People seem to think my life is extraordinary, and I must admit that I get to do some pretty cool stuff. So I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is. Why do I get to travel on a regular basis? And why do I get super cool jobs that let me play with Legos all day or work on the summit of the highest peak in the North East? And why doesn’t everyone else do the same? It’s not that I’m lucky. In fact I suffer from the Campbell curse, and the universe is constantly working against me. So what sets me apart?
I am completely and utterly terrified of the dark. In fact I am completely and utterly terrified of everything. I’m not joking. Every time I have to walk into a dark room I have to fight the urge to panic and scream. I’m afraid of talking on the phone. I’m afraid of talking to strangers. I’m afraid of driving. I’m afraid of singing in front of people. I’m afraid of bathrooms between the hours of 3AM and 6AM. As a 28 year old adult, I’m still afraid of the monster under my bed. This is not a joke. I have severe anxiety to the point that if I didn’t overcome it, I couldn’t function as an adult human being. And because fear is such an integral part of my life, I have more practice than most people at overcoming fear. Never ever think I’m fearless. I am not. But I am a pro at overcoming fear.
The lamp in my family room is at the far end of the room, so if the light is off you have to walk all the way across the room in the dark to turn the light on. I remember being ten years old standing at the dark doorway with my three younger siblings, all four of us terrified, knowing that being the oldest sibling present I had to be the one to turn the light on. I also knew that I had to pretend the dark wasn’t scary, so that the younger kids wouldn’t be scared. I learned how to cross the room at a normal pace and breath normal even though my heart was racing and I wanted to run. And for the last eighteen years that’s what I’ve been doing, even though I STILL want to run.
I apply this practice to everything in my life. I never let fear stop me from doing or getting what I want. I just pretend I’m not afraid, and force myself to keep calm.
It is my experience, that most people are crippled by the following three fears:
- A fear of failure
- A fear of discomfort
- A fear of being alone
A FEAR OF FAILURE
Am I afraid of failure? Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? Of course I am. Failure is frigging terrifying. Especially as a perfectionist, knowing that something I do will likely end up imperfect is really discouraging. So discouraging in fact that it could potentially prevent me from ever wanting to even start. This is actually still a major issue for me with art. I have a difficult time starting a drawing, because I’m afraid it won’t be perfect in the end. Failure is just something you have to accept as part of life and know that failure is better than never trying.
I think this video from the Vlogbrothers says it best:
You need to DARE TO SUCK. Seriously. You need to give yourself permission to fail. Not just in writing or in art, but in everything. If you aren’t going hiking, because you’re afraid you won’t make it to the top, DARE TO SUCK. Even if you only make it ten steps up the trail, at least you got to be in nature for a few moments. If you aren’t entering a writing contest, because you’re afraid you won’t win. DARE TO SUCK. You might not win, but you might be inspired to write something new that you can be proud of. If you aren’t asking that guy/gal out, because you’re afraid they will say no. DARE TO SUCK. Figuratively. Because a clean rejection means you can move on with your life, and who knows, they might say yes.
Practice makes perfect, and you can’t get any practice if you’re too afraid to begin.
Also sometimes you fail and you fail and you fail and in the end you discover “Hey, maybe mountain biking isn’t my new hobby after all. Glad I tried.”
A FEAR OF DISCOMFORT
Let me make something clear. Unless you’re rolling in dough, a life of adventure and new experiences is really, really uncomfortable. WORTH IT. But uncomfortable. Adventurers are hungry and tired and sore. I am more experienced at sleeping in my car than I like to admit, but when I’m travelling it costs me nothing and therefore lets me spend my money on park entry fees, etc..
Discomfort isn’t something to fear. It’s something to plain old accept. I don’t see any point in worrying about being uncomfortable, when it’s pretty much going to happen no matter what. But I know this is a big one for a lot of people to overcome. If comfort is really important to you, you will be limited in what you can see and do financially. It’s just a matter of priorities. For me, seeing the beautiful hills of Yellowstone cloaked in flowers and hiking into the depths of the Grand Canyon are worth a few nights without a bed.
Don’t fear the pain. Embrace it as a tool that allows doors to remain open.
A FEAR OF BEING ALONE
Now this one is tough.
I think overcoming the fear of being alone is the most important skill an adventurer can learn, and it is also one that I don’t think you ever really perfect. A few years ago it became clear to me that if I wanted to travel and hike on a regular basis, I couldn’t wait for another person to join me. Between schedules and money and life, it’s near impossible to find someone else that can take a four day trip on a whim.
This is something that comes easier with time. At first it’s flipping terrifying, but now I can honestly say I actually prefer to travel alone. When you travel alone, you don’t have to worry about accommodating someone else. You can go to all the attractions that you want to go to, and skip all the ones you want to skip. It’s easier to start conversations with locals if you’re craving conversation. And you don’t have to worry about getting sick of your companion.
Like I said this skill is never perfected. I love to solo hike. I don’t have to worry about accommodating anyone else’s pace or schedule or conversational needs. BUT when I was hiking the high peaks of the White Mountains, I was hiking for 30 hours a week for weeks and weeks on end. And honestly I started to get lonely. I was lucky to find the perfect climbing partner in my friend Andrew St.Clair. I still hiked over half of my peaks solo, but you can only spend so many hours in your head before you need someone else to talk to.
My willingness to venture alone has allowed me to travel to more than 40 of the 50 US States. Also, it allows to follow my dreams, which could uproot me numerous times over the next few years. It will probably be lonely every time I have to settle in a new location, but I will meet people everywhere I go, and I will be able to live my dreams. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Obviously, if you have kids, you need to put them first. But, if you have a dream for your life that you’ve never tried to fulfill, think about why. Could fear be a factor? Is it one of the three fears that I’ve outlined here? If so, dare to suck, dare to be uncomfortable, and dare to be alone. The rewards are immense. Also, unless you’re doing something completely groundbreaking, chances are that many many people before you (and most likely less qualified than you) have done it successfully in the past, so you probably can too.
Don’t be fearless. Fear is good. Fear keeps us safe. But be courageous. You can’t have courage without fear, because courage is overcoming fear. Be courageous.
I’m back up on the mountain now, so I’m sure I’ll have some weather related posts coming soon.
I’m still Merry on the Mountain.