The one question that changed my relationship with fear

I was making Hawaiian mimosas for a Memorial Day party and there was no one around to help. How was I going to open the champagne? (Sparkling wine, whatever.) Typically, I pass the job off to someone else, while I cower in the corner and plug my ears. In that moment, I had a choice to make.

The moment—and the mimosas—called me to rise to the occasion. I took a breath, turned the cork slowly and experienced the great thrill of the pop! followed by a tiny puff of smoke. What fun! Why had I been so scared?

But that’s me: afraid of loud noises, sudden moves, the unexpected, the unknown and feeling out of control.

When a balloon bursts, I scream. When I jump in the water, I hold my nose. I rarely frolic in ocean waves, worried that I’ll get stung by a jellyfish, pinched by a crab or eaten by a shark. Paintball? Ouch. Bungee jump? Heck no. Don’t even talk to me about sky diving. And on and on it goes.

In the same breath, I can list the courageous things I’ve done: changed careers, swung from a trapeze, birthed three babies, talked into live television cameras and performed on stages. I’ve said, “I love you” first and asked, “Do you want to be my friend?”

But I am not fearless. There are so many things—internal and external; big and small—that scare me. Sometimes, I feel the fear and do it anyway. Other times, I feel the fear and opt out.

Years ago, a friend recommended a book with a title that sounded so silly to me (Who Moved My Cheese?) that I almost didn’t take him seriously. I bought the book anyway, and as I flipped through the pages, a question leaped out at me:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The words landed—hard—and, in an instant, transformed my relationship with fear. I learned how to temporarily set aside what scares me and consider the most important part of the question:

What would you do? What, deep down, do you want? 

Fear serves a purpose. It’s an alert. An invitation to pause and consider the options, the risks and the consequences. Asking, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” helps me decide if I’m willing to go out on a limb; how much it matters. It challenges me to consider the worst case scenario: What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do the thing? What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t? 

Whatever I decide, the choice is mine and I get to own it. There’s a great deal of power in that. Fear is a part of my life, but it no longer rules my life. And that’s something to celebrate. So, pass the bubbly. I’ll be happy to pop the cork.

 

Angie Mizzell is a writer, TV spokesperson, and mom of three. She is also the co-founder of Charleston Storytellers and blogs about creating a life...

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