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Archive for November, 2011

What I’ve noticed in this series of Do What Scares You is the sneakiness of my fear. Just when I think, “I’m bold, I’m courageous, I take risks – nothing can stop me!” Something comes along and pokes at me and says, “Yeah, but what about this scary place right here?” Ouch.

This week a couple of very wise women pointed out where I was holding back, playing small, not stepping up to the plate. I see how I’m afraid to be “too much” stand out, be seen. As a girl I always felt my energy was a little too big for those around me, that I was too enthusiastic and overwhelming for people. I learned to tone it down, keep a lid on it.

Well, it’s time to take the lid off. That feels scary! As I contemplated what it would look like to do what scares me, what it would require of me, I came across this.

Watch it. Then come back and tell me why you can’t do what you came here to do. Why the cards are stacked against you and why you don’t have enough time or money or support to be who you’re truly meant to me. Watch it and report back! (Trust me it’s worth the less than 5 minutes of your life!)

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One thing I know about fear is that when I let it stop me, it has a lasting impact. I remember the times I let fear hold me back. They are the fuel that propels me.

Like when I was in the 12th grade and Mrs. B., my high school art teacher, felt she had taught me all she could about painting and figure drawing. She was passionate about supporting my creativity and suggested I sign up for a class at Syracuse University to learn how to draw live models. On the first day of class there was a model sitting in the middle of a circle. We sat around her holding our wooden easels covered with heavy sheets of blank white paper, sticks of charcoal in our ready hands. There was no teacher. No instructions. I froze. I had no idea where to start.

I turned to the young woman sitting next to me, “What do I do?” I asked. She pulled her board away from me and hissed, “Do your own work!” I was stunned. I don’t even remember what happened next. I’m pretty sure that was my last figure drawing class. When I graduated high school later that year I majored in psychology. I stopped drawing. Every time I think of that story and how afraid I was to do it wrong, to make a mistake, I feel such regret. This is my pledge to myself: to never again let the fear of not being good enough stop me from doing what I love.

Three Rules for doing what scares you:

1. It has to be scary to YOU. It doesn’t matter if no one else on the planet thinks it’s scary. For it to be your life-changing experience, you need to feel that butterfly-in-your-stomach feeling, that hesitation before leaping. Because once you make that leap, it’s incredibly freeing – I did something I was scared of, I pushed my edges, I faced fear head on and did it anyway. And, oh yeah, I didn’t die!

2. Once you commit to jump off the cliff, you need to jump! No hedging. Embrace the experience fully. You can’t embark on this scary thing and drag your feet the whole time, whining. Either you do it or you don’t. I was feeling anxious packing for the my trip into the Australian Outback to work with an Aboriginal Healer. I was almost in a panic before going to San Quentin prison. I was physically nauseous driving to the woods for a solo three-day vision quest. But once I arrived at my destination, I fully embraced the experience. I took all the setbacks in stride, I didn’t use them as an opportunity to say “See, I knew this was a bad idea, I should never have even done this in the first place!” Every setback on the journey is part of the learning experience.

3. Be willing to be imperfect. Doing what scares you doesn’t mean doing it perfectly right out of the gate. It means experimenting, being willing to be a beginner and make mistakes and actually learn something. It means being more committed to your own growth than feeling comfortable. And it takes lots of practice. The other day my niece showed me her violin and I said, “Ugh, I failed violin.” “Shut up,” she said. (She’s 9). “You just didn’t try hard enough.” She’s right. When I was learning violin, I just wanted to play and sound amazing. When I studied piano I didn’t want to practice scales, I wanted to play Jazz riffs. When I took gymnastics I wanted to be Nadia Comaneci. I didn’t want to have to spend years learning how to do these things. But that’s what it takes to be good – practicing, experimenting, trying things out, and being really bad before you can be good.

What fears are holding you back? Where do you let your fear of not being good enough stop you from starting?

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One thing I’ve learned is that in order to stretch myself out of my comfort zone and grow, I need to regularly and consistently do things that scare the crap out of me. Just last week I posted a blog about my experience visiting 22 convicted murderers in San Quentin prison. That was scary, and an incredibly moving experience.

This summer I went camping in the Australian Outback to learn from an Aboriginal healer. Packing for the trip I kept wondering, why am I doing this? Why am I traveling half way around the world with a sleeping bag shoved in my suitcase to camp in the middle of nowhere with what could be a crazed man? My husband reminded me that there are over 26 deadly critters in the outback. “You better not die out there,” he said. And yet, he supported me to go, because he knows that when I follow my heart it’s for an important reason. And it was an incredible trip.

Experiences like these are my rites of passage, initiations into a greater sense of self. Indigenous cultures around the world have teachers and healers who regularly lead people through such journeys in order to help them evolve on their path.

Several years ago I did a Vision Quest. I was terrified of spending three days alone in the woods. I was fearful I’d be attacked by a mountain lion, but mostly I was afraid of having to be by myself for three days. An extrovert, I thought the silence would kill me. But I learned that the forest is all but silent, and that I like being by myself.

The actual activity is not as important as doing what scares me. I know that if I’m afraid of doing something, it’s an indicator. The fear I feel is different than the fear of walking down a dark alley. I’m not talking about doing stupid things. I’m talking about the things that you know you want to do, or maybe have always wanted to do, but are afraid. For example, this month I took on the challenge of finally committing to paper the book I’ve been writing in my head for years, starting with 50,000 words in November.

Every time I sit in front of the computer to write, I feel the fear in my gut. In that moment it’s like I’m jumping off a cliff, taking a risk – but the risk is with my ego. Am I being too vulnerable? What if people don’t like it? What if they judge me? Do I really have anything new to say?

The ego wants us to have all the answers, have it all figured out, do it perfectly and get the good grade. By thumbing our noses at our ego we lessen its power over us. Stepping into the unknown and learning that I can live to see the next day is incredibly liberating. And remember, doing the scary thing is not comfortable. If it were comfortable, it wouldn’t be a stretch.

Now go do something scary, and then come back and tell us how it went!

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