A quick story:
I was about 8 years old. My family was spending the day at Six Flags. If you've ever been to the one here in St. Louis, you know that there is an old, wooden roller coaster called The Screaming Eagle. Now, I was never much for roller coasters (or heights, or small spaces... but I digress), but I was standing just outside the roped-off lines for that particular ride with my dad and brother, when he asked who would go with him. Naturally, I thought my brother would do it - he was three years older, which automatically made him braver in my eyes. But, he declined. My dad tried convincing him to no avail. Then he turned to me and raised an eyebrow. And despite being a nervous wreck, I jumped at the chance to ride it. It wasn't the thrill that convinced me. It was the look on my dad's face. I knew my bravery would make him proud, and give me bragging rights over my big brother. A win-win!
(author's note: Hey Dad, sorry about biting your shoulder, I can still picture the little, red teeth marks puncturing your freckled skin...)
As I got older, I was the kid who always took the Dare when we played Truth or Dare. I was the one who stepped up to be adventurous. I was really just playing tough. I wasn't so brave, I just enjoyed the attention. As a mom, it's probably not a quality you want your kids (especially teenagers) to have. This I fully understand. But at the time, it was great.
Despite my "pretend bravery" I've never really been much of a risk taker. And especially as I've gotten older, my priorities have certainly shifted. Motorcycle joy rides? Not for me. What if something happened to me? I have three kids to raise! Quit my job and start my own company? Why would I do that when I've got a reliable salary, 401k, health insurance, paid vacation, sick days and personal time?
The thing about fear is, it's usually only present when we don't have the knowledge to overcome it. We're afraid of things about which we know little or nothing. We're afraid to take a leap of faith, because we can't know what will happen until after we've done so. It's a tough thing to overcome, this fear. But not impossible. Because the more we face it head on, the less frightened we'll become, the more experiences we'll accumulate and be able to draw from.
I was having dinner with my oldest son the other night, after a visit to a college fair. He was feeling a bit overwhelmed I think. All the choices, and the competition among the "best" schools. Worrying that maybe he wouldn't get in (with two AP classes and two Honors classes, he's got a heavy academic load his Junior year). I reminded him about all the things I never thought I could do, and did. And all the times he'd accomplished things he wasn't sure he would.
"Sometimes you just have to have a little faith," I said.
"In what?" he asked.
"In yourself. If you are the first one to tell yourself 'I can't' why should anyone else believe that you can?
It's a conversation I'd been on the other end of a few months prior.
My dad and I were on twin kayaks out on the lake. I was voicing my fears about quitting my job, venturing out on my own. I'd really wanted to do it, but I had three kids to raise, high school tuition - and soon, college - to pay for. What if I couldn't make ends meet? What if I failed?
"What's the worst that could happen?" he asked me.
"The worst? Well, I guess it doesn't work and I have to get another job."
"Can you handle that?"
"Yeah, I suppose I could."
"Sometimes you just have to jump," he said with an easy shrug of his shoulders.
And so I did.
On August 1st, I became my own boss. After years of regular paychecks, I'm making my own dime. If I don't work, I don't get paid. Sick days? Nope. Vacation? Not unless I want to go without income for a week.
But, here's the exciting part: the possibilities are absolutely endless! Doors are opening left and right, I'm writing more, spending less time fighting rush hour traffic, and getting the opportunity to share my expertise, and work on many different projects, brands and initiatives. I'm exploring new options and meeting people who share my passion for writing, for helping individuals, companies and brands communicate more effectively to reach their goals. It's more than I could have hoped for. I'm also home to put my daughter on the bus every morning, and here when all three of my kids get home after school. And I can't put a price on that.
But I digress. Sometimes the thing that frightens us the most is the thing we want most. If you are the biggest thing standing in the way of your hopes and dreams, well then... get the hell out of the way.
As Sheryl Sandberg asks, via her Lean In initiative, what would you do if you weren't afraid?