April 11, 2016

Doing The Very Things You Fear

credit: emaze.com

Fear is the mind's way of warning us of a threat or possible pain and injury. It can trigger a fight or flight reaction, meaning fear is manifested both psychologically and physically. It is an important protection for our safety and well-being.

It is also a limiter. Fear can prevent us from trying something new or different. It can keep us locked in a cycle that no longer serves a purpose. It can hold us in a rut that stifles our growth. It limits our potential.

This second category of fear is what this post is about: the fear that can squash our creativity and development, can restrict our fun and happiness, can make us miss so much in life.

I write this post primarily for my benefit, though I hope you will find something here to stimulate you, too. Too often I allow fear of extra work, or trying something new and a bit challenging to keep me locked into a familiar pattern. In those instances where I finally break through the self-imposed barrier, I find a tremendous benefit on the other side.

Examples? Well, Satisfying Journey for one. Even though I like to research a subject and then write about it, and I am inclined toward teaching, it took me at least a year to launch this blog. The fear of public failure, of not having much to say, of running out of enthusiasm for the subject, all delayed things for too long. Once I hit the publish button and worked out the initial stumbles, it is obvious to me how much I would have missed had I listened to the voice of fear in my head.

An important hobby of mine is ham radio. I have had fun talking to others around the world for over ten years. But, fear of all the things that this hobby requires kept me on the sideline for too long. It can be an expensive hobby so I was afraid of wasting the money. A federal license is required to become involved in ham radio. Could I learn enough to pass?

This is a hobby primarily for those who know electronics and like to build transmitters or receivers from scratch. That is not my strength. As I researched the hobby I discovered that many hams are like me: they buy equipment from dealers and enjoy the conversation or "thrill of the hunt" more than the technical side of things. Ham radio clubs are always looking for those who like to lead meetings and organize outings; after just a year of attending I put my leadership skills to work and served as president of a local club for three years.

If I had given up before I began over the possibility of failure, my irrational fears would have kept me from a very enjoyable decade of experiences.

RV travel is another good example of a fear that almost kept Betty and me from a tremendously pleasant part of our life. Buying an RV is not something anyone should do without a lot of thought and study. We bought a used unit for just under $30,000, inexpensive by RV standards. Newer, larger motorhomes can easily cost well over $100,000 - sometimes several times that amount. Fuel, maintenance, camping fees and insurance can add up quickly. Driving a 30 or 40 foot RV through traffic, into the mountains, or even into a gas station is not for the timid. 

About four years ago we faced down our fears and hesitations and bought R.T.(Road Trip)  the RV. The freedom and joy that decision has brought us has been priceless. We don't travel as much or for as long as we thought we might, but we have found a good balance. While the grandkids are young we like staying close to home most of the time so we can enjoy them and their family whenever we choose. As they enter their teen years and have less time and interest in sleepovers and time with gran and grandad, R.T. will start to rack up more serious miles and time away from home. 

Prison ministry was an important part of my life for 5 years. As I have written before, the first time going behind prison gates is terrifying. The facility I visited the most has been the scene of two major disturbances over the past few years, luckily never when I was there. Stepping past the fear to begin to minister to some incarcerated fellows was an important part of the growth of my faith. I trusted God was putting me in a position that I was meant to be. That didn't guarantee my safety but quieted my mind.

Fear can keep one safe from physical danger or risky behavior. It can bring our senses to full alert. It can also cause us to cower when we should leap forward. It can build a wall around us that doesn't keep us safe, it just fences us in.


  1. This is exactly what I needed to read today. thanks!

  2. All things are difficult before they are easy. Difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage. And so it is with fear.

    1. We all start as a beginner in whatever we do. With beginnings comes fear.

  3. Now that I'm retired, I've noticed that I seem to be more fearful, or experience more fear or reservation about doing or taking on things. This has somewhat surprised me because when I was much younger I was pretty brave or fearless even. Even in the years running up to retirement though, I didn't seem to have hesitancies or reluctancies about "striking out" or "taking on." Now I seem to be fairly concerned with safety or a fear of being unsafe. One fear factor seems to be that I'm a single female, although that never held be back from traveling alone or striking out in the past. When younger, I even occasionally camped alone, although I prudently chose where to do that, and often tried to camp next to a family so that other people would be closer by. Another fear factor is that my income is significantly reduced, so I find myself imagining "what if" scenarios. Also though, my nearest major city where I might go to do things, is not a place I'd want to be after dark (alone), as the crime and random homicide rate is sky high. International travel also seems to have become questionably safe. An obvious solution might be to find a companion to do things with, but that involves so much more planning, and I really don't mind doing things alone. I have enjoyed several Roads Scholar trips before retirement, BUT none since!?? I wonder if I'm just become too excessively prudent, about safety and finances combined, or whether as one grows older most people might naturally or sensibly become more cautious. I certainly most likely will never be on a ladder again, out of an abundance of caution with two TKAs. It is hard to know whether I'm being sensible or mildly pathological, i.e. captured by the type of fearfulness which you write about--and which should be worked on and overcome. I think media do a very good job at instilling fear as well--fear of falling so buy this alarm system--fear of medical catastrophe so purchase this insurance--fear of crime so install this home system, etc. I apologize for the long post, but your blog was very timely as I've been thinking about fearfulness a fair amount lately.

    1. Your comment is excellent; you highlight many of the reasons most of us become more cautious in our lives as we age. Logically, we understand we are responsible for our financial well-being and health. Illogically, we tend to create unlikely scenarios in our head about those issues.

