How I Embraced Fear and Got Started

My mom is scared of everything. When she flies, she has to drink 2 double screwdrivers before take off. She doesn’t even have her ear pierced because she’s scared of needles. The dishwasher open, someone tripping over it and falling to their death. So she makes an announcement every time she opens it up.

I never wanted to be like that. So I’ve always tried to be adventurous and brave. I did stuff: I got tattoos. I backpacked in Europe. I moved to Cleveland for a job without knowing a soul. But last year, I realized that I had all of the same dreams as I did when I was 18. I hadn’t done any of them

I had my reasons of course: job, money, safety, time. I told myself I was just being practical. I needed a new job to move to New York City. I didn’t have anyone to travel with. Graduate school was too expensive. It’s too hot to do fun stuff outside. The list goes on. For every one thing that I wanted, I had 3 excuses why it couldn’t be done.

About two years ago, I ran into my landlord, Brian, at the bar. We talked for a while, and I learned that he had spent his 20s living around the world. Teaching English in Russia, working on a goat cheese farm in Italy, living on the beach in Rio. For the last 4 years, he’s been working on opening a restaurant. I was so impressed with his adventurous spirit. I told him I’ve always wanted to live in India for short stint. He asked me why hadn’t I done it. And I told him, it was too late, I had a career that I couldn’t pause; I couldn’t do things like that anymore.

Later that night we went to a karaoke bar. When we got there, Brian went performed “Midnight Train to Georgia”. It was hilarious and fun; I admired his courage. He encouraged me to sing, but I told him that I didn’t do stuff like that. But he said, “C’mon this is your first step to India”. When he said that, something clicked inside of me. And so, for the first time, I karaoked, in front of a crowded bar. I was terrible, but I also realized that nothing bad happened. Not only did I live, but I felt alive.

I hung out with Brian a lot that summer. We had fun together, drinking too much and laughing on patios. And when people drink too much together and make each other laugh, they inevitably sleep together. We were no different.

After we slept together, we hung out all the time. Brian has a very adventurous spirit. He was always getting us to do stuff that I would never think of. He would have these ideas to go on small adventures exploring neighborhoods around Cleveland. We would drive around to look at the houses, sneak into vacant buildings. We’d get a beer in weird, old, gross dive bars, to ensure we got the real experience of the neighborhood.

But most of the time, we just hung out on patios – drinking, talking, laughing. Oftentimes, somewhere between the seventh and eighth beer, we would be talking about his world travels and I would be reminded of some goal or dream that I secretly had. I’d tell him, “I’ve always wanted to do this or that”. His response was always the same: “Why don’t you?”. I thought this was the most annoying and flippant response to someone telling you their deepest desires. And it took a few times of him asking me this before I realized what he was really asking and figured out why I hadn’t. I was scared. Of everything. I was scared of fucking up, getting hurt, making people mad, looking dumb. I was terrified to do the things I wanted to do. My relationship with Brian was forcing me to realize this.

Nothing scared me more than Brian. His adventures, his courage, but mostly the feelings I had for him. He was the first person I loved in a long time, maybe ever. And those feelings brought up all of the fears. I was scared that if I got into a relationship I would lose my autonomy and get hurt. But Brian wasn’t taking away my independence. My fear was driving all the decision making. I was removing the ability to make choices for myself.

I never considered how much fear I actually had and how it had been growing inside of me. I was completely unaware that the excuses I’d been making were just fear disguised as practicality. But I now know that fear has been running my life behind the scenes, my whole life. Fear had been creating problems that were never there in the first place. Fear was telling me I couldn’t do things, for reasons that were not real. And I listened to it. So I never did anything. I believed in fear, so I couldn’t believe in myself.

But as I learned to do small things that scared me, I began to shed the layers of fear that were making me hot/annoyed/claustrophobic/terrified/paralyzed. And I started to feel alive. I understood that I could live a life of joy, without any major changes to my lifestyle. I didn’t need more money, or a boyfriend to travel with, or more time in the day. All I had to do was choose courage.

After this epiphany, I traveled to Nicaragua, Cuba, and Europe by myself. I started writing. I went to grad school. I was running and practicing yoga more than I ever have. I did an East Coast road trip with my dog. I took improv classes. I read all of the time. I would look for any reason to be outside: walking, running, reading, eating - just to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. I accepted how I felt about Brian, and the vulnerability that came with loving someone and being loved.

Now I’m here. Things didn’t work out with Brian. I’m still awkward, tired, and cranky. I continue to fuck up. I don’t always make the right choices. But I feel a fire inside me that I never have before. Now I believe that I deserve everything I want. And I believe in myself enough to make it happen.

I no longer say, “I wish I could…”. Or “I’ve always wanted to…” I make it happen if I truly want it. I no longer look longingly at someone else’s life. I live a life that I am proud of. I choose to use courage every day. I am still scared. I am terrified that when I write this, and show this to someone, they will hate it. I fear they will think I am a bad writer, and ask, “Who does she think she is?”. My stomach is in knots just thinking about how many people will hate what I put out there.

And that’s fine. All of those things are just fine to feel. Each of those fears is completely normal. But none of them will dictate what I do with my life. They will not determine my choices. Only I can do that. And I am not my fear.