“Do one thing every day that scares you” — Eleanor Roosevelt.
When I first read those words, I felt compelled to follow them. But who would actively choose to elicit fright? Ask any adrenaline junkie why they scale mountains, jump out of planes, hit triple digit speeds, or even so much as ride roller coasters, and the answer almost unanimously would be the same. They walk a fine line with danger for the rush. I know because I’ve had to explain my adventurous decisions quite a few times. But what is that feeling and does it serve a purpose? As a matter of fact, it does.
The most basic reason of fear stands in the flight or fight response, a common phrase to describe, when faced with a scary situation, whether we choose to attempt to overcome adversity, or run from what scares us. But let’s skip the evolutionary reasons fleeing dangerous situations can be necessary for survival and jump into the benefits facing fear has.
Foremost, it gives us a sense of accomplishment. When Roosevelt spoke about overcoming obstacles, she wasn’t talking about shark diving, at least I assume not. She was referring to stepping outside of a comfort zone to reach the next level of success. If you do the same thing every day for too long, your body and mind eventually stop progressing. Tackle a new workout routine, aim for the bigger job, move to a foreign city, check that item off your bucket list, read that big book, or even say hello to someone you’ve never met, and suddenly you hold a new sense of power. Fear begins in our mind and ends in our actions.
Scaring ourselves causes us to focus and be present. There’s nothing like being scared to force our minds to think clearly. When we’re afraid, it’s because we have something to lose and, in that moment, we are faced with a question — am I ready to give this up? Adrenaline junkies oftentimes go to the extreme because they feel as though they’ve lived a life worth risking to get to the next level of freedom. We give up jobs that are safe for the risk of learning more or for that bigger paycheck. Couples break up with the hope there’s a deeper happiness down the line. All these things —physical, mental, and emotional — are decisions we approach with fear. Yet, our minds sharpen when we are faced with the moment of acting. We become present.
Being afraid leads to introspection and personal growth. I’ll refer to a prior column of mine about suffering from panic disorder. If I allowed being afraid of the spontaneous bursts of fear to take over my life, I would forever be an introvert. Instead, I book international flights and greet strangers on the street. But I don’t do these things because I’m comfortable, I do them because I refuse to stay the same person. Each city and new interaction contribute to my personal development.
When we’re afraid, we must look within before we can look out. Why am I afraid? Is this fear serving me or restricting me? Even the choice to stay where we are or take a step back is a choice resulted in facing fear. It’s not always about going forward.
Eleanor inspired me and I hope to inspire you. Let fear be the catalyst for a better tomorrow.