As a child, fear hardly ever surfaced from my vocabulary. Apart from when I was crawling into bed with my parents after a nightmare, I was, for the most part, fearless.
Being the youngest of three sisters, I had a competitive nature, always wanting to be as strong, fast, and tough as my older sisters. I would take whatever risks necessary to impress them, whether that meant jumping into my pond off a dare in the blistering Michigan November air, or trying a new ice cream flavor at every shop we visited.
When it came to my hobbies, I was even more driven. Yes, I was one of those crazy little kid skiers you see zipping in and out of the trees and hitting the jumps without even thinking twice beforehand. And yes, I was one of those pipsqueaks in gym class that refused to accept anyone could be stronger or faster than me, even if that meant extreme shoulder pain after a game of Red Rover.
Even in social situations I acted fearless, something that I find hard to believe now as my social anxiety seems to only increase each day. When I was 9, my sisters and I formed a band, performing at various fairs and events in our surrounding cities. One of my sisters played the piano and violin, the other played the bass guitar, I played lead guitar, and we all sang. Writing this, at just the thought of standing on a stage, in front of an anticipating crowd, my stomach starts to churn. How did I handle it so calmly as a child?
Now that I have entered into the adult world and have learned to live independently, I cannot say that fear is absent from my life. I live in fear every day, some of it being sadly rational, such as my fear of walking to school on the streets of the big city, while some of it is completely irrational, such as my fear that people will judge the tone of my voice if I partake in conversation with them.
I also show more fear in my personal endeavors, such as snowboarding. I grew up a skier, and made the switch to snowboarding a few years ago. Although I consider myself a good snowboarder, when I am approaching a jump or a rail I always have the thought, what if I break something? I wouldn’t be able to perform my daily jobs or schoolwork. I can’t do this. Or even, I don’t want to do this with all these people around. What if I fall and they make fun of me?
I often find myself wishing, about snowboarding and other recently found hobbies of mine, that I had started when I was younger. I reflect back upon my past fearless state and wonder, if I had only begun this back then, I would have easily conquered the initial fear and be an expert by now. That may not necessarily be the case, but it’s easy to think that it is, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
So why is it that our adult lives are so full of fear when our childhood lives were absent of it? Although part of the answer may come down to our genuine concern of taking care of ourselves so we can perform our daily tasks and responsibilities, a large part of the answer lies within our pride, and our fear of failure.
When we were children, our peers were other children. It was easy not to care what mistakes we made because no one else did, and we didn’t judge others for their mistakes. When you are a functioning member of the adult world, however, the case is sadly not the same. We get reprimanded more seriously when we mess up and take the opinions of our peers more personally.
Since we cannot always ignore the negative opinions of others, we must turn to a simple alternative: letting go. Most of the fear we experience in social situations is irrational and unnecessary. We fear criticism, despite knowing that we cannot impress everyone, and we fear judgement from strangers with whom we have never spoken.
In these times, it is important to keep things in perspective, and ask yourself, “so what?” Is the risk of their negative judgement really worth keeping you from expressing yourself? Do you really care what these people think of you? Learning to deal with social-induced fear begins with learning to let go of the concern of what others may think of you, and, ultimately, we can only do our best to keep our negativity to ourselves and hope that others do the same.
Most importantly, remember this: a life lived in fear is hardly a life lived at all. Fear will hold you back from many opportunities if you give in to it, keeping you from meeting new people, trying different things, and gaining memorable experiences. So, ask yourself this, “what kind of life do I want to look back on when I’m older? A life where I was safe but sheltered, or a life full of different adventures?”
Separate your required jobs and responsibilities in society from your passions and your heart’s goals. In the end, this is your life and it is up to you to write your own story. You have to ability to control the outcome, but only if you make the conscious decision to do so. This is your one shot, so take it, and jump. Fearlessly.