Overcoming fear

12:22 PM

We all are afraid of something, we all have at least one irrational fear of something. The person who claims to have no fear of anything is a liar.

I have a few of them, first I am arachnophobe (yes that is right, irrational fear of spiders). Then I have a rather common fear of height which in many an instance have proven quite irrational (more on that below).
And last but not least I have one fear that might come as a big shocker to you all : fear of blank art paper. Or rather a bit of fear of putting that first line of paint or dot of ink on said blank paper.

That's right! I am a visual artist, highly creative person with enough talent to boot and yet every single time I sit at my desk in front of a piece of paper or even my sketchbook, I need to summon my energy to just DARE putting my ideas on paper.

Fortunately, my approach to fear pretty much mirror what Carrie Fisher (may she rest in peace) once said :

I printed that meme back when there were tributes to her all over Facebook and the internet. But I have made a point of living by that rule for quite some time now.
Yes I am still afraid of launching myself on paper, but I know that it is just the first strike that is the hardest. Once I am in the zone, I am in the zone.

Just know that every single of the artwork you can buy in my shops were born because I overcame that initial fear.

So why am I writing about fear now? 

Simply because last week I had the immense privilege to connect quite a few dots while tackling my other fear : 

This ladies and gents is yours truly going indoor rock climbing for the FIRST time!

That's right! Despite my fear of heights! I won't lie though, I didn't make it to the top of a single wall on that first day. I made it mid-way and then struggled to let go and glide down on the auto-belay system. 
I climbed down every walls in the rock climbing gym, step by step despite seeing hordes of kids ascending these walls and launching themselves back and down on the belay as soon as they reached the top. 

I fared equally poorly on the 4 meter high obstacle course that involved crossing rope nets, spinning tyres and crossing on a narrow beam. 
That day though, I vowed to return and do better. I left the place pumped silly with adrenaline and feeling more mentally drained than I was physically, but determined to not let fear stop me from getting better. 

I got that second chance 3 days later as my friend and I decided to take our kids there once more to keep them occupied on a rainy afternoon. 

This time I set two goals the night before for me to work on : 1) Walking the high beam, shaking with fear and crying if I must (the first time I just walked away from it) and 2) Learning to have a minimum of trust in the auto-belay system. 

My muscles were still a bit sore from the first experience, so I decided that day that if I didn't climb a wall it was fine, as long as I achieved the two goals I set for myself. 
And guess what? I DID IT!

The first thing I did was work on the trust that falling down was not going to kill me. Namely trust the auto-belay to get me down safely. 
For those who've never been rock climbing in a gym equipped with auto-belays, let me explain what it is. 
An Auto-belay is a type of pulley that works the same way as a seat belt mechanism. It is designed to wind back all the way up but if yanked down to quickly will resist being pulled down freely. 
The seat belt auto-locks, the belay system simply activates a break system that will bring you back down the wall at a slow and controlled pace. 
The catch though, is that you have to let go first and allow a fraction of a second of "free fall" (we are talking a nano second here).

This goes against human nature, plain and simple. When you are 10 meters high up a wall, the last thing you will feel like doing is dropping your hands from the wall and grab the strap tied to your harness to go down. 
Heck I tried a lot on my first visit, from ridiculously low heights at that! 

Goal 1 : trust the auto-belay

I figured out that only way I could trust the belay was to deliberately launch myself down, but I wanted to do it on something that didn't offer much way to resist it. 
Luckily that indoor gym had a course that involved climbing a succession of pillars like stairs, with each ones being higher than the next, and each separated from a gap. 
The top pillar stood at 20ft high and once you made it to the top, you simply jump down. For that leap of faith exercise the belay's strap is tied at the back of your harness. 

My first try I made it to 10 feet (half way) before jumping down cautiously lowering myself down on the pillar first. 
I immediately went at it again and made it to about 12 feet and launched myself with a tad bit more confidence. I stayed in that sweet spot for a while and took a break. 
By the end of our visit I was climbing confidently to about 16-17 feet  and jumping down freely. 

