I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled on Niall Doherty’s fantastic blog, Disrupting the Rabblement, but I’ve really been enjoying his articles on courage and going against the grain. In a great post Curiosity vs. Fear, Niall says
Most people, when they fear doing something, avoid taking action until the fear goes away. “I’m too afraid right now. I’ll do it when I’m feeling more confident.”
The problem is that fear never just goes away by itself. Most people have it backwards. You don’t overcome the fear and then do the thing; you do the thing and then you overcome the fear.
I came across a related article that expanded on this further, written by Jennifer Gresham. She says
How do you make yourself act in the beginning, when you are scared out of your mind?
When you feel scared to make a change, move forward with questions instead of answers.
It’s easy to over-analyze and fret over answers. If you let one question simply lead you to the next, the process is a lot less threatening. Curiosity can be more persistent than fear if you cultivate it.
Some interesting things to think about, aren’t they? Earlier this winter, I felt quite frozen by indecision. I was trying to decide what direction to take for winter work, but at the core, I was nervous about the change that it represented. I had several options, and although some seemed quite interesting, none were really igniting my passion. I saw Jennifer’s suggestion to move forward with questions and gave it a try.
I asked myself “how would I like to spend my time? What am I really good at? What is the best use of my skills (and therefore my time)? What type of work would suit me best?” Asking myself questions like this helped me cut through some of my confusion and figure out what I really wanted. And none of the questions triggered fear, which can be one of the most paralyzing things about making a decision or taking action of any kind.
So, questions spurred on by the desire to learn something about yourself or figure something out can greatly help you find curiosity where there was fear. Once you feel better about things, the answers to just some of those questions can help you move forward. Don’t worry about questions that don’t have answers; I didn’t have the most enlightening solutions at first, but my brain worked on the questions for a while and my intuition really kicked in and I got some fantastic ideas — things I was really excited about.
What if you are stuck on questions that seem hopeless, like “how am I ever going to make this work?” If you catch yourself thinking like this, counter with “what one small thing can I do to improve just one aspect of this situation?” You can turn “what if this doesn’t work out” into “what if this does turn out? There is probably a 50-50 chance… what would that look like?” If you can start imagining your situation improving, even a little, you’ll head away from fear and towards confidence, courage and curiosity.
I like to volunteer. I don’t know why I enjoy it so much, but I do. For about three and a half years, I was a volunteer for the Victim Support Unit (VSU), a role that stretched me and helped me develop my sense of empathy and sympathy. I learned so much. I had several profound experiences while helping individuals and families, including one instance where I became empathic. I was assisting family members of a recently-deceased woman to view the body in the morgue and their grief and anguish was so strong, I actually felt their emotions. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that experience.
For reasons I won’t go into, I resigned from the VSU. I gave myself a short hiatus and then decided to join the volunteer fire department. I had been thinking about joining for about a year, but didn’t feel I had the time. So, I’ve been going to the fire hall on Monday nights since mid-September, starting the training. It’s been extremely overwhelming. Not since I started VSU training have I felt this out-of-my-element. I don’t know anything about fire fighting. I don’t know most of the people there, I don’t know where anything goes, I don’t know which truck is which, I don’t know how to use any of the equipment… you get the idea. Nevertheless, I think it’s good for me to try something completely new from time to time and really stretch myself. This week, I certainly did that when I jumped into a hole in the ice to rescue a drowning person!
You see, the fire department is the workhorse of the emergency services. When there’s heavy or hard work to be done, the fire department is the one who responds. It’s not just about fire; we attend vehicle accident scenes and cut cars or trucks open to get to injured patients. We can be called on by the paramedics to help lift a particularly large patient. We are the ones who will rescue people who’ve gone through thin ice into the freezing water below, which is what we practiced on Monday.
The first time I heard about this, I was taken aback (but of course, I played it cool). Go into the water to rescue the person?!? Isn’t this what my parents said never to do? Hand them a pole, throw them a rope, but don’t go in there with them or you’re likely to end up a frozen victim yourself! Yes, that’s what they said. And this is very good advice for regular people, but with the help of dry suits, members of the fire department will readily slip into the freezing abyss to get a rope around a half-drowned person. The victim will either be hysterical — which I can only imagine makes roping the person harder than wrangling an alligator — or hypothermic — which makes getting a rope around them easier, but you must do it with the utmost speed and gentleness (two things that don’t usually go together). Of course, you always encourage the person to pull themselves out first, but if they had been able to do that, don’t you think they would have? And you can always try throwing him/her a rope, but ultimately you have to be prepared to get in the water with them so others on shore can pull you both out.
