Perched on my metallic blue Schwinn Stingray, I focus my attention through handlebars at the ramshackle wooden ramps in front of me. There are three large, rusty trash barrels laying wedged side by side between them. With friends are cheering me on, I lift my right foot, ready to thrust down my pedal and set my wheels in motion. I’m excited to face down this obstacle in front of me, unconcerned with the possible pain that will come from scraping my knees, or smashing my skull. I’m determined to cross to the other side, and join the ranks of my friends who have successfully cleared the distance, or at least had the cahoneys to have tried. It is a joy ride.
You see, I grew up in the days of Evel Knievel. Watching him launch his motorcycle over rows of ever-increasing cars, school buses, semi-trailers, or eventually even Snake River Canyon, was considered must-see TV. My friends and I idolized him. As ardent fans, we would take our bikes, and create our own jumps, launching ourselves over boxes, crates, or even one another, in an effort to test our mettle and gauge our bravado. This was before the days of helmets, wrist guards, or any other safety gear.
We were naive.
We were reckless.
And yes, we were fearless.
But truth be told, it was one of the few areas of my life that I was a risk-taker. In almost every other realm of my life, I was cautious. I lacked the nerve to ask the pretty girl I was crushing on to the dance. I avoided academic challenges. I was hesitant around people who looked or sounded different than me. Even in volleyball, my favorite sport to play, I was afraid of winding up on the receiving end of a monumental spike. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to fail. The fear of embarrassment, or the image of falling short, would cause me to shy away from going for the gusto. I missed many joy-rides.
As the years have passed, my attitude has changed. I have grown to welcome many challenges and obstacles. I’ve started yearning for the action to come my way, murmuring to myself “bring it on” and hoping for a chance to be tested. I have not eradicated fear, I’ve just become more aware of its’ presence in many crevices of my life. I have not vanquished fear, but have had small, consistent victories of facing it down. I have come to understand fear’s deceitful nature that seeks to rob me of opportunities to grow in strength, courage or confidence.
As Eleanor Roosevelt noted:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
So I’m trying to be more mindful of my own fears, so I can face them down. So I can strip them of their power. So I can gain strength, courage, and confidence to recognize what a remarkable person I was created to be.
I try to avoid words and thoughts, like “can’t” or “shouldn’t” that sap me of the honor I was created to carry. I try to embrace the different perspectives, personalities and passions of the people around me, so I can enjoy the image of their creator as it illuminates from within them. I try to let go of my parental fears as my two daughters transition into adulthood; knowing that falling down is a necessary part of getting up.
Some fears are good, and appropriate. They are like instincts that keep us from making decisions that will damage our integrity, or scar the people we love. When sensing the cautioning pull of fear, I have to discern its’ true motive. Is it perhaps divine counsel, sent to remind me of the wisdom of the ages? Or is it a constricting whisper, conniving to keep me from experiencing great unknowns?
I don’t want fear to cripple me, or my students. Our class motto this year is DARING GREATLY, taken from a quote by Teddy Roosevelt (“It’s Not the Critic Who Counts”). Learning is such a messy endeavor, and traverses a path that is fraught with mistakes. With this in mind, we try to create an environment where it is safe to learn. Safe to err. We welcome, and embrace mistakes, because they hold a wealth of knowledge.
As the lead-learner in my class, I try to model the willingness to take risks.
With my students, I faced down my fears of not having anything worthy to say, and wrote a book. I wrote in and out of class, and they provided helpful, constructive feedback.
With my students, I faced down my fears of not being able to accomplish any meaningful athletic feat, and ran a marathon. And then an ultramarathon.
For the race, students wrote a collection of inspirational quotes for me to carry and access when needed. Somewhere around mile 18, I grabbed my cell phone and called a colleague. Sobbing, I relayed that I was afraid. “I’m going to let all these kids down. I’m not going to be able to finish. I’m going to fail greatly.” My colleague reminded me that the students already were proud of me, because I attempted the race. She gently encourage me to run one more mile. And if possible, run another one after that.
With that in mind, I faced down my fears, and finished the race. One mile at a time. For nearly twelve hours. All fifty, hilly miles of trails.
Most of my fears are smaller by comparison, but no less toxic. The fear of greeting a stranger at a public event. The fear of working with a difficult person. The fear of my abilities and faculties decreasing as my age increases. The fear of publishing and releasing my musings to you.
On this joy-ride of life, I choose to face down my fears because I know I can take the next thing that comes along.
Bring it on.