Facing down your fears can take on infinite manifestations. The literal examples we create for ourselves are our obvious practice grounds, be they hanging off a cliff rock climbing or stepping out on the dance floor to try your first tango moves. The not so literal fears are sometimes so obscure, so buried under a pile of excuses, that we don’t even realize they are action driving fears.
Not only do we not know that we have these hidden fears, we know even less about what their underlying cause is or how to overcome them.
At closer to 40 than 30, I have been unemployed for the greater part of the past year since being laid off. I have applied for about 60 jobs now, and each time a rejection, or even worse- nothing- comes back, a little bit of fear creeps into the pit of my stomach. Will I ever land a job? Am I worth anything here? It’s easy to start sinking with each fear building on the next.
A while back, I said I wanted to become proficient at three new sports (skiing, kayaking and kite surfing). While at first glance, this may seem like the indulgent life of a trustfund kid. I assure you, I am neither.
This idea just fell together as I found myself with old and new friends to help me learn, loan me gear and get me out. What I didn’t realize is that I really needed to pull myself out and create something to look forward to. I couldn’t spend every waking hour at the computer, job searching and posting applications. We all need a battery recharge, whether it’s reading a book or careening down a mountain.
This past weekend I realized I was also unintentionally using my sporting goal as a way to inspire my continued career search, by learning new things, keeping my mind and body fit and building confidence in a way that is familiar and fun for me.
Every year the UC Santa Cruz Recreation Department takes a trip with staff, leaders, volunteers and friends to float a river. It has been 14 years since I worked for the Rec, and three or four since my last staff raft. This last weekend presented the perfect opportunity to get back out with this wonderful group of old and new friends to try out some new kayaking skills on a relatively benign stretch of the Kings River in the Sierra foothills. I think we hit a record with 68 people, all of them wonderful, supportive and ready for fun on and off the river. Amazingly, we were the only people on the river the entire weekend!
I had successfully rolled a kayak a number of times in the pool. But pools are flat, calm and warm. Even though I knew the river was a grade I could handle I was still nervous about flipping and not being able to right myself in the swift moving water, also known as the combat roll.
By the second day, I had practiced a few rolls and was feeling more confident. At lunch a group gathered around a play wave to “surf” it by lodging their kayaks into a breaking part of the stationary wave. I couldn’t even work up the courage to get into it after watching everyone else play in it and get tossed out- some just falling off the top of their inflatable kayaks, others having to “wet exit” by pulling the sealed skirt off the rim of the hardshell kayak they were inside of to swim out.
My buddy and river running mentor, Timon, chided me to get in it. He offered all kinds of advice for what to do in various situations, how to get in it, stay in it and what to do when it flips you upside down. With everyone, but Timon and a couple friends gone on to make lunch I took a few false starts and finally made it in the wave.
And I surfed it, sideways, before getting flipped over. But I rolled up! And got flipped again. And I rolled up again! And flipped again. Then I spent some time surfing the wave upside down, head underwater, before putting Timon’s advice to work and reaching my paddle out to catch the current near the bottom to carry me out. A couple of tries and I was upright again and floating downstream from the wave.
There was nothing frightening about being upside down in the kayak or rolling, but making the move that initially got me in the wave was terrifying.
I have terrified myself by thinking I’m not good enough to succeed in a new job, possibly to the point of vexing my chances of landing one. The more rejections I get the less I feel I have to offer. But where I want my mind to be is that place it was in fresh out of college. I was unafraid to pursue athletic or academic challenges, and they seemed to go hand in hand.
Hearing Timon cheer for me when I righted myself was like a reset button. Suddenly, things were possible again. It’s amazing how accomplishing just one small thing can renew your willingness to take on other challenges. Maybe that’s what got me into athletics in the first place. I found something I could do, and it made me want to try things I wasn’t so sure about.
A creeping bit of fear can cause an avalanche of paralysis. Hanging out here on the flapping edge of an uncertain career future gives me plenty of opportunity to face off with that fear. I’m not always smiling about it, but I’m still here, searching for my next move.
In fact, I better move on and finish packing; a friend has offered me a free pass to ski the next couple days, and not only is that one of the sports on my list to master, it might just point me in a direction I never thought I could go!