Franklin D. Roosevelt said, in his first inaugural address, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Remarkably, in 1933, at the worst of the economic depression, he went on to say, “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits.”
I cannot help but wonder if hungry, homeless people thought Roosevelt horribly out of touch, at the time. But what he said was the truth, and out of those dark days came a nation revitalized. A nation that went on, in the next decade, to help end WWII and regain a level of prosperity undreamed of in other parts of the world. Were they suddenly free of fear? I doubt that. But with strong leadership and teamwork, they pulled it together and did what needed to be done.
Whoever said, “Face your fears” wasn’t really a sadist, but it sometimes feels that way. It’s true, though – sometimes, that’s the only way to get past them.
I am needlephobic. And yet, I think I was close to earning my 5 gallon pin before I stopped donating blood. You might be asking why on earth I’d donate blood, given my abject terror of the mere sight of a needle (even on TV, when it’s going into someone else’s body). I could tell myself I might be saving the life of a child, and I didn’t want to let fear stop me from doing something that important. The nurse would always say, “You might want to look away,” but I couldn’t – if I don’t face my fears, they grow and fester in my imagination. They take on mythic proportions. That needle would be 25 feet long and have sharp, pointy rows of chomping teeth, by the time my twisted brain was done with it.
When it comes to spiders, it’s a lot harder to squish them underfoot if you squinch up your eyes while dancing around like a Mexican jumping bean on a hot stove.
One of the things I would have missed out on, had I let fear stand in my way, is parasailing. Now, skydiving doesn’t appeal to me at all – I detest the sensation of free fall (from the puny height of the diving board at the community pool), don’t relish the idea of bugs on my teeth, and have vivid mental images of falling on a tree at breakneck speed. It’s not really fear that stops me – I simply have no desire whatsoever to go skydiving. My cousin, on the other hand, is an instructor. His son had “98 skydives and 5 base jumps and his last skydive was the day [his mother] reached week 30” in her pregnancy. I know better than to ask him, “Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” But parasailing looked like fun. I don’t know why the idea scared me a little, but I will admit, now, that it did. And I almost let that hold me back.
My mom took my daughter up with her. I went along, on the boat, to take pictures. The crew saw longing on my face, and offered to let me go up before they returned to shore. No one on board objected, so when my mom and daughter got back on deck, I strapped on the harness. Childhood fantasies involving circus trapezes came rushing back. It was absolutely a rush. I had an inexplicable urge to lean forward, spread my arms out, and fly. I went back the next day, and like a kid at the amusement park, said, “I wanna go again!!” While waiting for the next trip out to the boat, I told the operator about my fantasies. “I just wanted to flip upside down, or fall forward and fly!”
“You can do that,” he said.
“Um, you’d better not be joking – because I’m not joking, and I’d hate to see your insurance rates skyrocket when you have to claim your first fatality.”
“No, you can – we do it all the time.”
And so that was the first – but not the last – time I parasailed upside down at 2000 feet, and had them dunk me headfirst into the salty waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Ultimately, there was nothing scary about it at all – but every time I tell someone about it, their jaw drops and they say something like, “Oh my God, you’re a crazy woman! I’d be too scared to ever go parasailing, let alone upside down.”
Never let others’ notions of what’s scary put you off trying new things, either. Let ‘em call you crazy. Life’s too short to be too sane.