I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear; but the triumph over it.
The brave man is not he who does not feel fear, but he who conquers that fear.
I was asked by a friend awhile back to share my experiences around facing my fears on his forum. Opening myself up and being vulnerable on a public forum is in itself a very fearful task, but I realised that my experience may be of value to someone else, so I stepped out of my comfort zone to share a little bit of my story. This is what I shared.
We all have fears; even when we conquer them, new ones come to the surface. I don’t think we ever really overcome fear; I think we learn to acknowledge and work with it so that it doesn’t paralyse our life.
I lived in paralysis for a long time – in a bubble that seemed perfect on the outside to the rest of the world; a bubble that allowed me to live comfortably with my paralysis in the belief that I was living a life although it was merely an existence; a bubble that provided a false sense of safety… and then one day my bubble burst.
We all live in bubbles at some point in our lives; and eventually our bubbles always rupture, because that’s what bubbles do. My burst bubble was the ending of my 15 year marriage. I got married very young – and spent almost my entire adult life with one person. In the brief time between school and marriage there was not enough time for me to experience independence. I never had a real opportunity to test my ability to stand on my own two feet. I was too young to truly understand myself. At an age when others were figuring out their identity I was merging my identity with another person’s and neither of us ever really figured out who we each were as individuals.
In the months that followed my divorce I was forced to face a multitude of fears. I knew that to survive this devastation I would need to rise above my fears. I was riddled with insecurity; and I wasn’t even sure whether I even loved myself. I knew though, that learning to love myself was the key to overcoming this grief. I didn’t realise it at the time, but learning to love myself was also the key to courage. When you love yourself, you are prepared to fight for yourself; you are prepared to risk for yourself; and through that you find courage to face fears and obstacles that you might not otherwise have faced. And then the positive cycle begins; because with every fear faced you admire and respect yourself a little more, which means you love yourself more; which means you have more courage to face more fears.
So how did I learn to love myself? I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by the most incredible resources most of my professional life – being an HR Practitioner meant that I was exposed to quality coaching and really good personal development resources. This obviously helped me become a better professional in my chosen career but it also prepared me to deal with my burst bubble. I played over and over in my head conversations that I had had with other people who were suffering. I knew exactly what the advice was that I would give to someone else in my position. Would I have the courage to take that advice myself? I had no choice. I knew I couldn’t let this event define the rest of my life. You always have two choices: you can be bitter or you can be better – I chose the latter.
Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it…
that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.
I implemented three simple strategies:
- To practice daily the formula for happiness: Exercise, meditation, 3 gratitudes, journaling and random acts of kindness. I had been exposed to two important resources that taught me the simple formula for happiness – the Art of Living Foundation’s Happiness Course and a beautiful TED Talk by Shawn Achor – and the formula REALLY works!
- To change my self-talk. I became aware that I would never speak to another person the way that I spoke to myself every day. If it wasn’t acceptable to speak to another person that way, then why did I accept that negative, critical way of speaking to myself. I mindfully watched my words and forced myself to say honest, positive things about myself every day. In time my mind-set changed; and I started seeing myself in a different light.
- I decided not to refuse any invitations. I realised that I was becoming anti-social because I didn’t see myself as worthy to be around others. I knew I had to break the cycle. So I wasn’t allowed to say “no” to any invitation unless it directly conflicted with another appointment in my diary. A few days after making that promise, one of my closest friends invited me to go zip-lining. I have a tremendous fear of heights and under other circumstances I would have come up with a plausible excuse for not attending; but I wasn’t allowed to refuse an invitation. On 29 December 2014, I went zip-lining. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done but at the same time one of the most exhilarating. It set the tone for 2015, which became the year of facing my fears; and I faced many.
The fear we don’t face becomes our limits.
I learned that our life is made of extremes and you cannot fully engage one extent if you don’t accept its opposite. There is no joy without sadness; no laughter without anger; and likewise there is no exhilaration without fear. Every time I have faced a fear there has been some degree of ecstasy attached to overcoming the fear. I can honestly say that since that zip-lining day I have had the most incredible 16 months. It has not been easy, but I have grown into someone I truly love and admire; and brave enough to face the next challenge – whatever it may be.
Life is serendipitous. I was faced with a significant fear a few weeks ago. I found myself all alone and was unsure of whether I had it in me to tackle the huge adventure that is AfrikaBurn on my own. Had I not risen to the challenge I would probably not have met three incredible people who impacted me on a life-changing level. Had I not met them I would not be sharing my story with you now.
Overcoming my fears has helped me establish my independence; acknowledge my strength; and find my true self.
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
VINCENT VAN GOGH