Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walking Through Fear

I'm in the middle of a whirlwind of guests, speeches and travel, and too busy to keep up with my regular, weekly blogging.  Until my life calms down again, I'm going to be reprising some of my favorite posts from the past.  This one is from October 21, 2006.  In hindsight, I'm happy to report that I wasn't crazy to try my hand at fiction.  Even if my novel still isn't ready for prime time, I wrote my way to the end and had an incredible time immersing myself in the creative process.  And, yes, every day I still practice walking through fear.  

We’re all afraid.

If we’re not anxious about getting senile or going broke, we’re worried that our children will start using drugs or that we’ll end up as one-hit wonders.

It doesn’t matter how accomplished, brilliant and beautiful we are. Fear comes with the territory of being human. And the better we are at navigating through it, the more comfortable we feel in our skins and surroundings.

Facing fear also goes hand-in-hand with realizing our dreams. That’s why for the past six years, beginning the morning I got the inspiration to write my first book, I’ve been trying to do one bold thing a day. Anything that scares me, that makes my stomach go up and down or causes my breath to catch in my throat, qualifies. Cold calling a radio producer, speaking before a large audience, saying no to an unwelcome invitation—I count them all. I’ve even given myself credit for trying gorgonzola cheese. (The smell alone frightens me!)

I’m venturing to walk through my fears the way Patrick Swayze walks through walls in the movie Ghost—as if they aren’t there.  Over time, my bold-thing-a-day habit has paid off. It’s no longer quite so scary for me to pick up the phone and arrange an interview, and I rarely feel nervous now when I do big events. I’m more vibrant, yet more relaxed than I was in 2000.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering whether or not I’ll be able to pull off the novel I’ve started. Am I crazy, I ask myself, to think I can write fiction?

In other words, with new risks come new fears and new insecurities. These self-doubts are like the rocks the glaciers deposited on my land during the Ice Age. No matter how many stones I dig up as I till my Connecticut garden (see photo above), a dozen more will surface when next I thrust my shovel in the ground.

Thankfully, there’s a crucial difference between extracting glacial sediment and confronting one’s demons. Wrenching boulders from the earth requires enormous effort every time one makes the attempt. Walking through fear gets easier with practice.

Experts say it takes 21 days to change a habit.* Three weeks might not be long enough to reverse an inborn response to flee from what frightens us. But no matter how many days, months or years it requires, the journey is a noble one.

As popular psychologist David Viscott says, “If you have no anxiety, the risk you face is probably not worthy of you.”

*When I tried to locate a reputable source for this commonly cited factoid, I was unable to find one. Neither Maxwell Maltz, author of PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS, who as far as I can tell was the first to promote the concept, or Stephen Covey, who cites the statistic in his best-selling book THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, provides any research data to support the idea.


  1. Anonymous9:39 AM

    I have kept Prill's inspirational challenge to "do one bold thing every day" in the back of my mind since I read her wonderful book "Defying Gravity". Some days I don't manage something bold, and other days I remember those words and overcome anxiety to try something new. I am uncomfortable in crowds, but was able to participate in three 5 mile walks for charitable organizations in 2006. The largest one had over 4500 participants. Talk about a crowd! But once I started, it was liberating. I will do 5 more in 2007.
    My boldest thing this year was to learn to ride a motorcycle at 49 and earn my operator's license. The first ride on a public street was frightening to say the least. But I enjoy it more each time, despite the fear!
    Thank you, Prill, for issuing the challenge. I intend to keep trying new and bold things. There are so many to pick from!
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  2. I first read the quote (I think it was attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt) "Do one thing everyday that scares you" about five years ago. Since then, I've learned to use fear as a way of determining which way I need to head to keep growing - towards it, not away! Not always comfortable but like I've found myself saying lately...I'll have time to be comfortable when I'm dead!

  3. Leyla-- Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt did coin that phrase. (I didn't know she said this until I'd been practicing walking through fear for a good year or two.) Anyway, I agree with you that to keep growing, it's generally a good idea to head towards fear rather than away from it, and you're so right that you'll have lots of time to be comfy when you're dead. (Love that line!) --Prill

  4. Anonymous9:59 AM

    As a former student of "Mrs. Boyle", I am inspired by her! I recently resigned from teaching to enter the business world --- yes, in this economy, without a secure job I resigned. It is a bit disconcerting and uncomfortable, but I have two great job offers and a world of excitement ahead of me. Thanks, Mrs. Boyle!

  5. Hi Anonymous-- You are so sweet. Thank you! I wish you all the best as you move forward in your life. --Prill