The Unexpected Benefit of Embracing Your Fears

There's no denying we all have things we are scared of and fear. But embracing your fears and using them to your advantage can sometimes be the best option.

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The other night at dinner, my daughter asked a question out of our Table Topics game, “Do you think it’s possible to get over a fear?” Lily, my husband, and I immediately said, “Yes.” While my son, Jasper, answered, “No. I don’t like horror movies and I don’t ever want to!”

My son had a point, but the discussion was fun because it got us all thinking. I don’t like horror movies either, and, like my son, it’s not something about myself that I wish to change.

But in general, I do think it’s possible to get over certain fears. And I think life is richer when we embrace our fears and take advantage of them.

I have fears, lots of them. Especially with anxiety’s constant hum through my blood. Traveling alone, death of a loved one, going places where everyone is a stranger, spiders, snakes, public speaking, bearing my heart on the page, rejection, making friends as an adult, trying new things, sending my kids out into this world. The list could go on and on.

But I’ll tell you what scares me more (okay except maybe Stephen King’s, The Shining) is letting my fears guide me. What scares me more is never having risked, never having been brave enough to power through my fears and see what exists on the other side, because I believe what lies on the other side is often full of beauty.

After I graduated from college and wanted to take on the world, I was backpacking through Europe with a friend. Halfway through our six-week trip he unexpectedly had to leave. We were in Amsterdam when he told me. I had two choices, try to book a very expensive trip home with him for the next day, or stay.

Stay and travel the remaining three weeks alone, through foreign countries. Are you kidding me?! I couldn’t do it. Wait, I thought after a while, yes, I could. And I did.

I said goodbye to my friend with tears (of fear and sadness) in my eyes, and hopped on a train to France so I could catch a ferry to Ireland.

There's no denying we all have things we are scared of and fear. But embracing your fears and using them to your advantage can sometimes be the best option.

Was I scared? Absolutely. This new adventure I found myself on involved many of my fears, travelling alone, going places where I knew no one, trying new things. And yet, I also longed to do it, to explore. My dreamy, traveller’s soul longed to see Ireland and Italy, the two last places on my itinerary.

As I rode that train to France, I thought about what actually scared me, and talked myself through each fear. On the train I met another backpacker, a girl from Australia, who had had her backpack stolen, not once, but twice, and had fought off the thieves the second time. Jeesh! I thought. If she could continue after all that, so could I.

My entire backpacking experience was incredible, but those last weeks all by myself were a treasure I’ll never forget. Some days I was all by myself, others I met and hung out with amazing people from all over the world. At the end of my trip I had to spend a few days in Rome before flying home. I met a family there who took me in, treated me like one of their own, fed me delicious Italian food, and showed me Rome in all its beauty.

Here’s the truth, my fears stayed with me as I finished out my trip, but with each one I embraced, the world exposed more amazing experiences and gorgeous places, more friendships and connections. I learned that I could, in fact, travel foreign countries all by myself.

I know it’s not always easy. I know sometimes being brave in the face of our fears can feel like your skin is being scraped off your body without any painkiller. I get it. Fears can be debilitating.

Taking care of my mother while she died from cancer scared the ever-loving hell out of me, minute by minute. Her death, and the manner in which she died, gutted me, but I am so grateful I embraced the chance to be her caretaker. I would tackle that fear over and over again for one more moment to sit by her side.

I still have fears, every day. Some stay the same; I may never enjoy horror movies or snakes. New ones arrive all the time, for each of us. And yet, we can choose, to stay stuck in them, or embrace them.

Here’s what I believe, we don’t have to face them all at the same time. We don’t even have to face them the same way. It’s okay to take baby steps sometimes, pick a tiny fear and conquer it. Ask for help. We are all of us connected in this world. Bit by bit we build up our ability to embrace our fears.

Like every emotion, it comes down to how we deal with fear. There are two sides to every coin, and with fear comes courage. The more we love, the less room we have in our lives for hate. The more joy we extend to the world, the heavier our own armor against sadness is. And like every emotion, I think the more we practice dealing with our fears, the stronger that muscle of courage becomes.

Because I have chosen to embrace my fears, and take advantage of them, my life has been enriched a million times over. I have friendships that will last a lifetime. I have tasted the world’s fabulous cuisines. I have bathed by the Italian sun. I have witnessed death and grace and kindness. I have learned through my successes and failures. I better understand compassion, and in doing so, acknowledge that sometimes it’s necessary to extend it to ourselves.

Suddenly moving to a new city where I knew no one wasn’t something I feared as much, after travelling through foreign countries by myself. With the strength I gained from that backpacking trip, I was brave enough to move to Los Angeles and Seattle by myself, two crazy, but amazing cities.

The more essays I send out as a writer, yes, the more rejections I potentially face, but what’s more exciting is that I also face more acceptances.

I’m a stronger person and more grateful every day for having taken care of my mom.

And even though I’m afraid to meet new people, because I’m super nervous and feel like a huge dork, I love the wonderful friends I have made over the years, the ones I am still making because I choose to take charge of that fear and put my dorky self out there.

Risk is often worth the reward, isn’t it? Go out and face your fears, open your world to new people, new experiences, new opportunities, new cultures.

Power through the things that scare the heck out of you with that courage in your heart. Acknowledge your failures. And damn! Validate your successes. Store them away to help boost you up in the future.

With each fear you face, you build a foundation of strength. What a beautiful way to live life.

7 COMMENTS

  1. This is so good and so true, Sara. I was raised by extremely overly protective parents who, to shield me from dangers unspoken, didn’t allow me to participate in most of my school ( a tiny parochial school with 17 in my class) and community (small town) activities I went from HS to a nursing school run by nuns who maintained strict discipline and restrictions on activities, and a year after graduation, I got married. It was not until my 40’s and a divorce that I finally stood alone, albeit with children. It was like being born again. I took chances and risks that I would never have imagined in my past. Vacations alone, selling a house, moving to a new town, starting up organizations, taking on new jobs, making new friends, parasailing, snorkeling, etc etc. It was an absolute rush, a fantastic high to face a lifetime of fears and push through them. I firmly believe in the growth potential of facing fear. The two main fears that I can’t overcome but which I don’t allow to occupy real estate in my head, are of harm to and the death of loved ones, and the loss of my mental and physical abilities. Great piece Sara! It provokes thought and deeper consideration of what subtle fears might be holding me back from aiming toward some of my aspirations.

  2. This was just wonderful! I loved hearing about the things you learned and experienced while powering through your fears. I also appreciate so much how honest you are about those fears that don’t go away, even when you work to overcome them. I have a niece that gets so anxious about new things, and we have been searching for ways to talk to her about those without pushing so hard that she withdraws. I’m going to share this with her mom. Maybe some of your words will help her find a way to reach her daughter. Thank you!!

    • Sandra, my nine-year-old daughter is very similar. She has anxiety and it’s a whole different thing trying to help her figure out how to face her fears, how to be brave, especially when some of her fears seem so irrational to her dad and me. I’m definitely in the trenches with that right now too. Thank you so much for reading and connecting.

  3. Love this Sara! I has a similar reaction when I had a boatload of self-doubt and I realized we don’t have to have all the answers at once. We just have to take them day by day ❤

  4. I love this, Sara! I start to get all antsy when I haven’t scared myself in a while. Some people wonder why I keep putting myself in questionable or “unsafe” positions….but I know why. It keeps me alive.

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