For much of my life, I’ve lived in fear. I was afraid of basements, going into public bathrooms alone, not being skinny enough, walking to my car at night, swimming in the ocean, being vulnerable, heights, change, being alone, not being pretty enough, flying in airplanes, not being good enough, stepping out of my comfort zone, and the list goes on. I’ve never been a risk taker and I’ve always loved to have my feet placed firmly on solid ground. We all have fears – it’s part of being human. But the truth is that if you let fear run your life, you will never experience true fulfillment. You will look back with a lot of regret and your life will be filled with anxious moments instead of life-changing ones.
It took me a while to figure this out and trust me, it is still something I work on every day. If I could pinpoint one moment that I noticed a significant shift in the desire to face my fears, it would have to be when I hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim for the first time in 2015. That year, in general, was a big year for me. I finished up my first full year of teaching and we had just received news that we were moving from Florida to Hawaii. On a whim, my mother-in-law invited Nicholas and I out to surprise my father-in-law for a Grand Canyon hike. We would be hiking from the South Rim to the North Rim. I honestly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we said yes and away we went.
The hike itself is worthy of an entire blog post on its own, but I will share a few details for the sake of triumph. We started hiking very early in the morning because the temperatures were supposed to get well into the 100s that day. It was dark, we had headlamps, and I had no idea that I would be paralyzed with fear once we started hiking up the other side in daylight. We made it down around sunrise and trekked across the canyon floor before midday. Then we had to start the ascent to the North Rim. I was fine for the first few miles, but the higher we got, the more encompassing my fears became. Because of my fear of heights, when I’m up really high, I feel like I can’t steady myself. So as we were hiking up the canyon, I felt like everything was moving (in part because I was trembling) and that if I took one step further, I would fall over the edge to my death. There were moments (too many to even count) that I was so paralyzed with fear that I shrunk to the ground because feeling the earth below me was the only thing that made me feel steady. I’d crouch there and cry because it felt like I couldn’t take one more step without falling over the edge.
If you’ve ever hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, you’d know that the path is a friendly one. It’s at least 3-4 feet wide in most places and there are switchbacks throughout most of it. The logical part of anyone’s brain would say, “Hey, if you fall, you will just land on the switchback below you.” But when fear takes over, it’s really difficult to think clearly and make logical decisions. I could see the canyon floor thousands of feet below me, and it’s all I could focus on. It even got to the point that if Nicholas would trip or get too close to the edge I would hyperventilate or start crying thinking he was going to fall to his death below. Needless to say, I was a mess for much of that hike up to the North Rim. I was terrified and exhausted, but I knew if I didn’t keep moving forward, I would never get out of the canyon. Staying down there wasn’t an option. So instead of staying down on the ground, I repeatedly stood up and continued to put one foot in front of the other until we made it all the way up. The feeling of triumph I felt when we reached the top was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Until that point, it was the hardest thing I had ever accomplished physically and I was able to overcome one of my biggest fears. We went back the next year and did it again, and I knew exactly what I was getting myself into but the fear wasn’t there anymore.
Hiking the Grand Canyon changed the way I approach the scariest things in my life. When we moved to Hawaii, I was deathly afraid of sharks and didn’t like to swim in the ocean. When I would fall off my paddle board in Florida before we moved here, I would madly scramble to get back onto my board. Sometimes, I don’t even recognize that girl who was so afraid. The water is now one of my favorite places to be. These days, I love to compete in open water swims, free dive, surf, stand-up paddle, snorkel, and just exercise in the ocean. For the past two years, I’ve gone open water diving with sharks (willingly) on my birthday. If I continued to let fear run my life, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the vast blueness of the deep open water, that unimaginable silence that fills my mind when I’m diving down to the ocean floor, or the breathtaking image of whales breaching in the distance as I sit on my surfboard.
Now, I’m far from perfect when it comes to approaching life’s fears head-on. I still don’t like change. I’m still afraid that the plane might crash. I still worry when I don’t hear from my husband after he’s been flying. I still skip to the end of each book I read because I can’t handle the anxiety of not knowing. I’m an obsessive planner and I have been known to get upset when I have to deviate from my plan. But the difference between living a life paralyzed with fear, and living a life in spite of fear, is a conscious choice I have to make every day.
Recently, we received news that we would be leaving this beautiful island and relocating to Jacksonville, Florida. While we have known since we moved here in 2015 that we would be leaving four years later, we had many other places on our list that we preferred over Jacksonville. Initially, I was pretty upset because it means there will be some big lifestyle shifts ahead and I didn’t anticipate Jacksonville as a part of our plan. Nicholas will be gone more, Florida is remarkably flat (which worries the runner in me), and we will now have to worry about alligators, poisonous snakes and spiders, and hurricanes. Additionally, I will be leaving all of the extraordinary friends I’ve found here and watching sunsets from the top of a mountain will become a memory of the past.
My brain seems to be hardwired to prepare for the worst in all situations. I have a pattern of getting stuck in a loop of what-ifs that can drive a person mad. What if I don’t find new friends? What if I can’t find a job that is fulfilling? What if I’m alone too much and I fall back into a cycle of depression and isolation? These thoughts can be overwhelming and exhausting and I still find myself here from time to time. But as I move into the acceptance stage of this life change, I am finding myself leaning into this fear of the unknown. Do I still hyperventilate sometimes? Absolutely. But I’m choosing to look at the positive sides of this move. Jacksonville has almost as many sunny days per year that we have here in Ewa Beach and this girl survives on sunshine. We will be closer to family and traveling will be more affordable. We will have many opportunities to compete in races from marathons to triathlons. We will be reunited with friends we haven’t seen in years. We will still be close to the ocean, even if it gets a little chilly in the wintertime. Though change can be scary, it is important to embrace it and keep moving forward.
So as I close out this blog post I’d like to encourage each of you to pick a fear that is holding you back. Imagine what your life would be like if that fear didn’t have so much control. Come up with a plan to conquer it, and start enjoying your life. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as hiking the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim or open water diving with sharks, but those are great options in my opinion. Stop living your life with the fears of not being good enough, making the wrong decision, staying in the same place. One of the best things I’ve ever done was move away from my hometown. It’s not because I don’t love the people there. It’s because I was able to be exposed to a myriad of life events that were unplanned and scary, yet the perfect experiences I needed to shape me into the person I am today.
If I stayed in those what-if loops of fear all the time, I wouldn’t ever get to experience the joy and fulfillment that I do in my life. Instead, I show up and face my fears. I keep moving forward. I pick myself up off of the ground, I put one foot in front of the other, and I climb out of that canyon. I want my life to be filled with life-changing moments. So staying down there is not an option.