A Quick Note on Fear

“Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage means we face our fears.” -Maya Angelou

I have always wanted to write a book. “One day,” I’ve repeated to myself every time this desire has resurfaced. What can I possibly have to say at my young, inexperienced age? I am no expert on life, surely. Who am I? No, really, who am I?

How can I answer this question? It’s as if I have, at least, two separate characters dwelling inside of myself, continuously crafting the answer to this very question. On one hand, I am my experiences, subjectively of course. On the other, I am made up of everything divine in the universe. Let’s stick with the subjective for now until I figure out that other piece.

I was born on February 16th as the child of my 38 year-old mother who had worked night shifts in factory lines most of her life and my father who had managed to avoid strenuous work for most of his life. Both characters have equally contributed to my intellectual as well as spiritual development. From my father, one of the most intelligent people I have ever known, I inherited his thirst for travel and new experiences, his wonder at humanness and psychology, his aptitude for learning new languages, his passion for story-telling, and a bit of his musical talent. However, he was not all “sunshine-and-rainbows.” Of course, no one is. Equally, I perhaps inherited some of his anxiety and depression. From my mom, the most resilient, hardworking, and kind-hearted person I know, I increasingly notice her traits within me with each passing year. I can only hope that more will surface in later years, especially her ability to cook. So far, I have noticed in myself her love of nature, her “down-to-earth-ness,” her acceptance of others regardless of merit or invisible class lines, her love of books, and, my favorite, her refusal to accept fear as an answer.

As I presume many human beings of this world lead their lives, much of my life has been guided by fear. I was well-behaved throughout my teenage years, I did not have one sip of alcohol or one puff of drugs until I graduated high school, I listened to my teachers, I did the homework, and I maintained good grades all the way through college. My timidity and obedience came as both a hindrance and a benefit to me. On one hand, I gained the access to education through my academic merit and I made close, quality friends. On the other, looking back, I seemed to have lacked many of the social behaviors that my peers seemed to have acquired through their weekend partying and non-academic interests. However, I did not pay too much attention to those details then, and they’ve only come up in self-reflection very seldom, now. Instead, I rode the waves of my good grades all the way through DePaul University, where I studied psychology. And while I do not regret any of these decisions or past behaviors, I know in hindsight, that many of them were the result of fear. Fear to misbehave, to break the law, to apply to the best school, etc. But these fears were unseen to my naked eye.

Often, when I am afraid of something, I acknowledge it, and embrace it (so long as it is within reason). For example, I share with many people a fear of heights. For years, I would only ride the Wizar at Six Flags. If you are unfamiliar, the Wizar is the least-intense roller coaster at Six Flags with the smallest of drops and no special effects like going up-side-down or through tunnels or anything of the sort. It wasn’t until I was 13 years old, and a peer used the foot-in-the-door technique to keep me in line for a much more intense roller coaster, that I finally forced myself to go through with the frightening experience of confronting my fear head on. This roller coaster was the Superman. I am sure you are familiar with this one. As you know, passengers sit in their seats upright only until the ride is ready to take off. At that point, the seats rotate ninety degrees, pulling their backs parallel to the tracks and leaving the passengers staring directly at the ground below. Needless to say, I was holding the hand of my 13-year-old acquaintance so tightly that I am not sure she had much circulation in her fingers for the entirety of the ride.

This story only goes one of two ways. I either hated it or I loved it. Let’s just say, I rode every single roller coaster, including the giant drop, that day. And, what gratitude I had for this 13-year-old girl who pushed me out of my comfort zone and showed me that on the other side of fear comes great pleasure. I have continued to confront my fear of heights since then by going bungee jumping off of a tall mountain in Colorado, zip-lining in the Midwest, fly-boarding at a Puerto Rican beach, and going horseback riding close to the edge of canyons and climbing rocks on hikes in Mexico. These experiences were awaiting me on the other side of my fear.

But this fear for the material, or for the tangible, in our world, is only one type of fear. There is another type of fear that is even thicker than this worldly fear. And this is typically manifested within the mind. Those feelings of being inadequate, of not being able to reach your fullest potential, of being worthless, are the unseen fears.

And so, I beg of you, to begin a new journey with me. That is, let us both open up our box of fears in the archives of our mind labeled, “Enter at Your Own Risk,” and confront each and every one of them. Let us learn how to acknowledge, embrace, and love those fears so that we can in turn challenge them and see what awaits us on the other side. Perhaps succumbing to our fears and opening ourselves up in this way will lead us closer to the answer of us, of I.

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