I am scared.
I am 14 years old and two teenager strangers approach me. It is not a dangerous situation. It is in the school hall in between classes and I am safe. My fear is from shyness. My fear is that I won’t know what to say or do, and to make matters worse, my fear is what totally tongue-ties me, making my expectations come true.
Today it seems these two strangers expect me to have a normal conversation as they introduce themselves.
“And what is your name?”
“Oh, I’m Leigh.” And I can’t imagine anything to say. Nothing brilliant, enlightening or ‘normal’ comes to my mind. So I make an excuse as to why I’m feeling so dumb-struck.
“I really ran hard in gym today.” Only they didn’t hear my fear. They don’t know that my thoughts are racing so fast that I don’t know which thought to catch and spit out of my mouth. And they certainly don’t know what running in gym class has to do with introducing myself to them.
But that is how I am feeling, and how I respond. And given that, as a teenager, I created this situation almost every time I met someone new, I became more fearful each time I stepped into a new social situation.
And so at 14 years old, I sense Brett and Beth’s confusion. They don’t know how to respond to my irrelevant “gym” comment, and in their own uncertainty, they turn around and walk away.
And my fear increases.
How that Fear Affects Me Now
Ok, so that was thirty years ago, and still, in some new social situations I find myself feeling this same fear. A dark cloud looms that threatens to descend, strangling me so that I can’t spit my own name out, so that the words that do come out are like rain showers on a sunny day. It feels strange, and part of me becomes 14 again.
We are moving to a new city in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to the sunshine. I’m not looking forward to making new friends. Those situations are like the dark cloud. And I really like the friends I have.
What if I can’t make friends like I did here?
Reality is Always Better than Fear
Reality is, I am not 14 anymore, and I have easy conversations with people, familiar and new.
This helps me to quickly move past brief memories.
1. Real is now – the past is gone and the present is the only reality
Fear from the past can bounce back into our minds and emotional memory, but if we acknowledge that this is from the past, then we can focus on the present.
My present reality is that I know we will meet people we like, and we will connect with them. In fact, my husband and I always meet people we like. People are likable, in general. Our children will also meet other children that they enjoy. There will be playdates, coffee dates, and bbq invites.
These people won’t be strangers for long.
My teenage memory has nothing to do with today.
Teenagers seem to always have angst of some sort. Their hormones go wild, dragging their emotions one way and another. Some of those emotions stay into adulthood. Others dissipate with the passing of time.
We are not the people we were at 14. Literally. Our body has had time to shed every last cell that was alive in us at 14, and all the cells that make up who we are now did not exist when we were teenagers.
But emotional memory can stay with us or return at uncertain times. When we face change and don’t know what is on the other side, old fears can pop up. but they don’t stay there for long. They don’t have to, because it is the past that appears, and we have the power to place the past back where it belongs, in the past.
When fear pops up at inconvenient times, I sometimes use Tapping to get rid of the emotion behind those lingering memories. Meditation can work too. And sometimes simply being wiser is all I need to know that who I am today is not anywhere near who I was at 14.
I know far more than that 14-year-old did. She coped in her best way possible, and taught me how to overcome my shyness. She had the strength to put herself into uncomfortable situations and risk looking foolish, so that she could learn and grow past the fear.
2. Acknowledge fear and thank it for its lessons
That 14-year-old taught well. She could be the reason I have compassion for others’ fear in strange and uncertain situations. She could be the reason why psychology, coaching and communications have been my career focus.
And I can thank her for developing strength and risk-taking, for it is still part of who I am. She is the one who at 20-years-old was determined to lead a song in front of 140 kids and 28 camp counsellors, despite her shyness. She is the one who skydived at 30-years-old.
She is the one who grew to train a couple thousand adults in life and job skills, and who still felt the fear of speaking in front of those adults, yet did it anyway. (And understood why fear might have held those students back from living their life more fully.)
Is it fair to expect all our fears to leave us completely?
I don’t think so.
They remind us of who we were, of who we are, and of the journey we traveled in between. I am still traveling my journey, and learning as I go. I know in my gut that life is good, and that on the other side of that fear is something better than I could know from this side. I just have to travel there.
What are your fears? Are any of them holding you back from saying, “yes”? What single step can you take to get to the other side?
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