Every year, I participate in a kayak event called Green Race. Every year, I have to confront my fear of going fast through dangerous rapids. That is an important fear that keeps me cautious and safe. However, the strongest fear that I have is making a fool of myself in front of my friends, which got me thinking. Why do I fear embarrassment more than physical dismemberment?
I love the way that Brene Brown begins her book Daring Greatly, by referencing Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” from 1910, where he states that “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.” Brene goes on to share that it’s not about “knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
It takes courage to be “all in” because there is always risk involved when we are no longer sitting on the fence. It takes courage because there is fear. There is fear because that is our body’s way of measuring risk. Fear can be a friend by keeping us safe from being wounded or hurt. Fear can also move us away from taking action, deepening commitment, or engaging in our lives in ways that fuel passion and purpose. Fear is not good or bad. Just like all other emotions, it’s a messenger of information that helps us make meaning about what is happening.
Courage comes to the table when there is something more important or powerful than the risk involved. When we show up with courage, we are acknowledging the risk, we feel the fear, and we take action because it is worth it!
Brene’s description of a loving relationship is a great example of when it can be worth it. “Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow…. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?”
To find connection, belonging, and the safety of support, risk is going to be involved. It takes courage to be vulnerable with another person because there is risk of rejection, hurt, and betrayal. It’s the greatest risk with one of the highest rewards.
When we try to minimize risk by hiding our vulnerability, we are left socially isolated and alone. By ignoring our fears and shoving them down, they proceed to lift weights in the dark. Nobody can escape risk, which tells me nobody is alone in this predicament.
Yet time and time again I continue to run into the stigma associated with reaching out for support. It can be difficult to talk about fear. Fear can feel like a synonym for weakness rather than an intelligent way for our bodies to register risk. We have confused feelings with failing and emotions with liabilities. For many of us, associate risk-taking with the physical realm rather than the relational one, which is my que for more sports metaphors.
Give any athlete after winning a gold medal a microphone, and most of them immediately go to thanking their support network: coaches, teammates, family, friends, etc. We become strong through support but sadly, have stigmatized getting it.
I felt a lot of fear when writing this article. When I find myself in fear, I reach out for support, which often feels like a contradiction to my value of self-reliance. I rationalize my way to seeking support by telling myself that as I allow others to role model what caretaking my fears can look like, I become better at doing it for myself. Therefore, reaching out for support with my fear is a way for me to become more self-reliant.
I reached out to a friend who pointed out that the athletes that participate in an individual sport are the ones that are most likely to recognize the need for support, for “team.” From Simone Biles to Michael Phelps, we are coming to the understanding that we cannot physically outperform our anxieties or fears. I think that may be why golfers anecdotally are more receptive to therapy because they are not under the illusion that they can physically train their fears out of their swing.
Moreover, as we wrestle with our fears and find our bravery with support, we become more connected to others that are doing the same. We find more people that support us and we find more opportunities to support. As Marrianne Williamson put it, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Life is risky. It’s risky to be in the arena, and its risky to opt out. Typically, our lives are more meaningful, purposeful, and feel more alive in the arena. We need support to measure the true risks that our fears are telling us about, and support to cultivate reasons for courage. As we do this work, we inspire others to do the same.