Turning Fear into Curiosity
My Facebook and Instagram have been filling up with former students posting about heading to their first year of college. I have strong memories of my emotional state that summer after high school graduation and during the first semester of college. A good measure of excitement, but mostly fear.
Of not being smart enough. Of getting lost. Of looking like an idiot. Of not knowing how to behave in social situations like parties or class discussions. Of not making friends. Of learning how to live with a roommate. (Thankfully, Tina was the most accommodating and sweetest roommate I could have been paired with: you rock!) Of all the unfamiliar things a new phase of life brings.
What I wish I could have told the me from 20 (yikes!) years ago is this:
Be willing to take risks. The moments I regret are those where I did not attempt something because I was afraid. The capacity to be vulnerable, to expose oneself to failure or uncertainty, is one of the greatest traits we can cultivate in our lifetime. College is one of the safest places to do that, because you’re surrounded by peers who are similarly vulnerable, and by staff and community members who have experience helping students grow in this transitional time.
I’ve heard that old supposedly edifying question: What would you attempt if you were not afraid?
And my response was always: But I am afraid. I cannot imagine what it would be like otherwise.
So this summer, inspired by Mary Elder’s resolve to face many of her fears, I decided to face some of my fears. What would happen if I had the opportunity to do something that scared me, and did it anyway? Could I turn fear into curiosity, which is involves far less judgment and makes vulnerability an asset rather than a liability.
- I tried a new yoga class that my sister-in-law signed me up for. Fear: that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would look foolish. Fact: It was not all that different from my regular yoga class; it just had a different name. Bonus: I now feel more confident about taking different yoga classes at my own studio.
- I went kayaking off the coast of Chatham with my cousin. Fear: great white sharks (obvs); that my arms would get tired and it would be hard to get back to shore. Fact: we didn’t go far enough for sharks to be a worry; it was not a strenuous workout; and it was relaxing and awesome to be out on the water with Brittany.
- I signed up for karaoke with my cousin Kirsten. Fear: people would boo me because I’m not a very good singer. Fact: they didn’t call us, but I think I have worked up enough courage to try “American Pie” in her honor the next time we have karaoke (though I do have a stipulation that the audience needs to be people I won’t see again or very soon).
- I tried waterskiing. Fear: that I would look as awkward as I perceive myself to be as a snow skiier (not super physically coordinated); that face-planting into the water would really hurt. Fact: I never made it fully upright, but I also didn’t hit the water as hard when I fell. I tried three consecutive times, then took a break. Maybe next time.
- I took all three kids shopping for a week’s worth of groceries by myself. Fear: of meltdowns, of disobedience, of inconveniencing or disrupting other shoppers. Fact: I talked to the kids beforehand about what to expect, and our system of turns in the cart vs. helping put things in the cart worked well. Bonus: granola bars were close to the entrance, and they got to pick out a Clif bar to hold on to and eat in the car on the way home. Bribery? Maybe. I’ll take whatever works.
Contrary to my anxiety around transitions, my kids started kindergarten Jump Start last week with enthusiasm and little apparent reservations. Today, though, one of my kids handed me a booklet my parents gave each kid as a back-to-school present: a journal of writing prompts with space to practice writing simple words and a space to draw a picture of the sentence.
This kiddo asked Alan to write the word. He declined, saying it was for the kid to practice. Then the kid asked me. Persistently. I finally found out why: the kid said, “I don’t know how [to write or draw a picture] and I might mess it up.”
Oh man. What has taken me decades to learn I want desperately to have my kids avoid if possible. Can this kid be resilient in the face of vulnerability? Can this kid learn to turn fear into curiosity? Or will this kid follow my heartachy path of perfectionism and anxiety?
In helping them, I will continue to help myself. Talking to them about doing what I’m afraid of. (Next step: going down big slides!) They–and anyone starting college, returning to college, or doing anything newish–will find their own path.
May we all continue to dare greatly.