      My fear tends to be more one of trying new things. I will have a post soon about the fear of beginnings because it is something I struggle with all the time.

      We also must balance caution and the risks inherent in living. More deaths happen at home than anywhere else, yet we feel safer inside our own house or apartment.

  4. I just got over the fear of preparing my house for eventual sale. The thought of emptying out the house of all my crap was so fearful I couldn't move. But then one day, I got up, grabbed a garbage bag and started with my closet. First I selected all the things I wanted to throw out and put them in the garbage bag. I couldn't believe how easy it was. So, I moved on. I selected all my clothes and shoes that were still good but that I would never wear again and put them into another garbage/lawn bag. Before I knew it my closet was purged down to it's bare necessities and it was done! I brought all the save-ables to my local thrift shop and the rest actually went into the trash. I couldn't believed I had taken the first step AND accomplished it. It was as easy as pie and I couldn't recall what all my fear and fuss was about.
    I now spend one hour a day going through each and every crevice of my home, purging, purging, purging!
    It's fun! And my home is clutter free. Every closet, draw, table top is free! This week I've finished the whole first floor and have started on the basement. Hubby did the attic.
    The first step was the hardest.
    It's a piece of cake after that.
    Who knew???

    1. I remember seeing your before and after photos of your home office a few weeks ago on your blog. Decluttering does feel good. Maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoy RV travel: you can't take more than you need inside a 30 foot metal and fiberglass box.

      Fear of free space...who knew?

    2. Oh Cindi... I am right there with you! I have painters here today; the guy to inspect our well septic system s coming today, floor installer on Monday, dozens of bags of trash out for pickup today, boxes in the garage for eventual sale, other bags for charity... Initial meeting with the realtor has happened, paperwork prepared... And I am petrified!!!

  5. All our times have come
    Here, but now they're gone
    Seasons don't fear the reaper
    Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
    (We can be like they are."

    Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear The Reaper

    1. There is a group I haven't thought of in years.

  6. Hi Bob, A good subject that impacts all of us on our satisfying journey. For most of us in this season of our lives, we have the opportunity to break out of our "comfort zones." Fear can be an obstacle if we let it become the controlling factor in what we do. It comes down to the fear of change. That six letter word becomes even more pronounced when we "retire."

    Every new experience we do during this time of being retired will renew us and be a time of discovery. It will enrich our lives and the people we interact with each day. Whether it's relocating to a new city or state, decluttering our homes, engaging in hobbies more deeply or travelling the country in the RV. The fact that we stay engaged with life will keep our minds active and we remain thankful for this block of time to still be contributing to others.

    I have found doing the things I fear or have been hesitant of doing I've received the biggest payoff and reward. So, now is the time to take that "Leap of faith" and do what you've been putting off. Most of us will realize we should have done those things much sooner.

    Thanks for putting out this topic for discussion,

    1. Thanks for the excellent summary of the issue, Russ. Recently, I have read a few books on creativity. They have forced me to take a fresh look at what's preventing me from moving forward in a few areas. Fear of change and fear of failure lead the list. I have another post in a week or two about the fear of being a beginner.

      Sometimes what we fear but do anyway, is not fun or fulfilling. But, we won't ever know unless we take that risk.

  7. I've been reading an interesting book from the library, although it doesn't relate specifically to retirement. I think the title reflects what it is about.

    The Comfort Trap: or, What If You're Riding a Dead Horse?

    1. I like the title. It seems to fit this topic. I will check it out.

  8. Bob, this is a terrific and thought-provoking piece. Fear is something I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about, and I have written about it too. For me, my biggest fear problems revolve around fear of failure. There is fear of doing a poor job of something, fear of being seen as incompetent, fear of looking foolish, and self-doubt that I am really an imposter and that others will find out. All of these are variations on fear of failure, I think. At times in my life, these fears have prevented me from trying new sports or creative endeavours, applying for certain jobs or volunteer opportunities, and even from speaking up in discussions. I haven't found that my fear of failure has changed much from young adulthood through to my senior years.

    Although my fears of failure are perhaps excessive, we all have fears. I think that the important thing is to have the courage to do things in spite of our fears. One way I manage fears about a task or project is by breaking it down into tiny steps (e.g., a big writing project, or gardening and landscaping). One way to reduce fears about an activity is to do it with companions (e.g, a backwoods canoe trip; skiing a particularly difficult run). Sometimes you just have to jump in in spite of your fears and start something, and then figure it out as you are going along. An example of this for me is my current job that I soon will be leaving. It is very different from my previous job and extremely challenging. Yet somehow, with persistence and hard work over the past four years, I have come to the point that I can say that I have made a good contribition to my workplace, and accomplished a lot. Another example comes from years ago, when I was a single mom with three kids aged 5-12. That summer I took the kids on a six week camping holiday with a van and tent trailer, and we travelled from northern British Columbia to Southern California and back. Despite my fears about it, it ended up being one of the most memorable summers with my children.

    Sometimes the biggest opportunities for learning come from opportunities that create the most fear. They can also end up being the most satisfying life experiences. And even when we fail, there is also a useful lesson to take away for when we take up the next challenge.

    Thanks for your insightful perspectives on this topic.


    1. Thanks for the nice thoughts, Jude.

      For me, the major impediment is usually procrastination. I am a master at coming up with excuses why I shouldn't do something at the moment. Then I wait for the perfect time that never seems to come. THere is also a fear of being less than perfect at something. I will have a post specifically about that in a week or two. The fear of being seen as a beginner is a strong one in my life.

  9. Thanks for your insights Bob. Very helpful !