Friday, October 11, 2013

The effect of fear

I recently read Cheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I hadn't planned on reading it, because I'm kind of past that stage in my life, but I do have a college senior this year, and I thought it might be useful to her. It's extremely well done. Lots of wisdom, and very little rant.

One line at the end of the first chapter has been ringing in my head. It's taken from the commencement address Sandberg gave at Barnard in 2011. Her closing lines were, "So go home tonight and ask yourselves, "What would I do if I weren't afraid? And then go do it."

She's nailed something. She's nailed how fears, whether big ones or small, impact our lives. I love this. What would I do if I weren't afraid? Afraid that I'd fail, afraid that others would think less of me, afraid that I couldn't follow through, afraid that it's too much for me.

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Some years ago, while our family budget was undergoing yet another downsizing, I realized that I was far more anxious about finances than I'd ever been. I'd nipped and tucked at our expenditures until there was nothing more to nip.

I was feeding my family of seven on $125 a week (at New York prices), I was bartering writing services so my kids could do extracurricular activities, I was working part-time to make ends sort-of meet and I was homeschooling three kids, and Big Guy's vast array of support services made it impossible to move. I couldn't get a full-time job, because my kids were already on emotional tenterhooks due to Big Guy's volatility, and I didn't see how they could manage that big a structural change.

Basically, there seemed to be no way out. And that was before Andrew lost his job.

One day, in exasperation at my rising sense of general panic over not being able to make ends meet, I asked myself, "Okay, so what is it you're really afraid of?" The answer came back, I'm afraid we'll lose our home.

So I asked myself the next question. "And what would you do it you lost the house?"

My reply to myself: I don't know, but obviously I'd do something.

The effect of this on my spirit was astonishing. For I realized that the miasma of fear that I'd been living in had at its core the assumption that there was a cliff involved, a cliff that I and my family would fall off of if some sort of miracle didn't occur. The fact that I didn't know what I would do didn't mean I would do nothing. Of course I would do something. It wouldn't be optimal. It wouldn't be easy. But I'd do it. And that made the whole scenario a whole lot less scary.

Once I stopped being afraid, I was better able to do what I could do.

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I once chatted with a neighborhood dad about his daughter. He confided, "She's got so much energy I'm always afraid she's going to make mistakes and get hurt."

I laughed as I replied, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that! Of course she's going to make mistakes. Of course she'd going to get hurt. She's a kid! The key thing is whether or not she has the skills to recover, and how quickly she can bounce back."

Fear can make us focus on the wrong questions, preventing us from finding the right answers.

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What would I do if I weren't afraid? I'd write a book called Wisdom: Growing into Being a Better Parent and Person.

When I ask myself exactly why I'm afraid, the answer comes back that I'm afraid I'd discover that some of what I believe is insight gained from working through hard things is wrong, or that people would think that I think I'm wise (which I don't).

I'm also afraid that if I get started, another crisis will occur. Because my life kind of goes like that, you know. Except I would guess that if there's another crisis in the wings, it will happen whether I write a book or not.

Am I asking the right questions?


  1. Write the book!!!!! I've been reading you for quite some time, here and Daily Guideposts. You do have something to say!!!

  2. Julia, WRITE THAT BOOK. Please!

  3. I highly suggest that you write a secular parenting book. I'd give it at every baby shower I attend.

  4. Write the book!!! You are truly amazing and a great inspiration to me and countless others!!

  5. I agree. You have much wisdom to share, and a way of explaining that makes so much sense. Of course you will present it in a way that is humble and non-self-aggrandizing.

  6. Ah, I think you're onto something.

    One of the ways I calm myself when I'm feeling afraid is to ask myself, "Okay, what's the worst case scenario here?"

    I make a plan for the worst case scenario -- decide that I can deal with it -- and then move ahead.

  7. Another vote for Definitely Write the Book!

  8. You really are wise you know. I'm always happy to see a new post from you as I always seem to learn something about parenting. And you always speak so gently and kindly about people - please write a parenting book - I will definitely buy it!

  9. You might like something Brene Brown says, "What would be worth doing even if you failed?"

    Liked your thoughts lots.