This is my eight this morning rowing out on the Potomac River with Alexandria Community Rowing. I am the stroke – the guy in the front setting the pace and rhythm of the boat. I like being the stroke. It’s kind of like being the lead drummer in a band…sometimes the band follows you, and sometimes they play a completely different song.
It takes concentration to row. You either have to set a pace that others in the boat can follow, or you have to have precision in following the stroke of people in front of you. It takes concentration, anticipation and a sense of rhythm. You have to feel, and anticipate, the rhythm and swing of the boat in order to be of one accord with her. It’s hard work. The pay-off can be thrilling. Mostly it’s just frustrating. But when she hums, you know she’s happy; and when our boat is happy, we are happy.
I’m afraid of crowds. Crowds of people freak me out. Being trapped in a crowd, the ensuing claustrophobia, the potential for a stampede, the ‘mooing’ sound echoing in my brain. God forbid I have to talk to anyone in the crowd, or worse, they address me for some God forsaken reason. I see crowds, mobs, hordes of people as stupid. If the individuals in the mob were smart, they wouldn’t find themselves stuck in the crowd, packed in a stadium, or stuck on a crowded metro station, or mobbed in a high school hallway. The truth is, however, avoiding crowds in this day and age of chronic over population is nearly impossible. There’s no getting around getting caught in a crowd from time to time. The only way around my fear of crowds is to get over my own fear; my fear is the only thing I have some power over.
Fear can be a good thing. Fear exists for a reason. It’s baked into our DNA to help keep us alive. But an over sensitivity to our fear can also hold us back from truly living. Ironic isn’t it? For example, some of us are afraid of becoming too successful. I know, because I am one such person. I don’t know why I fear too much success. Somehow, I must have gotten screwed-up in my childhood or something. Today, I recognize this fear as I try to deal with it, overcome it, and welcome any and all successes I can get my hands on. I’m learning to overcome my fear.
I’m generally afraid of heights too. Driving across the Bay Bridge in Maryland makes my hands sweat. I can’t help thinking of what it must be like to accidentally drive off of the side of the bridge whilst trapped inside of my car. Would I survive the impact with the water? Would I be able to escape from inside the car once the car went below the water? These thoughts are pretty terrifying. Even so, I have driven across this bridge dozens of times, sweaty hands and all, and have never once had any kind of accident, much less plunged to the murky depths below…knock on wood.
Facing fear, recognizing our fear, rationalizing our fear, and keeping calm in the midst of it is an important skill. It’s a skill that I feel must be practiced, as a calm, steady response in the face of fear is not necessarily baked into our DNA. It seems like our biology is programmed to fight or take flight in the face of a fearful situation, so acting ractional and calmly in the face of it is to defy millions of years of evolution, and as such, requires practice.
Why bother though? Why not just avoid fearful situations all together if they make you too uncomfortable. I believe that controlling your fear is strength; it’s power. It’s a power that can lead to great success in many kinds of situations. It can also mean the difference between life and death.
Most days, I do not encounter fear. Yesterday, she briefly visited me, but I would not back down. It was a simple situation and I took solace in that. Me, my skateboard, an empty street, and my driveway. I saw my daughter conquer the driveway on her skateboard in a matter of minutes the week before, and I wanted to challenge my 46 year old body to accomplish the same feat. I was scared of breaking an arm or a leg or a hand. My wheels could get stuck in a crack sending my 230 pound frame crashing to the concrete. So I took the challenge in small steps. First, I rode five feet down the driveway, then ten feet, then fifteen feet. I did not crash and I did not die. I live to ride another day.
The funny thing is, my fear of riding my skateboard down the driveway into the street is not conquered. I will be a bit scared to ride it the next time too. I will probably have to face that stupid fear each time I ride my skateboard because I’m a 46 year old old dude who can’t skate. But each time I face that fear, and have a successful ride, it feels awesome. My daughter ain’t got nuthin’ on me, and fear is losing it’s grip on my life.