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It’s true what they say about fear…

By October 9, 2009How To, Writing

sailingNext to causing massive amounts of trouble, my favorite thing to do at camp every summer was sail. Every single day for two months throughout five summers, I sailed. Little sunfish, 15 foot X-boats, even a 45 footer around Lake Superior (which to this midwesterner felt and looked like the ocean) for one glorious week when I was 13.

But, oddly enough, as I rushed down to the docks every day, I carried a little something extra with my life jacket. It was fear. The only days the fear wasn’t there were the days that the lake looked like a sheet of glass, devoid of any wind whatsoever.

The wind. The most essential part of the sailing experience aside from the boat – scared me to death. Huge gusts careening across the water hitting the boat suddenly, making it lunge to the side, threatening to dump us overboard. The steady force of it taking us unbearably fast and far away from the tangibility of the land. Jibing as we crossed behind the wind, the boom flying across the boat, the sail snapping violently as it filled once again with air.

The worst part, for me though, was the noise. Wind is only loud when it makes contact – with trees, with old rattly windows…and with sails. A moderately windy day becomes terrifying when the wind hits the sails straight on, sounding like 100 preschoolers smashing paper bags in your ears. The grating, nerve-splitting noise put me on high alert for severe and impending danger.

The fear was so real, but if you had asked me what I was actually afraid of, I couldn’t have answered. I don’t think I knew.

And the reason that I kept sailing, despite this fear, had everything to do with the way the counselors handled it.

1. They broke it down. Because when I looked at each piece, there was nothing to really be afraid of.

  • I wasn’t afraid of the lake – had been swimming, waterskiing and paddling it forever.
  • I wasn’t afraid of the boat – it was a very nice boat, no holes or anything.
  • I trusted my friends and the counselors – these were my people, you know? (many of them still are)
  • If it was actually too windy and there was danger afoot, we wouldn’t have gone out – no camp wants to get sued.

2. They walked us right into the fire. Part of the fear, for everyone, surrounded capsizing. The reason? It was unknown because it so rarely happened. Of course, it was the not knowing that go to us. Wasn’t there some famous President who waxed poetic about the only thing to fear or some such?

So in the first days of each summer, we capsized the boats – which ironically enough – was very difficult to do. That particular fear evaporated after we had the experience of falling out of the boat, seeing it rest sideways in the water, all swimming to the hull to climb on the centerboard and jack the boat back up – jumping off at the last second as it found its place again, the boom and the sail swinging wildly, unhinged in the wind as we climbed aboard again.

Still, my nagging fear lasted my entire sailing career (and I’m sure it would creep up today if you put me on a boat), but it wasn’t until recently that I looked at it in a whole new way. I read an article that said if an experience is really, really good, you’ll likely be 90% excited and 10% scared as you walk into it. Because 90% excited plus 10% scared equals 100% personal stretch, opportunity and, of course, delicious thrill.

Image credit: Olga

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    Love this for so many reasons. Some people say that courage is the absence of fear. But I think it’s when you are scared shitless and you do it anyway. What’s so courageous about not being scared?

    Loved, too, the idea of doing what you most fear. Capsizing the boat. I guess you can’t always do that (can’t get over a fear of dog’s by trying to get bitten, or a fear of falling by falling off a mountain), but it does work for most instances.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Alisa. I’m starting to think that we’re really Siamese twins, once connected at the brain. As I was writing this post, I had a nice long debate with myself about all of the things that you CAN’T do to get over your fear. So…yes, that one has to be taken with a grain of salt!!! But, for instance, you could practice being around all different kinds of dogs and hiking mountains…if not the actual bite and fall.

  • carrie says:

    Enjoyed this post. Sailing is an excellent metaphor for a lot of things in life: overcoming obstacles; feeling both joy and fear; experiencing the forces of nature greater than ourselves. I have many memories of sailing with my father on the bay at our summer house on Long Island, and learning all kinds of expressions that seemed to mean more then themselves: “becalmed,” “tacking,” “jibe,” “ready about,” “boom.” Tell me that’s not like life.

  • Edgy Mama says:

    Love the excitement plus fear equation.

    I’m a counterphobic six on the Enneagram–so countering the fear that motivates me by confronting whatever scares me is how I survive. So this totally speaks to me.

  • Only 10% fear? That would be a step UP.

    Good post!

  • Joker_SATX says:

    You had good people teaching you regarding fear. Not many people do. We don’t understand the magnitude of Winston Churchill’s words when he said, “The only thing to fear, is fear itself.”

    If you understand how fear works, then in reality, you understand how your mind works. If you understand how your mind works, you have control over your mind and can direct it anywhere you want.

    Good for you!

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