Being scared has its advantages.
In January 2004, I thought I had an ear infection and an MRI was supposed to make sure it wasn’t more serious.
Unfortunately, it was. Much more serious.
Sitting in the doctor’s office with a specialist I’d never met, I tried to make sense of the images of my skull projected on a screen.
First thought: My nose is crooked. I never knew that.
Next: So this is what mortality feels like.
In the shades of gray on the MRI, there was a little white blob staring back at me. An acoustic neuroma brain tumor.
At 29, it was the first time I realized that I would die someday, just like everyone else.
This was not one of those situations when I’d wake up from the nightmare safe and warm in my jammies, no matter how much I wished that was possible.
Not long after I adopted the motto: I’m scared and doing it anyway.
Being scared has its advantages.
For one, when you admit the fear, it loses some of its hold on you. Much like as a child, when you turned on the light after imagining a giant monster living in your closet.
Second, any strong emotional reaction is a signal that what’s happening is important to you. Knowing what you absolutely don’t want means you know what you want more than anything. That can be a powerful motivator.
Here’s what I mean: From that moment in the doctor’s office, I knew with all my heart that I didn’t want that tumor. In turn, it meant that more than anything I wanted to be healthy. The first was my real fear—and the second became my sole focus.
Finally, no matter the situation, the most rewarding decision is often when I’m scared and moving forward in spite of that. Toward that thing that I really want. It’s because it’s quite possible that I will get what I want (which itself can be scary!) rather than settling for something less.
I bet you’re scared of something right now—like a decision you have to make, and the unknown of what could happen as a result.
>> Find your focus. If you don’t want this thing you’re scared of, what do you want? Use that to propel you forward, instead of away from what you don’t want.
>> Make your own mantra. Now that you have your focus, start talking about it. Say what you want, again and again, to yourself and others. I told everyone that I wanted to be healthy, and often they would reflect it back to me. The more I said it, the more we all believed that I would feel better.
>> Believe that it’s possible. Heard of the saying, “Fake it until you make it?” I’m not above convincing yourself that what you want is possible, so long as you also recognize when it starts to happen. During my recovery I would notice when I stayed awake longer, or walked farther than I could the previous day. How is what you want already showing itself? Take note and celebrate every small step in the right direction.
Admitting fear will not take away this big thing you’re facing, just as it didn’t make my tumor disappear.
But it will remove some of the sting. Promise.
As I’ve written about before, when you’re honest with yourself and others it makes it easier for everyone to focus on what you want, rather than on avoiding the truth.
You can waste a lot of energy ignoring what your fear is trying to tell you. And then you’ll just be tired.
Being scared then is an opportunity to learn what’s really important to you and to go get it.
Who else is scared and doing it anyway?
I’d love the company.
Lauree Ostrofsky is Chief Hugger & Coach at Simply Leap, LLC. She helps clients facing the big questions in their lives go after them unabashedly. After a 10-year stint in New York City, she now lives in Washington, DC with her plants Adelaide, Paisley and two more who haven’t told her their names yet. Her memoir, I’m scared & doing it anyway, is out in April 2013. More here.
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Assistant Ed: Stephanie V./Ed: Bryonie Wise