When Monday night rolled around, I can’t deny I was a bit nervous. I can swim, I’m not afraid of water (I did two solo paddling trips, remember 1. 2.), but when it’s -12 C, it just seems so wrong! That water is so cold! I was able to pin down what was making me so antsy: I was afraid of the cold. One by one, every volunteer firefighter who hadn’t done it before shlupped into the dry suits, got tethered to a safety line and went in the water. I was on the pulling crew, which was easier than I thought and we pulled some people out a little too fast at first. Some of them looked like they were having fun, but I was still nervous! Until I got the suit on, then my whole frame of mind changed: I had a job to do, so I’d better do it. And I did! I rescued my partner and she rescued me, and then she rescued me again using a pool-noodle device (which was a pain in the a**) and then we co-rescued our Fire Chief in a slightly different scenario. The ice was about 8 inches thick so he’d cut a hole in it with a chainsaw, meaning the scenario of “thin ice” wasn’t entirely accurate, but it was sure good training. I was surprised how warm it was in the suits. At -12 C, the water is definitely warmer than the air and it was pretty comfy, except that I had a leak at my left wrist, where the mitt/glove joined the suit, and my whole arm was soaked in frigid water in about a minute. But you know, it wasn’t that bad! I more than “survived” — it was fun, and with a great team of people behind me, I can now rescue a person in icy water! How about that!
It’s interesting how something that seems so bad or scary usually turns out to be much better/easier/not scary once you actually do it. Our imagination is a powerful thing and we can get ourselves into quite a knot if we let it run wild. There’s such a great feeling of accomplishment from doing something difficult (that’s why I like That One Damned Phone Call), tricky or just plain scary. In many ways, you aren’t really living unless you’re facing your fears. You can’t keep avoiding them and when you face them and see that they aren’t as bad as you thought, you’re empowered!
Avoidance is never the answer for anything. Face what you’re afraid of, just a little at first if that’s all you can do. If you feel anxious, nervous, short of breath or uneasy and don’t know why, sit down quietly and take a few deep breaths. Just breathe. And as you do, if something bubbles up and you think that might be what you’re so afraid of, let it be. Don’t judge yourself. Just accept it, accept yourself, and when you’re feeling positive, do something to face that fear. Don’t wait until you feel courageous — the courage comes after the action starts. Take a small step, keep breathing, and you’ll be able to face your fear! And when you do, celebrate and bask in the feeling of accomplishment that follows! (I’ve got a whole chapter on fear in my almost-complete book.)
Back at the firehall, we’re going to practice cutting cars and trucks open on Saturday. I’m really looking forward to this — I think it will be tons of fun and (don’t tell anyone) it’s half the reason I joined the fire department — to cut cars open! I can’t wait! And it’s the most fun in training because there’s no injured person awaiting medical care. I might not enjoy the real thing quite as much, but I’m sure going to have a hoot on Saturday!
(Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the training. There was one person taking pictures, so if I can get my hands on a good one, I’ll add it later. This is pretty much what we looked like, except it was dark when we did it:)
Well, the trade show was this past weekend, and we survived! It was actually quite fun, although the rush and stress leading up to it wasn’t exactly. There were a bunch of little details that needed to be done (and several that were optional to be done) in order to have our booth ready, and I have been working many days in a row. I even got a headache, in part from all the work and not enough sleep. But, my chiropractor got me all into shape, so I am feeling better!
It was an interesting exercise in people-watching. I’m sure they were watching me, too… We had our big sign with the logo attached to a kayak paddle, and another one sitting on a small table, with large text saying what we are about. It seemed pretty straightforward to me! Some people, when they saw our booth, got a confused look on their faces, like they were thinking “I’ve never heard about this before!” So, I would say “if you haven’t heard of us, it’s because we’re new!” That seemed to clear it up. It’s such a small town, everyone kind of knows everyone, and certainly knows all the businesses around. So, that was one response.
Another one was a rapid “oh, you’ll never get me in a boat, I hate water” or “I’m terrified of water, so count me out.” Interesting. Now, kayaks have a reputation for being tippy, and many people are nervous about getting in them – or getting stuck in one! – but these people weren’t even open to the suggestion. If we had been talking about dinghys or flat-bottom boats, the response would have been the same. Too bad – they are letting their fear rule them and take away their fun! I wonder what other fears they are letting rule them…?
