I am afraid.
I am afraid a lot. It’s because I scare easily.
Not over things I’d consider irrational.
Horror films don’t frighten me. I’m not scared of the dark. I’m not afraid of being home alone.
That’s me trying to convince you I’m brave sometimes.
But I’m afraid of many other things. Things I would thoughtlessly describe as rational, even though a wise person might tell us that all fears are irrational.
I’m afraid of people I love being hurt.
I’m afraid of rejection.
I’m afraid of failure.
I’m afraid of things I’m too afraid to tell you about.
My almost-six-year-old son was running around the yard with me while I was mowing. I asked him to run to the garage and grab the push broom so I could sweep the sidewalk.
He ran back to me a minute later, empty-handed.
“Where’s the broom, cheese?” (I call him random names. A lot.)
“Dad, you have to come get it,” he said.
“Bud, it’s just leaning up against the wall. Please bring it.”
“But there’s a spider!”
“Why don’t you just use that big broom to take the spider to Chinatown?”
“It’s too scary,” he said.
We walked to the garage together.
“I don’t see any spiders.”
He pointed toward the gas cans, about five or six feet away from where the broom was leaning against a wall. There was a barely visible, super-small spider just waiting for my kindergartener to grab the broom, so he could then expand into a snarling, truck-sized arachnid and capture my son in his giant web with the rest of the neighborhood children and pets.
I walked over and grabbed the broom without being attacked.
Or was it just me being confident that everything would be okay?
When I was little, I was really afraid of spiders, too.
One time my dad put a large toy spider (that could move) on my face, and I cried.
I’m still kind of afraid of spiders. Not like jump-around-flailing arachnophobia, or anything. But a healthy fear of the occasional large spider I find in the house. I tend to use shoes and rolled-up newspapers, as opposed to a simple paper towel in my hand.
After all, as soon as I grab the spider, it would certainly chew right through the paper towel and crawl all over my hand doing scary spider things.
In September 2008, a large 85-foot wild cherry tree turned our backyard into a scene from the television show Ax Men. The tree’s root system had decayed and high winds from a severe storm blew it down. The impact destroyed our detached garage.
Our four-month-old son had been napping in our upstairs bedroom. Had the tree fallen toward our bedroom and not the garage… he might not have made it.
The realization of how close that came to happening made me cry.
I’m not even embarrassed about how scared I am of something happening to that boy.
But I am embarrassed about how scared I am of many other things.
Sometimes I’m scared to try new things.
Sometimes I’m scared of some of the things I think and feel.
Sometimes I’m scared to write things because of what you might think of me.
I subscribe to the theory that EVERYONE gets afraid. I think feigning fearlessness is a foolish endeavor. A wiser choice is to embrace the fear, face it head on, and overcome it. Easier said than done.
We get afraid in competitive situations.
We get afraid in our social and professional lives.
We get afraid in any situation in which we are forced out of our comfort zones.
So we sometimes play it safe. We maintain the status quo. Because it’s easy. Because maybe we won’t get hurt.
One of my favorite things I read this past year was this fantastic Forbes article by Margie Warrell where she encourages readers to take risks, drawing the following conclusions:
1. We over-estimate the probability of something going wrong.
2. We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if it does go wrong.
3. We underestimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk.
4. We discount or deny the cost of inaction, and sticking with the status quo.
(Please read it. It’s infinitely more important than this post.)
You know, it’s funny.
If you asked me whether I’d rather be someone who always succeeds at everything I do, or someone who was courageous in any situation, I wouldn’t know how to answer it.
But—gun to my head?—I’m leaning toward courage.
You know what’s interesting about that?
I can control how courageous I am. I can choose courage. There’s nothing stopping any of us, ever, from choosing courage, regardless of outcome or circumstance.
Too Many Spiders
Traffic was typical for a Friday morning commute—busy—only it was moving briskly as opposed to the highway traffic jams we often incur.
The rolled-up sleeves on my button-up shirt allowed me to feel the tickle of movement on my left arm.
I looked down.
A brown spider—not gargantuan like the imagined one my son thought might attack him in the garage—but large enough to make someone who doesn’t love spiders (like me) very uncomfortable.
It was dangling from a single web strand attached to the arm I was using to pilot the Jeep.
If I had been standing in my backyard, or anywhere not involving dozens of closely packed vehicles traveling three-wide at 75 miles per hour, I would have quickly swatted it away and watched the hair on my arms stand up.
If I do anything like that, I’m going to cause a massive Interstate pile-up.
So, I held still. The spider just hung there, but was certainly going to crawl up to my arm soon enough. I was not pleased.
But I wanted to die and kill other people much less than I wanted a brown spider crawling on me.
My mind overpowered my instincts. I switched hands on the steering wheel and managed to reach the button that opens my driver’s side window.
Window open, dozens of speeding cars to my right, just behind me and in front of me, I slowly pulled my arm up hoping the rushing air would pull the spider outside.
I felt the spider fly off, but couldn’t tell whether it flew out the window.
I realized immediately what I had done. In a moment of fear, my entire body told me to do something.
But I didn’t.
I did something else. Something smarter. Something braver. Because, in that moment, it was the right thing.
Good for you, Matt.
Maybe that spider flew out.
Maybe it didn’t.
In a few hours, I’m going to get back in the Jeep and drive home.
Maybe I’ll have another run in with the eight-legged passenger.
Maybe I won’t.
If I do? I know I can handle it. No matter what’s going on around me.
I’m not afraid.