In August, I am challenging myself to examine the things I fear and the balance of how that keeps me safe or holds me back. I’d like to end this month with a clearer picture of what fears to keep and which I need to work to abandon.
I am a very risk-averse person, and have convinced myself that I need to be cautious on many fronts in order to stay safe. I think that the multitude of fears I have developed, large and small, are holding me back from some potentially exceptional and growth oriented experiences.
When I started writing these challenges, August was the month I most dreaded. However, towards the end of July I started to think through the forms that this challenge would take, and actually started to look forward to it. This month I want to challenge a few of my biggest fears and see if I can let them go, or find ways to move forward despite them.
First up to challenge is my fear of heights. I remember being mildly afraid of heights when I was younger, but I think this fear kicked into full gear as an adult. This has held me back on many occasions and has prevented me from fully enjoying several vacations. In New York, Maine, California, and Oregon fear prevented me from going on several hikes that otherwise looked beautiful. My fear of heights also extends to driving, and it made my drive along the Pacific Coast Highway very uncomfortable on two trips, both from San Francisco down to Big Sur, and a few years later from San Francisco up to Portland. I was the passenger on both of these and annoyed the driver by constantly asking him to slow down. My fear of heights also dictated which hike we did in Mur Woods and almost prevented me from going on the ride through the amazingly peaceful redwoods on Howland Hill Road.
So, why do I keep going on trips that involve both hiking and driving on roads that are precariously positioned at the edges of cliffs? When I can get past the fear I love the views and I love the adventure! I love exploring nature, hiking, and seeing new things. This motivates me to try to put this fear aside, or at least figure out how to operate in spite of it.
Luckily my fear of heights is almost completely alleviated by guardrails. I have no problem driving, or riding on overpasses or bridges. I can walk up to the edge on any balcony and most overlooks as long as a sturdy railing is in place. When the guardrails are there I don’t use them. I rarely lean on them, and I hope to never drive into one! Therefore, my logic based assessment tells me my fear of heights is not necessary to keep me safe. Unfortunately, my logic based assessment doesn’t do me much good when the railings aren’t there.
I’m going to give it another try though, keeping the logic in mind. This month I’m going to challenge my fear of heights by taking a trip with a friend that involves both some moderately challenging hiking with exposed drops and some mountain roads with switchbacks and little to no guardrails.
Another fear I am planning to challenge this month is my fear of germs. This fear originated about a decade ago. I was dealing with some medical issues for a fairly extended period of time, and the doctors cautioned me to not get sick, as the medication I was on would make it more challenging for my body to recover from everyday illnesses. This word of caution, coupled with the health challenges that I was already facing, instilled a fear of germs both from people and from food. At the time, I was somewhat justified in my fear of catching an everyday illness or of getting food poisoning from undercooked or bad food. Today, the fear lingers and impacts me in several ways. For example, I love to cook and try new foods, but I HATE cooking raw meat and I completely clean the kitchen every time I do so. This causes unnecessary stress in the kitchen and limits me from trying new things. This month I am going to challenge my fear of germs by cooking a few foods that I would normally avoid.
In addition to challenging my fear of heights and my fear of germs, in August I am also going to closely tune into how fear may be holding me back in smaller ways. I will strive to work through these smaller fears, and also try to tune into the difference between a fear that is unnecessary and a gut instinct that may keep me safe.
About the Photo
I took this photo near Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. The sights along this drive are amazing however, on this journey, my fear of heights got the better of me and I could not fully enjoy the trip. The inset here shows me, many feet away from the edge, holding on to the car door due to my fear of heights.