There is a line in the AWOLNATION song “Kill Your Heroes” that says, “Never let your fear decide your fate”. I whole-heartedly agree. I believe fear is one of the most self-limiting emotions that we deal with in life.
My Horse Story
I took up horseback riding in my mid-twenties. I worked hard at it and eventually became good enough to compete at a local level in equitation and jumping. I used to ride three times a week. There came a point when circumstances changed and I had to give it up. But I always said I would go back to it.
Valentine’s Day, 2012 found me on the Kijiji website, checking to see if anyone was missing the cat my friend had found. I came across a photo of a beautiful young horse whose owner was looking to share board (an arrangement where you contribute to the horse’s stable fees in exchange for riding privileges).
It had been 10 years since I had ridden, but, spur-of-the-moment, I decided this was it. I needed to stop taking about wanting to ride again and just “get back in the saddle”. I took a chance and sent an e-mail expressing my interest.
The real test of my resolve was when the horse’s owner asked me to meet her and try the horse.
I distinctly remember the drive up to the stable that dark, cold, February night – my stomach in knots, weak at the knees, my thoughts in turmoil, wondering if I would be able to remember how to ride and demonstrate that I was competent to control the horse. I worried that I might not even be able to just stay on the horse.
I was anxious, suffering from powerful doubt (it takes a lot of muscle and many muscles to ride and mine had certainly atrophied to a Jell-O-like state), despair (because I realized how much I really wanted this) and I was terribly afraid. I feared failure, I feared humiliation and I feared disappointment. I feared injury too, but, strangely enough, that was way down on the list.
The horse’s owner, her Mom, and teacher were all waiting for me. The horse’s owner briefly rode him first, to warm him up. We were in an arena where a riding lesson was taking place, so there were other riders and several other observers in the space. And, of course, everyone knew I was there to be assessed.
I have to admit to pretty much feeling sick to my stomach and I had a strong urge to flee. But I imagined the worst-case scenario, in which I fell off the horse and figured; I’d just leave with my bruised ego (and whatever else) and never have to see these people again.
I managed to get on the horse. I pushed aside my emotions and focused on the rider’s mantra: Heels down, back straight, head up, eyes ahead, hands still, sit deep, shoulders back, BREATHE! After a few minutes, I was calm(er), and managed to guide the horse around at walk and a trot. But I despaired at how out of shape I was.
However, somehow, something convinced my watchers that I was a capable equestrienne, and, last month I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my return to riding.
My ex-boyfriend once told me he wished he could be fearless like I was. At the time, I laughed, incredulously. “I’m not fearless,” I said, “I’m afraid all the time. I just don’t let it stop me.”
What Is Fear?
Fear is the doubt we have about ourselves, a concern that our capabilities, our personality, our knowledge, or our appearance are wanting. It is the little internal voice that says, “I’m not good enough” “I don’t know enough” “I don’t belong” or the very self-limiting, “I can’t”. It is the insidious anxiety about who we are, what we can do, or what people might think of us.
I’m not talking about bravery. Being brave is not the same thing as facing fear. Bravery is related to how you react when you are confronted with, or you place yourself in, physical danger. There is fear, but it is external.
Sometimes fear slows us down, makes us hesitate, stops us. It can cause us to miss out on opportunity. Sometimes, it prevents us from achieving our full potential.
How to Face Fear
Is there a way to face fear? Most of us do it every day. Everyone experiences self-doubt. The fear may be mild: traveling to an unknown location; making a presentation; meeting new people; asking a difficult question; but we face our fear and function in spite of it.
The first step is to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the situation. What would that be? And so what? How bad could it be? How would you deal with it? What could you do to try and mitigate the situation to ensure a different outcome?
In my case, if I not been able to control the horse, I probably would have offered to take some riding lessons. Maybe it would have meant the horse was too much for me and I needed to find a different horse.
Think back to other times when you were afraid. What happened? Was it as bad as you thought? What did you learn? Were your fears unfounded? Were they, perhaps, out of proportion to the circumstances? Did you fail? Why? What could you have done differently? What will you do the next time, in similar circumstances?
Control what you can. Rehearse, practice, lobby, seek counsel, do research, ask advice, do a run-through. Visualize the situation and its possibilities. Learn what you can about the situation. If you feel somewhat familiar with the circumstances, it can help decrease the fear.
Failure is the opportunity to learn and grow. If we never take chances – and that means squashing down the fear – we will never do or dare. And never have the chance to succeed or, at the very least, have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… The more often you push through your fear and try, the more often you will succeed and the stronger your confidence will be to face, and conquer, the next.