On my mirror - in red lipstick - there is a question I read every morning: “What are you afraid of?”
It’s a big, ambiguous question that triggers thoughts anywhere from “I’m afraid I’m going to say something stupid at work today” to “I’m afraid my favorite pair of leggings are not clean.” Some mornings the answers are the same, and some mornings a new fear comes up.
It’s totally unpredictable. And that’s okay.
Over the past few months I’ve thought a lot about fears and have since had an epiphany. I realized that asking myself what I'm afraid of is not about the answer as much as it's about consciously acknowledging my fears.
Kicking butt and taking names
My journey into fearlessness started in 2010. I was at a point in life that felt stagnant, both personally and professionally. I didn’t feel fulfilled. Not only did I feel like I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose, but I didn’t know what steps I should take to even change that.
So I decided to cut my hair. Crazy, and seemingly unrelated. I know. But the decision was inspired by the protagonist in my favorite book, “Black Girl in Paris.” I wanted to do something bold... something that would symbolize my desire to take the next big step.
Before I left home I cut my hair close to my scalp so I could be a free woman with free thoughts, open to all possibilities... I didn’t know what I wanted to be but I knew I wanted to be the kind of woman who was bold, took chances, and had adventures.
As I spent time thinking about my goals for myself, I decided that “fearless” would have to be my theme for 2011. I first focused on moving on from my highly-regarded and relatively secure corporate job to do something more aligned with my interests. I struggled through the process of discovering what that meant and struggled even more in making the leap despite the opinions and concerns of loved ones. I then focused on accomplishing other personal goals like running my first half-marathon (and then two more), nervously trying my hand at fundraising and finally walking away from an unhealthy relationship.
Basically I was kicking butt and taking names. I'll admit it.
But 2011 ended and fear hadn’t disappeared from my life. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was very annoying to realize that in thinking of my theme for 2012 I hadn't yet finished my work for 2011. It’s like I expected fear to magically disappear. That I’d be able to move on to something completely new at midnight on January 1, 2012.
I should’ve known better. Life just doesn’t work that way. Personal development is a long windy road that continues on past the horizon. Learning to deal with fear, of course, is no exception.
What does it even mean to be fearless?
The problem was that I had the definition all wrong. Fearless is not the absence of fear. It’s about acknowledging fear and making the conscious decision to keep going.
I am deliberate and afraid of nothing. – Audre Lorde
In my mind, embodying that quote means getting familiar with your fears, talking to them (maybe even literally: "Oh, it's you again. Can't say I've missed you at all.") and keeping it moving. It's never about ignoring them because ignoring fears ultimately give them more control over your thoughts and actions, whether you realize it or not.
My goal for myself is no different now than it was January 2011. I still want to live a fearless life. However for me that now includes being deliberate. And being deliberate means allowing myself to experience fear, having the courage to look my fears dead in the eye but never letting it stop me.