Life &… Fear & Bravery

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Time has been flying by and I have been caught in the whoosh of it all.  I have taken my youngest daughter on college trips (no decisions yet), I have started rehearsing for two different shows at the same time, I have started the run of one of said shows, I have started a new project with my husband and some good friends working on creating something I have never done and have no real knowledge of how to do it… all the while continuing to work full time and doing the everyday “stuff” that makes up my daily life. Within all of this madness I have been experiencing an odd a feeling of accomplishment-drive-creativity-hard work-… a sense of purpose that comes with both repetition and challenge. By this I mean that throughout the normal routines of usual life activities a sense ease in knowledge is present.  In contrast, the new-different-challenging-unusual experiences, that I am taking on, add thread of fear, and thus a need for bravery. Somehow these two opposites seem to strike a balance for me; ease vs. unease, bravery vs. fear.

Yeah I realize that sounds a bit weird… stick with me. I find that when I am experiencing fear in any given situation it usually comes from the unknown.  Because of this fear I find I have to challenge or push myself, whether it be creatively, emotionally, academically, physically etc. to do the work that needs to be done to get to a place of comfort with the skill.  In order to do this I must call on my bravery. I ask it to support me and fear as we work to better understand the task at hand. This is not to say that I live my daily life in fear…quite the contrary, but I do look for things in life that stir an internal response that comes from my sense of fear. I actually invite fear in and bravery usually follows. I find that if I am challenging myself, not living a complacent, easy life, then a little bit of fear is always lurking on the edges, sometimes pounding down the door.  I try to make friends with the fear in order to share in the energy that bravery brings as she slides in secretly behind fear.

Fear essentially becomes a coach pushing me a little bit further in my creative goals, a voice that questions whether I can or if I will finish something. I try not to entertain paralyzing fear, though sometimes it shows up like an unwanted guest and is not often accompanied by bravery.  I try to maintain a balance somewhere between discomfort and a nauseating unease. When I feel this uneasy energy I try to lean into it and that is when the most magical thing happens… bravery appears. Something inside of me, bravery I think, guides me to a better place. This relationship between fear and bravery somehow ignites my creativity, energy,  and drive. Bravery takes over as the coach.  I start to feel more emotionally, academically, physically, creatively and personally satisfied, like I am leading a better more fuller life. It is as if fear and bravery have just hoodwinked me with the ole’ good cop bad cop routine.

Let me  apply this theory of mine to my classroom. I teach my students throughout the year a lesson about brain research. Brain research tells us that discomfort and unease is where the most learning takes place. My job is to teach them and so therefore I am constantly looking for ways to challenge them to get to a unease that supports learning.

I witnessed my incredibly brilliant mentor teacher explain this brain development research when I was student teaching and still use this model today.  Imagine that your brain is made up of four circles one within the other. The inside circle is a dark brain stem cavity that houses uncontrollable emotions and fear while the outermost circle is the opposite, it is the land of the unicorns and rainbows, puppies and ice cream, or anything else that makes you extremely happy.  Both in the brain stem where emotions are out of control and in the outermost circle of fluff and fun no real learning happens. I repeat, there is no actual learning that takes place in either of these spaces.

People who stay or live in their brain stem are in a constant state of high anxiety, fear and extreme disabling, discomfort to the point where no input from any source will stick.  In other words no learning happens, period. People who live in the land of the unicorns and rainbows have the opposite reaction but the same problem. No learning happens here because there is no challenge. In this circle there is only interaction with knowledge and skills that you have already acquired.  Hanging out here is fun and enjoyable, in fact it is a great place to visit on occasion but let me be clear no learning happens in either place. NONE, zip, zilch, nada!

The two middle circles then become the best place to hang out to learn the most.  The key is you have to be ready and willing to experience a bit of unease and even true discomfort. Think of a time where you have tried something new. How did you feel inside your mind, in your stomach?  Were you hands sweating, mouth dry?  Did you have sudden urge to use the bathroom, can you feel a sting in your eyes?

For example, I like to sing and act so recently I have returned to the theater.  But in order to do these things I must audition.  Auditioning is a crazy, uneasy and difficult thing. I can be as prepared as possible yet every time I go to an audition I get butterflies in my stomach.  My nerves produce that sweaty palm feeling that takes over my body making me feel cold and hot at the same time. Fear is there for sure guiding me into the unknown, into something new that I have not done before. Each audition is different.

Why would I do something that makes me feel this uncomfortable?  Well, because the feeling when I walk out of the audition space, the one where bravery is patting me on the back, makes it all worth it. The rush of adrenaline, accomplishment, energy that bravery provides as it guides you to the next challenge is so worth it.  

It can be a never ending cycle if you let it.  Whether or not I get the part in the show is not the point (though I secretly hope I get cast, for sure).  The point is that I tried something new.  I learned something different, challenged myself in a way I hadn’t before or maybe in a way I had a million times but nonetheless I was challenged by fear  and learned each and every time  that bravery feels oh so good. 

I have heard it said many times that,

“You will miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.”

Do you really want to miss out on this life?   You may learn that you never want to do that again!  That is A-Okay! The point is that you LEARNED!!! You. Did. It.  You were  fearful and you conquered fear with bravery.  You did it without feeling out of control (brainstem) but rather balancing between  discomfort and unease..


You can apply this idea to learning to drive, going on a roller coaster, trying a new food, traveling to a new country, taking a test, reading a book, learning a language or simply participating in life with intention.  Complacency is nice once in awhile, hanging out with unicorns and rainbows is easy, it is vacation with sun and drinks… but come on, don’t you want more from life? Don’t you want to change, evolve, grow and learn? Invite fear in in small amounts and see if you can recognize when bravery follows, and just how far you come. Celebrate your success and then reach for the next challenge.  Be tricked by the magic of the two emotions, fear and bravery, and the powerful energy they contribute to your life. Don’t be scared, lean in gently and be ignited to seek out opportunities to light your creative fire.

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