How To Be Fearless

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I crossed and re-crossed my legs under the bar, wondering if the fishnet tights would be enough to glam up the cotton black dress I’d paired with black boots for the evening out. I knew my outfit was mild by Vegas standards, but living in an RV didn’t afford me many opportunities for wearing anything less comfortable or more luxurious than cotton. And yet there I was, biding my time with a video poker machine until a Vegas girls’ night out began.

When Liz arrived, my fears were confirmed: I was an under dressed mom next to a sexy, sophisticated, confident beauty.

She pulled up a bar stool beside me and ordered a drink, apologizing for keeping me waiting. She introduced me to her girlfriend and we spent a few minutes getting to know each other a little better than the Internet and a few quick meetings at conferences had previously allowed.

She told me about her past, one more harrowing – and frankly interesting – than I would have guessed based on a quick look at her or her online profiles. I admitted I was surprised to discover she hadn’t always been as perfectly put together as she appeared to be now. I admitted, too, to being more than a little intimidated at the idea of meeting her here tonight. She was stunning and I was, well, I was afraid of looking foolish.

“I’m always surprised when you say you’re afraid,” she said. “When you write about being worried or afraid, I just… I don’t get it. I don’t see that. I think of you as being totally fearless.”

Fearless.

The word was ridiculous next to my too plain dress and my precariously pinned hair. I was actively hating my glasses and my big ass, and this woman was telling me I was fearless. The pieces didn’t fit.

I stammered a bit and assured her I was almost always afraid, and then realized I wasn’t really always afraid. Not anymore.

“I guess I am less afraid than I used to be,” I said, “but I’m definitely not fearless. I just… I don’t know. Something.”

It wasn’t eloquent, but it was the best I could come up with that night at the bar in the Cosmopolitan.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since last Thursday night, and about what it means to be fearless. Fearless, of course, is the absence of fear, which usually accompanies an absence of good sense. I’ve certainly been accused of the latter, but I can sincerely attest to having plenty of fear. In fact, I usually suspect that I have more fear than most people, and then I’m afraid of what that says about me.

I’ve written nearly 150 posts on this blog about fear and being afraid.

I’ve written exactly none about being fearless.

No, I am not without fear. I may, however, be brave.

That’s not a small thing for a frightened person to admit to; to say that you are brave is itself an act of bravery when you are more fearful than not. And yet it must be so, because despite walking around with all of this fear, I keep doing the scary things.

My son Devin shares my penchant for fear. He is afraid of being wrong and afraid of getting less than his fair share. And he is afraid of heights.

His fears have kept him from experiencing some pretty cool stuff. He didn’t ride the Sky Wheel in Myrtle Beach or ride in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. Recently, however, he seems to have decided that he is tired of the consequences of his fear of heights.

When we visited the Grand Canyon, he let me walk him over to the ledge of the rim. He was terrified, but he took my hand and believed me when I promised I’d keep him safe. He walked slowly, stopping every few steps to breathe deeply and muster up another ounce of courage.

“I’m afraid,” he’d tell me.

“I know,” I’d say. “Everyone is afraid of stuff. That’s OK. But this fear is your brain playing tricks on you, and you don’t have to let that fear stop you if you don’t want it to.”

“OK, OK,” he’d say, and he’d take another gulp of air and another step closer.


His photo at the edge was more than an obligatory photo opp; it was proof of his triumph.

A week later he decided he was going to zip line over Fremont Street in Vegas. “I went to the edge of the Grand Canyon,” he said, “I can totally do this!”

He strapped on his safety harness and prepared to climb to the top of the launch podium, pausing to give me two thumbs up and a wide grin. He was proud of himself for his fearlessness, I knew.

And then he caught a glimpse of the ground below.

“Uhhh… Mom?” His progress up the last few steps slowed and I knew his fear was returning.

A few moments later, he was strapped to the cable and the full force of his fear returned, as if he’d never conquered it at all.

“I can’t do this!” he cried. “I want down!”

“You can do this,” I said again. “This is your brain playing tricks on you.”

We went back and forth for several minutes, and then he reached out and took my hand again, and this time instead of walking to the edge, we both jumped off of it.

He screamed.

He rode several feet with his eyes closed, still gripping my hand and as we sailed down parallel wires.

“You’re doing it!” I screamed. “You’re doing it!”

He opened his eyes, closed them again, and then opened them one more time. He looked around. He exhaled. He realized just as the ride was ending that he was, in fact, doing it.

“I want to do it again,” he told me as he stepped out of his harness on the landing platform.

No, Devin is not fearless either, but he is unquestionably brave, and looking at him I think I get a glimpse of how it is we live through our fears.

We decide we are tired of the consequences of our fears.

We take deep breaths and small steps.

We reach out for a hand we trust.

And sometimes, we just close our eyes and jump, screaming all the while, and often the last to see that we are, in fact, doing it.

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  1. this made me cry at my desk. i am ridiculously thrilled with devin and his battling the fear of heights. please squeeze the heck outta him for me and tell him WELL DONE!i'm also crazy in love with the way you wrote this post. well done to you, my friend. so well done that i won't ever beat you up about comparing yourself to another woman and worrying about your clothing.

  2. that should have said EVEN. i won't even beat you up about comparing yourself. THIS ONE TIME. i will totally beat your ass up about it if i see you do it in the future. because no post is ever written that is awesome enough for me to let you get away with that shit.xoxo

  3. annnnnnnnnnd now i am no longer crying. this is good. typos can be good!