Another response was “I’m too old for that!” We didn’t hear that one a lot, mainly because High Level’s population is so young, and there weren’t many old people there!! And then we got to chatting with a white-haired fellow, who wanted to buy a kayak paddle just like the one we have. I said I could look into it and call him back. As we talked about other outdoor sports, he said he was passionate about cross-country skiing, which I also do. I confessed that I can’t “skate” ski – he said he just learned a little while ago, when he was 66! Wow! He was so funny, gesturing to Darren, saying “he’s too young to learn that!”
And the most common thing I noticed about people was how much they looked down. We had a few maps on our table, which was between us and the people visiting us, and people would invariably stare down at the table. Were our maps that interesting? They were nice, detailed topo maps of the rivers around here, but I think it was more about shyness or not knowing where to look…poor eye contact… did I have egg on my face? I don’t think so!
We met so many nice people, and saw many friends who said “I didn’t know you were doing this!!” It was a great time, and a nice relief to be done it! Still lots to do, to finish the business plan and work out many details! But, the website’s done – flownorth.ca – and at least some of the other stuff can wait!
I’m almost finished reading “Undefended Love” by Jett Psaris and Marlena S. Lyons. It’s about learning how to love in relationships in a way that is not defensive (hence the title), but also about learning more about ourselves and being really happy, truly at peace, with all that we are.
One of the chapters I read yesterday talked about a continuum of emotional needs: needs–wants–desires–preferences–no preference. We often feel desperate to have our needs met; like a hungry baby, we are screaming inside for someone or something to feed us, and we feel the need is urgent, like we’ll die without it! While we all have needs like this, many people (the authors’ survey said one-third) don’t know how to identify or put words to these needs. If we take time to connect with our needs and acknowledge them, we’ll find they don’t take over our lives like we think they will. On the other hand, some people are chasing their needs so intently, they are actually in relationship with their needs, not their significant other or themselves. We can learn to accept that firstly, we have needs, and then to accept whatever the need is and that we’re not going to die without it. When we face that we have a need, and that the need may not be met, but don’t let ourselves get caught up in any fear or panic that surfaces, we develop strength and courage to face more things and learn more things about ourselves! We can learn to comfort ourselves when we feel fear or desperation. We are stronger for having faced our need and the possibility of it not being met, and all the uncomfortable feelings that go along with it. The next step is to move towards wants.
A lot of us have been raised not to think about our wants. We were told (directly or indirectly) it was selfish and improper to do so. Or, we shut down our awareness of wants because they were denied so many times and we just couldn’t handle any more rejection. Again, if we give ourselves permission to want things, we feel freer. The key is to focus on wanting, not to get caught up in daydreams about what we are wanting, “what if” we get it, and whatever negative feelings that come along when we think we won’t get what we want (jealousy, frustration, anger). Just want! Want something, but don’t obsess over it, get greedy for it, judge yourself or get unhappy because you don’t have it. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s a way of getting out of denial about who we truly are and what’s going on in our minds. And as with needs, we grow when we experience want-and-not-having, without getting caught up in the feeling–let it pass. Like a child learning what “no” means, it’s not comfortable, but we gain perspective on the world. Maybe we can’t have everything we want in life, but life goes on!
Next comes desire. The author’s use of the word “desire” is not as I would use it, so I had to get used to that. To me, a desire is something you want a lot, almost as much as a “need.” However, in this book, they mean desire as something you would like but are not quite as attached to as a regular want. It’s something that is generative; rather than being based from a lack of something (like a need or want), it comes from a desire for something new. That made sense to me, and it is interesting to think about. What new, pleasant, happy thing would I like to have in my life?
When we have even less emotional attachment, we have preferences. And farther along, we accept everything that life has to offer, fully happy with our situation and everything in it, and we have no preferences. We’ll take what comes, and we’re completely content with our physical surroundings and completely accepting of ourselves. While it seems passive in one way, it’s exciting in another! Imagine striving for nothing, being totally content. That doesn’t mean nothing ever changes and we are stuck in the mother-of-all ruts. (A rut implies we’re in a bad situation and unable to get out.) We are open to growth and change, improvement and betterment, but we are also open to struggles, difficulties, and hard times. We know that everything happens for us, not whining about why something is happening to us. We are more alive, and totally grateful for everything that life is, just as it is, right now!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I feel like I’ve been doing book reviews lately! On that note, I should mention that the writing style of the book made it a bit of a slow read for me, and it’s so packed with new concepts, I certainly didn’t breeze through it. I found I often had to put it down and think, and I also found some parts hard to follow, simply because the terminology and ideas were so different from anything I’d ever heard of. But if you’re ready to delve into some deep personality discovery, go beyond personality-based relationships, and learn how to be totally non-defensive with others, it’s excellent!