fear around us in the words of precautions, warnings and predictions, we have to resist the temptation to always “buy in.” In both of the cases above, if I had engaged in the fears of others, the worry alone would have created enough anxiety to draw those experiences into my awareness. Or worse, they might have stopped me altogether. I might have worried we’d get caught in the snow or afraid of falling on my ass in the middle of a comp – two things that never happened.
Fear can grow or subside depending on how much thought and energy we give it. If we imagine all of the worst possible outcomes, i.e., getting stuck and walking through ten foot snow drifts for help, we won’t be surprised when they happen, in fact, we’ll expect it. Yeah, in that case, we might as well stay home.