We often go through life catering to our fears and phobias. It is easier to avoid that surging internal conflict caused by facing things that entirely creep us out. For women in business, fear of failure is tantamount to falling off a high wire. In life, there is no safety net below us. Gravity is working against us; we won’t float like a balloon sliding out of its colorful bundle. This fear holds us back.
How do we overcome these conflicts, or at least get more comfortable with them so that we can move forward? Here are three steps you can take to overcome your fears:
Know Your Fears
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you fear and which fear is worst.
On my final day in Banos, Ecuador, I got a bad case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). A friend had planted a seed that the best thing to see when in Banos was the infamous Devil’s Cauldron, or Pailon del Diablo to the locals, and I started to seriously consider taking the hike. What held me back? Fear of heights (a long hike up treacherous pathways), confined spaces (you have to cave crawl under the waterfall at one point), and geological cataclysm (e.g. getting caught in a mudslide).
This isn’t a pull-up-and-go-see tourist trap, and I am not one to do hiking in general. I have marathoners’ knees and stone pathways are no bueno. I also read an article on the world’s most dangerous staircases, and the Diablo was prominently featured. Then my FOMO overruled my other fears. I didn’t want an empty check box on my trip. I decided that maybe it’s time to combine all the things that horrify me, take a chance, and test my adrenaline thresholds. After all, it is Trip Advisor’s #1 thing to do in Banos.
Let’s do this, I said. Sure, I might vomit, or bad vertigo could make me want to throw my body off the edge, but we will cross that (suspension) bridge later.
The self-doubt and regret really set in as we climbed the narrow pathway to the Devil’s Cauldron. A white dog leapt from the bushes, hounding us and nipping at my heels. Did I mention that I also have a fear of mongrel dogs? Also, I had just gotten bit on the tit by a horse during equine therapy (more fun times at: Equine Therapy blog), and now this dog was going nuts. Great. On the ravaged mudslide path, I worried that I would lose my footing and slide into the roaring river waters, taking perro blanco with me. But, I continued. And then, as the pathway narrowed and the exuberant jumping dog approached the brink of pushing me over the edge of a precipice, the tree canopy cast a shadow and a silvery mist of clouds slipped in. Hypnotically, like Salome’s veil, this lulled the dog, and he transformed into my loyal companion.
I became more confident as we continued, and I also realized that the attraction of the Devil’s Cauldron is not just the violently raging water clamoring down two separate rivers, converging like the embrace of a madman. There is also a chiseled rock; a sharply-etched side profile of an old man. The higher up you go, the clearer it becomes.
Take the First Step
Taking that first step with anything that truly matters to you is hard. Putting yourself out there, writing a book, starting a business, or sharing your feelings all seem like a high wire act on a metal cable in the sky. Sometimes crossing from one side to another is the hardest thing to do. You have an idea, make a plan, think through scenarios, and hope for the best. And then, there is that moment of truth. Like Philippe Petit’s epic le coup, a high wire balancing act between the World Trade Center buildings, all of the preparations ultimately lead to the defining “moment.” To get to that moment, you must take that first step and a leap of faith.
The story of Petit’s epic crossing was recently made into a film, The Walk. My favorite moment was when he took the first step out onto the cable, holding a 55 lbs. bar, with a bloody foot and the century’s most profound example of concentration. His greatest concern? His signature black turtleneck blew away when he was changing at the top of the towers. How is that for perspective?
After Petit takes his first step, he freezes when a bank of fog rolls in and obstructs his view of the opposite tower. He has made his move and there is no cowering or turning back, but the end point is now shrouded, unseen. As business women, we certainly arrive at that point, too. What we once so clearly saw in our imagination, the vikalpa of ideation, can suddenly become lost in the unknown reality. We have two choices in that moment: we can begin to doubt ourselves, or we can muster up the cajones to keep moving forward.
At 110 stories high, Petit didn’t have the luxury of self-doubt, nor could he afford to lose his focus. We have all been in a crisis situation that causes us to pause. When that happens, we must breathe, and allow moments to gather ourselves, assess, and possibly reassess. To move forward again, we inevitably must take another step; and when that step is done, we take another, and so on.
Find Your Peace
The Walk shows us that it isn’t enough to just cross once; the journey is a continuous cycle of deeper learning, acceptance and resolution.
Petit first walked just to prove he could pull off le coup. That would have been enough for many, but Petit saw the flaws in his design when he took that first walk. He turned because he felt the other tower calling him back. With each traverse, he gained ease, more confidence, and felt a greater trust in the process. He kneeled and acknowledged the wire, the sky, and the beauty of the towers. Although he was harassed by policemen on either side (the voices of reason and conformity, the bane to dreamers and artists), he kept walking, jumping and turning in direct defiance of authority.
Just kicking back. Every great endeavor requires a moment to pause and acknowledge the lessons and blessings around you, expressing your gratitude for being fully present in the moment and in who you are.
As a dreamer, Petit also knew surrender. He understood his sense of place. With each walk, he settled deeper into the uncertainty, or what he called ‘the void.’ When at last he laid down across the wire and stared up into the heavens, resigned and no longer scared, he began to simply marvel at it all. At that moment, like Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Petit found his peace.
Sometimes I feel like a woman on the wire, but without the high-wire and bloody foot. I have faced the void, and have seen clarity of vision become shrouded by the heavy clouds of doubt. But, I also know that the clouds are external and constantly moving, as all things are.
We can all find that feeling of being laid out peacefully on the wire, suspended impossibly high above the ground, knowing that change is the one thing we must acknowledge and cannot control. I hope we all have our moment on the wire, when we understand completely the energy that resides in each of us. This energy lures us out of our comfort zone, confronts us with our greatest fears or wildest fantasies, and keeps us walking one step at a time.