The rewards on the other side of the fear

by Lisa Rothstein on 08/25/2011

I’d never felt such abject fear in my life. I was a grown woman, but standing on that dock, I felt about 5 years old.  My knees were actually knocking.

I didn’t trust the beat-up resort dive equipment. I didn’t trust my instructor, a disdainful French woman who evidently felt that Americans weren’t good for much else besides shark bait.

Most of all I did not trust myself.

I’d been in scuba class all week, and it was finally time to go in the water. But all I think was, what if I didn’t step off the dock far enough, and the tank hit me in the head and I got knocked unconscious and drowned before mademoiselle could be bothered to see what happened to me? What if the equipment didn’t work, and I sucked and sucked but no air came out?

What if..what if….?

“Jump! Jump” shouted the Frenchwoman impatiently from the water.  (Actually it sounded more like “Zhooomp! Zhoomp” and as far as she was concerned I might as well have been standing on the ledge of a 30 story building. I was holding up her class. )

I could just back away, walk back up the dock and take off the gear, belly up to the bar and order something with an umbrella in it. But dammit, I wanted to do this, right?

The voice said, “What if.” And then another voice (more like my own) said “Oh, what the hell!”

And I jumped.

The second I hit the water my fear left me. Miraculously, the ancient equipment did not fail. But what really made me forget all about my terror: there were assorted little fish all around us, with colors I’d only seem in Disneyland. I was transfixed. Afterward, I was buzzing with excitement, I couldn’t wait until later that week, when we would go on our first real dive.

That day, my class and I all loaded onto the boat and went out so far we couldn’t see the shore. Unlike the dock, the boat was rocking and rolling on the high waves. Now my classmates were the ones who looked scared. But amazingly, I wasn’t. I’d had my panic and now all I wanted was to get into the water and see what was down there.

Mademoiselle was my dive buddy, since I was alone. But I’d grown on her a little once I’d had my freak-out and then aced the intro class. As the others hesitated on the deck, in I went.  We descended into another world.

I saw the most amazing sea life, and variety to make what I’d seen the first day seem like a scant preview. It was amazing. Mademoiselle took me by the hand and led me through caverns and over reefs pointing out fish and coral.

For the grand finale, she pointed at the bottom, a few feet below us. All I saw was sand. I looked at her and blinked and shrugged. She pointed again, and to my wonder, out of the sand a ray lifted up, looking like the Starship Enterprise, with a span of 5 feet at least. It swam away from us, and if my mask hadn’t already been half full of salt water, I would have cried.

On the way back to shore, I was never as high and as proud in my life. The instructor was now my bosom buddy. I had faced my fear and won. And I’d learned some valuable lessons I use in my creative work when embarking on a new project:

  1.  The panic will come. It’s just a question of when. Expect it.
  2. All the good stuff is on the other side of the fear.
  3. If you want the good stuff enough, you can get past the fear. (If you don’t, you probably won’t bother.)
  4. Taking action makes the fear go away instantly, like shining a flashlight under the bed gets rid of monsters.
  5. Once you’ve made it past the panic point, you’ve won. You may be scared again, but even if you are it won’t be as bad.
  6. Victory is much sweeter than if it had been easy and you’d never been scared.
  7. Sometimes, you just gotta say “what the hell.” (Actually, you have to say this EVERY time.)

 Activity: Choose one project that you’ve been hesitating on. It can be something small. Maybe you’re reluctant to try your hand at something new. Or maybe you’re afraid to let someone you respect (or anyone!) see — and maybe criticize — your creative work. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it scares you enough to have you stuck. Now just say “what the hell” and take the next step. Notice what happens…and how you feel afterwards.

How do you deal with your fear of the unknown?  Fear of failure? Fear of success? Please share below! All comments get an automatic link back to your blog.

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