  4. Darla says:

    You wrote about my life! This is MY LIFE! And my son has my same brain tricks. I hate that for him. But we are learning to face our fears and just do it anyway. I'm afraid most of the time (if anyone knew just how afraid I was they'd be shocked) so I figure, why not just do it afraid? Not doing it sure doesn't make me happy. Being brave makes me feel like I'm "normal". I'm ok. I can do hard things. I'll just be afraid doing them. And that is just LIFE.You rock Britt. You really really rock.

  5. Marsha says:

    I love this post. And the comments.I feel like I am afraid of almost everything. And I just realized recently that it is because I am afraid of being wrong or of failing or of not being in control. At least one of my children is the same but it is too soon to tell on the other two.So now is the time for me to try brave.

  6. I was taught that courage is not the absence of fear but taking action despite the fear. It's not courageous to do things we aren't afraid of — it's easy. Courage is hard, but you and your son have much.

  7. Carolyn West says:

    YES! I feel the fear almost every day but I have done things in my life that people would call fearless… and definitely brave. I suppose they are but it's hard for me to see it as such. I think just the fact that you are scared of something and you do it anyway proves that you are fearless. And strong. And so much braver than you think.

  8. Lisa says:

    I love this for Devin! I think truly fearless people are rare, and maybe a little crazy. Fear can be a healthy think – it makes us at least think twice before barreling ahead. Courage is definitely not the absence of fear, but as you said, going forward in spite of it. Like Devin, I'm also scared of heights but one of my life list items is skydiving. I want to do it not so much because I have a burning desire to jump out of a plane, but for the very fact that it terrifies me. Doing scary things is empowering as hell! If I'm feeling low or unsure of myself, one of the best things to do is something I'm a little scared of because then I'm all I AM A ROCK STAR!! Instant self-esteem.

  9. Carly says:

    I cried through this post too! You are such a great mom! That shows in your son's confidence in you :) And I am so proud of him! (Am I allowed to be proud of a kid I don't even really know?) Just looking at that picture I can tell you that, although I don't have a fear of heights per se, I would have had to lay down flat on my stomach to get that close to the edge. I have a slight (ok, HUGE) problem with vertigo that literally brings me to me (hands and) knees more often that I'd like. Way to go, Devin! You rock!

  10. Editdebs says:

    What a profound post. Thanks.

  11. This is probably one of my favorite things you've ever written. I HATE roller coasters and thrill rides, but I suck it up when my son asks me to ride with him (he's 27 and he is so proud of me for being brave!)I don't think I would have gotten as close as Devin did to the edge of the Grand Canyon. Congrats to him for being brave enough!

  12. I'd rather be brave than fearless. Fearlessness can sometimes lead to foolishness.

  13. Carrie Calaway says:

    Very well written! Sometimes the fears that are inside us are to afraid to come out! Also wanted to say that I love his jacket! (written from my couch in Green Bay, WI)

  14. Liz says:

    And sometimes, we just close our eyes and jump, screaming all the while, and often the last to see that we are, in fact, doing it.

    This gave me the chills because, quite often lately, I keep forgetting that I'm doing it… and every time I remember, I am filled with an exhilaration I've never before experienced.I tend to perceive everyone who is "doing it" as fearless, too, and am often amazed and comforted when I read someone's blog and they admit they're just as terrified as I am, so thank you for being brave enough to admit your fear time and time again.

  15. Chris says:

    Awesome post. Touched home for me because I don't do or say a lot of things out of fear.Thank you! Glad Devin did it! You rock buddy!

  16. Christina says:

    Love this post. I have to say that I learned lately a lot about trust and being fearless from my niece. She is 2 years and 4 months old and one of the wisest persons I know. First of all she is almost never afraid. She just trusts in us and the world and tries to deal with what ever approaches her and claims to reach the next level, move faster, climb higher every time. It's amazing.But the most impressing thing happens when she is scared by something. She looks at the scary thing with a critical expression and stops moving forward. After a moment of silence and not moving she straightens, looks at you and states: "I do not need to be afraid." It is not a question. It is a statement. I try to do the same, but often I am not as tough as she is.

  17. janey says:

    I think I will make the last pic my computer wallpaper :) Love it.

  18. Lynda says:

    Some of my barriers with Olympic weightlifting is my personal fears. I like that you tell your son the fear is just his brain playing a trick on him. One day, he will be apprehensive about something, and he will hear you say that, even when you are not there.

  19. This really hit home hard. Change is daunting, frightening even, and there are a lot of changes coming up for me. There are business decisions that I've had to make and I am scared how it might affect our business, especially since the business is the one paying for the bills. After thinking about it long and hard, I finally did it. I took the leap with my eyes closed, peeked out days later, and found that the world did not end. I think there's something about being a mom that compels us to be brave, which I think comes from our desire to make our children the happiest and the best they can be. It takes courage to pursue happiness. We have to brave for our children. We have to be the hand that they reach out for when they are afraid, despite the fears that we harbor in our heart, even in the times that we don't have a hand to reach out for ourselves sometimes. Thank you, Britt, for writing this. And thank you, Devin, for showing the grown-ups how.

  20. Stephanie says:

    Oh. OH! I love this. This spoke to me on so many levels. I live in fear, constant, paralyzing fear – and I see the vicious cycle being repeated in my son. Thank you for saying so eloquently what I feel, and encouraging me to break the cycle for my son. I don't want to see him live a life constantly robbed by fear. THANK YOU.

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