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Last week, we did something big! We flew out of the country with our children to a place we had never been before with little more than a passport, a couple bathing suits, and some sunscreen. I also packed away the former fear and anxiety that would have stopped me from doing something like this just a few years ago.
Now, don’t get me wrong! My husband and I LOVE to travel and we’ve been to many faraway places we knew nothing about – Panama, Germany, Monaco, France, Mexico – just to name few. And we loved every minute of every trip. We’ve been scuba diving and sky diving together. We are adventurers!
But something changed when we became parents. My tall, strong, and usually confident husband developed a sudden and frustrating fear of heights. I on the other hand, developed claustrophobia that caused me to give up my scuba certifications and a weird sort of anxiety about anything requiring me to give up a sense of control over the physical safety or security of my children – including traveling to unknown places, no matter how great the desire in my heart to explore.
Let me give you an example of how this fear manifested in the early days. During my pregnancy with the twins, I worked full time right up until the 37 week mark in my role as the Senior Account Executive for Central Texas with Gartner – an IT analyst firm I loved working with. I loved my clients, loved my team, and enjoyed the benefits of being a high performing sales executive. Just before the twins were born, I learned I had achieved the prestigious Winners Circle Award – which meant I (and my significant other) were going to be flown to Sydney, Australia where we would stay in a first class resort and be treated to exquisite meals and elegant cocktail parties with a select group of the company’s other highest achievers. I was honored and humbled to say the least – Australia! A country that has been on our Dream Destinations map for years.
As the trip’s departure date came closer and the twins made their arrival into the world, however, I was completely consumed with anxiety.
How in the world could I leave my 3 month old babies (who were just now the size of “normal” babies) in the care of someone else and fly around the world?
If something happens, it will literally take me more than a full day to get back to them.
What kind of mother would do that?
And finally, to my husband’s dismay, Babe, there is just no way I can do this.
And so, I picked up the phone to call my boss and on that day, I let fear make the decision for me. We didn’t go to Australia. I didn’t celebrate my hard work with my winning team, and something of a cosmic nature shifted inside me that day. The spunky, bold, take the bull by the horns spirit that had driven me for 35 years was quieted that day…quieted not by wisdom or peace, but quieted by the slow, deep darkness that is Fear.
It would be a couple of years before I came to this realization, of course. My light was dimmed and I was living in PROTECT mode.
How about you?
Have you ever shifted into Protect mode – a place where Fear and Anxiety rule and your Courageous spirit is being held hostage by a very real need for security and certainty?
In my work as a Leadership Consultant and Speaker, I am honored to hear stories from men and women who have similar experiences with fear, and often a major transition like becoming a parent, losing a parent or child, taking on a big leadership role for the first time, or relocating to a new city are the catalyst for this shift. It is a “normal” response from a nuero-biological perspective. Our brains are wired to avoid danger and risk, i.e. uncertainty and fear of the unknown. But, this physiological response is rarely helpful to us in current times, because we are not actually fleeing a bear trying to eat us – which is where this biological need stems from. Harnessing uncertainty in our lives is a critical skill to becoming courageous leaders.
Learning to embrace uncertainty and all the possibilities it offers has been a great gift in my life over the past three years. Harnessing uncertainty and shifting into a place of curiosity and gratitude about what the unknown has to offer has allowed me to quiet the Fear that once made decisions for me.
Three years ago, I would not have taken my 5 year old twins and 10 year old son to the passport office with gleeful anticipation of our first trip abroad together.
Three years ago, I would not have climbed into a dusty old van to ride through the streets of Jamaica to board a catamaran with my children and watch their eyes grow wide with wonder as the crystal clear Caribbean waters opened up before us.
Three years ago, I would not have experienced the joy, freedom, and wonder that embracing the unknown together brought us on this trip to Jamaica.
If Fear has a grip on you, I invite you to explore its source and how shifting to a new perspective on uncertainty in your life might better serve you in fulfilling your hopes and dreams!
Stay Curious and Open!