Sometimes I wake up with it. Sometimes it sneaks up on me during the day. More often than not, it hits me with a hard blow after my three kids are tucked in and my unending task list starts playing in my head.
It’s that life-stealing, heart-crushing, gut-wrenching, overwhelming feeling that I can’t possibly do what needs to be done in order to turn the vision for my life into a reality. It’s the crippling feeling that if it’s up to me, it just won’t be. It’s the raging moments in my head that won’t be still and urge me to settle. Just settle for ordinary. Just settle for typical. Just settle for the way things are.
And then the light in the dark shimmers and I am reminded of the mantra that has gotten me everywhere I needed to go: “What would I do, if I wasn’t afraid?”
Now, afraid may seem like a funny word to use here. I am not afraid of my past, present, or future the way that I am afraid of watching scary movies in the dark. Side note: I grew up watching Mulder and Scully most Friday nights, followed by a healthy dose of America’s Most Wanted on Sunday nights.
It’s good to be afraid of some things, mostly the things that go bump in the night, not the things that go bump in my head. These things are the real culprit of my innermost fears. I have somehow made a successful life and career out of simply pushing myself to the next level by moving through my fears. Not over. Not under. But through. Straight through. There is no shortcut when dealing with fears.
Turn on your self-talk.
When I was 19 years old, I spoke in front of about 500 people as the President of a college organization. I was introducing a celebrity guest speaker to the stage, and I thought I was going to puke.
A few hours earlier I had picked up this nice man from the airport and chatted him up on the drive and over dinner. He reminded me of my beloved grandfather and I felt quite comfortable with him, but now I was faced with discomfort to speak into a mic of a full ballroom of people and sound somewhat human. He was paid to do this and had lots of training.
I had no such thing. But what did I have?
I had an inner self-talk monologue saying, “Aisha, what would you do right in this moment if you weren’t afraid? Well, I would breathe deep, smile big, and walk into that ballroom like I owned the place.” And I did just that.
Twenty years later, I have had the opportunity to speak, lead, facilitate, and teach from groups of 5 to 1500. I love this aspect of my life, and it all started with moving through that fear of going on stage.
Move through fear.
Fear and anxiety is not what defines me, although it permeates my daily maneuverings. What defines me is that I choose to move through it and experience life one moment to the next. This defined life has led to a string of moments tied together creating a really nice existence.
The night before my wedding, I went into full blown panic-attack mode, maybe not medically speaking, but you know what I mean. Just hand me a paper sack and stick a fork in me. I was done. The commitment to one person for the rest of my life seemed so daunting and I was second guessing the last three years of a wonderful relationship. I was scared that I would mess up my future.
What if I wasn’t meant to be with this guy? What if I lived unhappily ever after? What if we ended up divorced and hating each other?
I kicked on my self talk and said out loud to me, myself, and I, “Aisha! What would you do if you had no fear about this moment? What decision would you make? Well, I would thank the heavens for this wonderful man that I was about to marry and get a good night’s sleep so I could look real good tomorrow.” And I did just that.
Sixteen years later, my husband and I are in love (and we even like each other, too) and rowing through this river called life together. It’s not always calm, it’s not always rapids, but it sure is fun to take in the view.
If I had succumbed to my fears, I could have lost a chance to know the happiness I have had with him. And frankly, there is no larger personal growth development than realizing maybe there really isn’t an emotional payoff to forcing another person to load a dishwasher with the silverware down (even if it is the right way). One day I’ll write a post about the beauty in losing control! Now back to our regularly scheduled blog…
Take the leap.
When I was 33 and pregnant with our third child, with a 5-year old and an 8-month old at home, I was working in a position that I absolutely loved. I had helped to start an amazing school and was working as the assistant principal. The hours were grueling, but I loved every minute of my work with the people there…and yet, I felt a tug towards my lifelong dream of becoming a principal.
A job vacancy came up at a school that piqued my interest. I told myself that there is no way I could do that job well in my stage of life. Who would want a pregnant principal? No way I could be a good mom and a good principal at the same time. I told myself all the things that my fear wanted my head to hear, and I let the job come and go.
Except destiny had another thing in store for me. The job reposted a few weeks later. I remember sitting at my computer reading the profile description and knowing that I was a good fit for that job. But all the fears started to overtake me until I was drowning in self doubt.
I stood up, paced my office and said to myself, “Aisha! If you weren’t afraid…if you truly weren’t afraid to find out who you are in this moment, would you apply for this job?” I stopped pacing. Abso-freaking-lutely. I got the job. I had the baby. And six years later I am still loving the work and the people in my school while balancing being an awesome mom who’s present to her kids.
I have grown more and learned more about people, education, and culture in this last section of my career than ever before. I can’t believe that I almost let my fears talk me out of my life journey.
And so, I don’t know where you are at in your journey, but I do know that you are on one. Please take a moment to ask yourself in the face of your current life choice, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” I bet I know your answer.