Goal 2 : walk the beam on the 4 meters high obstacle course

That gym has a two levels "obstacle course", level 2 being at roughly 4 meters above the ground. Unlike the climbing walls, there are no auto-belays there. You are instead tied to a very sturdy rope that is itself tied to a glider on a rail above you. As you walk across every obstacles on the course, your rope and glider goes with you and should you fall will hold you about half a foot from the obstacle you fell from. Meaning that at every single point of the exercise you are SAFE. This part is very important. 
I even did sit back in my harness above a platform to make sure it was , so I knew there was no risk of me hurting anything but my own ego in case of a fall. 

On the first day, I managed almost all the obstacles, including a super difficult one involving tyres that spin above the ground as you attempt to cross them.  But I chickened at a beam that is nothing more than a gymnastic beam width placed 4 meter above the ground. I tried but could not, I nearly threw up and fought the feeling of passing out. At this point I opted for another less scary route on the course. 

But I hated it, I hated being defeated, so this was why it became Goal number two on my second visit to the gym. 
The first attempt had the instructor just hold my hand and walking in front of me (or rather walking backward in front of me) and after crossing the beam I gave two other previously undone obstacles a miss. Afterwards I sat down for a while, drank water and watched Ishita ascending one wall after the other with ease. 
Once my stress level was down again, I went back up to the course, and decided to beat that beam! I did the first walk holding my rope lead with one hand with the instructor cheering me from the other end. Amazed, I asked if I could walk it back to the other end and I did, holding the lead again but more confident. I crossed it back again letting go of the lead mid-way, and back to the start platform not holding anything, to finally cross it one last time confidently, with a sure footing and holding nothing. 

Let me tell you I felt AMAZING! Top of the world and I even completed all the other obstacles but one that involved crossing a climbing wall laterally (I knew the strength in my arms wasn't up to it yet). 

The moral of this story? 

Fear is real, there is no denying it, and the sooner you accept the fact you are afraid of something, the better you can work on overcoming it. 
Fear is not always a rational emotion or response either. In both my fear of launching myself on blank paper or rock climbing. There are actually no reasons whatsoever to feel scared...NONE

The worse that can happen with blank paper is that I screw up my artwork and will need to toss it in the bin. 
At the rock climbing gym, I can fall, but then a rope would be catching me and a belay system lower me on a soft shock absorbing mat at the bottom.

In both instance, my mind is the one playing tricks on me. My mind chooses to ignore the facts that speak in the favour of success (I'm not going to say safety). 
My mind was the ONLY thing that stopped me from crossing that beam the first time I went up. My mind is the only thing that goes in the way of putting that first line of ink on paper. 

It's all about mental conditioning

Like it or not, but to succeed at anything, you need to pull your mind through it and often push said mind to go beyond the rational and into the irrational. 

There is a saying that says that "Nothing great ever happens in your comfort zone". That saying is true. 

Once upon a time I wrote that the key to success is passion. But what I didn't elaborate on in that blog post is that passion is essential because on the path to success you will need to push past fears. 

One cold hard truth is that nobody is born talented at something, and success is NEVER, not in a million years, the product of luck and inborn talent. 
Every single successful person you may find yourself looking up to has fought their own personal demons, stumbled, fell, failed and crashed on the path. 

What got them where they are is grit, and perseverance. 

Back to my artistic tendencies. It's not a gift, it' not an inborn talent, and it's born out of fear for a lot of my pieces. At the most, I started my journey with a certain affinity for visual art. Which is why I said that it all start with passion. You cannot succeed at something you don't have an affinity with because without that spark, chances is you are going to walk away the instant things get too challenging. 

The reason I am good at visual arts is that I trained myself to be. I sucked at it a lot of time, I have drawn and painted crappy stuff all through my life. I even got horrendous marks on my work when I was an art major in high-school. I spent hours loathing sketch book assignment paralysed with fear of not knowing what to sketch. I endured critics from my teachers and classmates. 
More recently I spent hours knowing how to edit my artwork in Photoshop to make it commercial and printable. Each of my art pieces not only took me hours to pull on paper, but at least one or two hours more to digitise properly. 
And when I first launched myself one level deeper into Photoshop I had to face my shortcomings, and  rely on countless youTube videos and online tutorials to find my groove (and I am still learning...everyday).

At this point I hear some of you challenging me when I say there is no such thing as an inborn talent. 
I will stand by my word though. Nobody starts anything with a gift, we all start at ground zero. Some progress at certain things faster than other simply because of the affinity factor. 
We all have certain affinities to certain things, that is not a gift, and without practice that affinity will lead nowhere.

