On Fear

Collins, this one is for you. 😉

I went swimming recently. On Sunday. Remember my triathlon athlete dreams? Still in the works, I’ve been running and swimming is the latest addition to the repertoire. Anyway, I went swimming. There’s this thing I like to do in the water, just float on my back, navigating from end to end of the pool, as a sorta break between reps. Heh heh, ati reps, who am I kidding, I could barely do a lap without needing a breather.

As I was floating back and forth on my back, I found myself tilting my head to try see where I was going, to figure out if I was about to hit the wall of the pool. Of course the contortion of my body to try see where I was going kept messing with my form, which means I would start to sink.

I decided to change technique and instead of occasionally trying to peer around to see where I have reached, I started reaching one hand out, ahead of me, when I thought the end might be near. Still, this messed with my form and I found that the lower half of my body would start to sink.

Then I started thinking about fear.

What was I so afraid of?

Knocking the wall with my head? Given that I was only floating back and forth, it’s not as though the impact would have given me a concussion or anything too serious.

Drowning? I can swim, I can handle most situations that would occur in a standard sized swimming pool.

Having water go up my nose? Do you know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you inhale water with air while swimming? Not a nice feeling, but it passes.

Yet there I was, feeding all my baseless, irrational fears, making them out to be bigger that they actually were.

I consciously set out to ‘face my fear’. Simply float on and on and on until I finally hit the wall, and when I did, it was the gentlest tap on the head. Not even worth mentioning.


On Friday, I was giving a session at a Python Conference at USIU. Wohooooo…#PyConKE! Now here’s the thing, public speaking gives me butterflies for dayzzzzz! Especially in the last few hours and minutes before getting on stage, I tend to be a nervous wreck. I’m the kind of person that will stress about it, be editing, adding and deleting slides to my presentation up till the very last moment. Here’s the thing though, I am a good public speaker. Really, I am. I do well with crowds if I am well prepared. I reckon this is inadvertently a function of the fact that I have gotten loads of speaking practice given several leadership positions held, willingly and unwillingly, both in high school and uni. Yet two hours to the presentation, in the Uber on the way to USIU, I even had to ask my friend to please not talk to me because I was super nervous and just wanted some silence. When we got to USIU, I wouldn’t even wait with him at the gate as he waited for someone to come sort him out cause his name had been left off the list. I had my name ticked off and sped off to look for a silent corner where I could obsess over my presentation a little more. Sorry Calvin!

Friday went well, went really well. In hindsight, of course it went well! I had spent a couple of nights skimming on sleep to do some reading and research in preparation for that presentation, plus, I’m good at public speaking. Yet still, all the fuss.

A few months ago, on a whim, my cousins and I, who have been trying to do stuff together occasionally, came across info of a pole dancing class and signed up. Lesson one, which still remains the only one we took, was pretty basic. Warm up and then a move called ‘The Fireman’. Pretty self explanatory. Picture a fireman coming down a pole, I’m sure you’ve seen the scene in a movie or two. The one where the firemen are all at the fire station, going about their business, then an alarm goes off, notifying them of a fire. What do they do? They run to the poles, which I suppose are meant to get them to their trucks ASAP so they can head to putting out the fire. Yeah, that move is ‘The Fireman’.

I sucked at ‘The Fireman’. The instructor was so graceful. Gliding round that pole, graceful as a swan. I hate not being good at stuff, which I deal with by practising. So I did this move over and over and over again, but I kept knocking my foot onto the pole too hard. It just didn’t feel right and even after very many trials, I just didn’t get any better. In contrast my cousin who I was paired with got it after a handful of tries, then just stood there watching me struggle. Le sigh.

I asked the instructor what she thought my problem was, what I could do to get better.

Her answer…fear. She told me I was afraid.

Which made me realise that I in fact was.

Rather than trusting that the grip of my legs on the pole was enough to hold me up, I sub-consciously kept bashing my whole body onto the pole hoping for a firmer grip. Months later, I still have a little bump on my leg from all those hits.

So, what is with these irrational fears?

The more I have thought of this, the more I have started to identify more and more instances where I am just afraid, for no good reason at all.

When sitting in on a session/meeting and I have a question or comment but I just sit there silent, never raising my hand or my voice. Why?
Because I am afraid of sounding stupid.

When it comes to my annual performance review and I have psyched myself up to negotiate my salary and then I get into that room and then I just don’t attempt to. Why?
Because I am afraid my bosses will think me ungrateful. Because I am afraid that they will say I am not worth that much to them. Because I am afraid that they will say no.

When I work a little late at the office and I want nothing more than to walk home and enjoy the silence, the alone time, do some moon watching if there is a moon to be watched but then I don’t. Why?
Because I am afraid of being mugged.
Ha ha.
So this fear is perfectly rational.

Many others that needlessly slow us down are not.

I have found that naming my fears makes them infinitely less daunting, makes me realise just how irrational they are and gives me a clear path to getting over them.

So, on fears, name them. Name your fears, you just might unmask them for the sham that they sometimes are.


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