I’ve come to realize that I am afraid of a lot of things. A lot of ridiculous things. And I’m kind of here for it?
Today, I was chatting with one of my college friends and she asked me how my french was holding up post-abroad. I admitted that I hadn’t been as focused on it as I would like to be because… I’m afraid… of italki. Italki is a language learning platform that lets you get private 1:1 tutoring from locals at a really affordable price. I’ve been wanting to try it out for months. There is nothing about this platform that should be inherently scary. And yet, I always put it off. I don’t even know why I’m afraid of italki; every time I try to think about it I come up with nothing.
Recently, I’ve also been coming to terms with the idea that I am not my mind. I am not my thoughts. In some cases, it can be really useful to think, analyze, and reflect on situations so we can learn and grow. But more recently, I’ve been recognizing the areas of my life where so much thinking might not be necessary and might actually be a hindrance. To me, fear and discomfort are very similar and I think these are both candidates for less thinking. You see the way I think about it, fear and discomfort can be used as triggers. Mere awareness of these feelings enables you to identify your edge. Places where you can push the boundaries of your self and find growth. So to some extent, it doesn’t matter why I’m afraid of italki, recognizing the fear is enough. Because that fear is telling me that practicing French 1:1 is exactly what I need to be doing right now to stretch myself. Fear is a kind of discomfort and only when we’re uncomfortable can we grow. But feeling fear and doing it anyways is much easier said than done. So how do we actually practice facing our fears in everyday life?
Start small (of course).
At first, I could only identify the fear factor in really big things. Like travelling by myself in a foreign country, working through emotional trauma, etc. I think there are two reasons for this. (1) I feel like these are “acceptable” things to be afraid of and therefore have no issue consciously identifying them to myself and (2) I don’t focus attention on fear as I usually avoid or push away these feelings. But recently, as I began recognizing the importance of so-called “negative” feelings like fear and discomfort, I became more accepting of these feelings. It started being easier to identify when fear was flitting around in my mind, even if only for a moment. The key thing about this more sensitive awareness is that I can now find smaller, more approachable things that I’m afraid of.
This is when I realized that I am afraid of A LOT of things. And many of them are seemingly trivial. Fear and discomfort feel quite similar in my head, but I’ve found that fear often revolves around more physical activities. Also when I use the word fear, I’m referring to yet another type of mental resistance that stops us from doing something, not necessarily anything adrenaline-spiking scary. So, here are a few things I’ve discovered I’m afraid of: climbing on unstable rocks a foot off the ground, picking a dandelion and blowing it (yes really), jumping with a scooter, riding a bike with no hands, walking around outside without shoes, etc. All of these are very minor things to be afraid of, but I am afraid nonetheless. What I realized is that since I’m lucky enough to come from a place of overall physical safety, fear is mostly a mental construction for me. I’m not afraid of a dandelion flower; I’m afraid of looking stupid as a 21-year-old girl who stopped to pick a dandelion and blow it out. In fact, I realized that in addition to being points of fear, all of the fears I listed above are somewhat related to my conception of “who I’m supposed to be” and a divergence from my childish self.
All of this to say, one of the things I’m most afraid of, and one of the things I’ve been working on a lot recently, is being my authentic self. To everyone. (It’s actually one of my three 2020 resolutions) While I don’t overtly feel pressure to conform to societal ideals or norms, it’s inextricably woven into our modern-day existence. Being yourself isn’t just pretending not to care what others think or even consciously not caring what others think. Being your authentic self is also facing all of those tiny fears, the ones you might not even notice right away, that are holding you back nonetheless.
The awesome thing about finding all of these baby fears is that I now have the perfect place to start. In fact, I’ve done every single one of those little fears I mentioned earlier, and I actively seek out new ones that might be hiding, so I can do those too. By facing these little fears, I can practice using that feeling in my head, that awareness and identification of fear, as a trigger to perform the associated action. This is the same strategy I use to practice pushing through discomfort. It may seem a bit silly, but like any skill, practice helps us get better. So the more I practice (no matter how small the fear), the more I can grow.
So today, when I felt a bigger fear thinking about italki, I knew I had to use it. Before, I would try to figure out why I was afraid and come up with excuses for why now wasn’t the right time. But the truth is, I just wasn’t good at using my fears to propel me into action. I’m still not great at it, but I’m better than I was before. And today I decided I’d finally set up an italki session for this weekend. Because sometimes we just need to stop thinking and start doing.
Who knew picking dandelions was the only training I needed?