But, if you are determined to achieve something, you will do it. Countless stories testify to it. You don't have to start gifted to be an artist, you don't have to have an inborn sense of pitch to be a successful musician. And you certainly do not have to be physically fit or have all your limbs to be a professional athlete or break world records in sports. Age isn't a factor either.

Age, being disabled, color blind, tone deaf, having only one arm, or no legs, or being deaf. They are all EXCUSES. Safe little excuses not to push past fears to do something. 

With that logic, I would never have been an artist, it would have been better to walk away from tackling the blank paper fear and the hassle of perfecting my Photoshop skills, probably even better to walk away from it all rather than put my work out there for others to have an opinion about. 
The same apply with my fear of heights, I could have stayed put, with my two feet on the ground after the first wall climbing attempt. I could have decided that I was not cut for it, that I didn't have the gift that would make it possible, that I had to resign myself to my fear of heights and avoid any situations that would put me in that fearful position. 

But then what? 

What, I ask you. What would that make me? A professional quitter? A person that live her life feeling remorse and wallowing in a world of "What it?".

That, I know I can't live with. I can't live a life of regrets about things I didn't pursue simply because I was a slave to my own fears. 
So, stay afraid I will, but keep on doing and pushing past it I will. 

And so should you....

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  1. Anonymous7:43 PM

    Congratulations on conquering your fears. An inspiring post indeed. I have all the common fears height, darkness, closed spaces. My fears are more to do with vision. When I can't see properly i panic. For people wearing glasses these situations are particularly difficult.

    Offlate I have developed an irrational fear of fog which was never there. It is as if the world around me is under siege by a white blanket. Winter mornings are so depressing.

    Sometimes it does get very foggy in Delhi so the fear is not exactly unreal. Once u get used it is ok but initially it is very uncomfortable. The whole world seems to vanish in thin air. Silly fear to have.

    It is sometimes silly how u are suddenly aware of a new fear which u never had.


    1. I don't think any fear is silly, at least not to the person afflicted by it. One thing I find useful when facing my fears is to ask myself "What is the worst that could happen?"
      With blank paper, the worst is that my drawing looks ugly and I need to throw it away, with the rock climbing experience, the worst is I that I fall, and the belay and harness keep me safe leaving only my ego a bit bruised.

      It puts things back into perspective.

      In your case I think fog is just another fear of loosing sight, but what is the worst that could happen if you could not see in the fog? You'd rely more on your other senses to help you navigate the fog, or situate yourself in it.

      In most cases fear occur when a person faces a situation that has far too many unknown and leaves the person with a sense of no control.

    2. Anonymous6:51 PM

      Come to think of it many years ago I used to get up early in the morning and walk through fog to my college. It never bothered me.

      After my mother's death I felt a strange emptiness. I found that I had developed this fear sometimes after that period. May be just may be the events in one's life play tricks on one's mind or may be I am crazy


    3. You probably associated fog with what you were feeling at the time and it impressed deeply on your subconscious. This type of things happen frequently during any stressful and experiences. Some people can never wear the outfit they wore during an accident because it became associated with that even and brings back all the stress and negative feelings they experienced at the time.

      It's far from crazy. Though you can put an end to this association if you put your mind to it, it may take time, but if constantly work toward associating fog with something good, even small things, over time you can reverse the feeling if that i what you wish to achieve.

  2. Anonymous10:31 AM

    Great post! I have a horrible fear of speaking in front of adults at work. I teach middle school and have no problem with that age group, but not adults. I took a lower score on my evaluation last year because I could not stand up and make a short presentation. The thought of it is beyond terrifying. I'm a quiet, introverted person who blushes easily, and I knew I would be bright red. No way, no thanks.

    1. Actually being introverted has not much to do with fear of public speaking, I am an introvert who have no such fear. The only thing I experience with public speaking is the slight discomfort of not connecting with whoever I speak to since I prefer communication with someone that is engaged and reply.

      I know highly extroverted people who are on the other hand completely paralized at the idea of addressing a crowd.

      I used to be super shy and have that fear as a kid, my mom suggested I take drama classes in a children theatre school. It helped a LOT and I credit it for the total disappearance of the fear of public speaking.


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