It all started with a ladder, deep in a cave in Belize, in 2015.
Having swum my way into a cave once used by the ancient Maya, scrambling my way up and down rocks, and wading through ankle deep water, I, along with the rest of the tour group, found myself standing in front of a ladder set against a tall rock cave wall. It was to serve as our mode of transportation to the cave chamber above housing a fully intact crystallized human skeleton.
For some reason, I became overwhelmed with fear. Yet I had no choice but to climb.
I made it to the top and forgot my momentary panic as I looked on in awe at Mayan pottery and a human skeleton perfectly preserved in the cave floor. Then it was time to come back down…
My legs instantly turned to Jell-O, and upon telling our guide I was really freaked out about going back down the ladder, he had me go first. My legs were shaking so badly, and I was descending so slowly, that despite only taking maybe a minute of my time that descent felt more like a lifetime. Yet I made it back to the ground safely and alive, one (admittedly very slow) step at a time.
It may seem like a small or insignificant moment, one to get lost in memory over time, but for me it was huge.
It was the first moment I could remember in a long time in which I actively faced a fear head on, allowed myself to be truly vulnerable in front of others, and realized that what I was afraid of was, in all actuality, not that bad in reality.
Fast forward to six months later, and I’d suddenly found myself unemployed with no new job prospects. I dreaded the question “what do you do?” because I had no answer. But a small voice deep inside me (hello intuition, is that you?) was quietly urging that everything would be OK.
Being unemployed was incredibly uncomfortable. Despite having enough savings to last me for the better part of the year, an amazing support system of loved ones, and various talents, I couldn’t help feeling guilty and incredibly afraid. The what-if’s and fears began piling up in my brain, slowly making me go crazy as I spun a narrative in my mind of everyone abandoning me, career failure, and running out of money.
In light of these fears, I also knew deep down that in some crazy way, I was in exactly the right place. For the first time in my life, I felt ready to rise to the challenge of starting over, facing my fears, and forging a life and career I was actively instead of passively pursuing. I thought back to that moment in the cave in Belize and realized I’d been letting fear control my life, especially in the artistic realm.
Around this same time, I’d joined a book club at my local fitness studio and found myself reading The Alchemist. It’s the journey of a young boy, Santiago, as he sets out to follow his dream instead of what is expected of him, and all of the obstacles and successes he encounters along the way. I found meaning in nearly every part of the story, easily applying it to my own life, and drew on the support and inspiration of the weekly discussions to begin toying with the thought of following my OWN dreams. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert also struck a deep chord, with the presentation of fear not as a thing to “beat” or overcome in a creative life, but instead as an active part of it that has its place in the world yet doesn’t need to be in control.
So with renewed confidence, a bit of trust, expert guidance from close friends, family, and John, and yes – some definite “pushes” – I decided to leap. I’d been standing on the edge of a proverbial cliff, hesitantly glancing over the edge for years, but this was my opportunity to jump. And finally, I took it.
I began asking questions. I got help. I organized the paperwork and dove into making my photography passion a legitimate business. I started this blog. I reached out to people who inspire me and asked them out to coffee. I attended some networking events. And I started to feel better than ever.
I quickly realized that amazing things happen when you start facing your fears:
1. You learn to get comfortable with change, and all of the uncomfortable feelings that come with it.
2. You learn that the terrible outcomes you imagined in your head are almost always much worse than reality.
3. You become a little less afraid, and a little more in control, every single time.
4. You surprise yourself with unexpected success, perhaps even reaching farther than you imagined possible for yourself.
There’s no doubt that facing my fears, especially the artistic ones, was incredibly challenging. And it continues to be as I progress further, discovering new fears. But it also wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined in my head. My support system actually grew instead of shrinking, I didn’t run out of money (although I did come close!), and while I did “fail” at some things I also cultivated the ability to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.
I learned to embrace the uncertainty, go with the flow, and listen to my gut more often. And most of all, I began feeling more confident than ever in myself and my own capabilities.
As such, my perception of what’s possible in life continues to expand, which has brought me incredible joy and fresh ideas on where I want to go next with my art.
I can’t help but reflect on the past year in gratitude, grateful that I chose the uncertain path that scared the crap out of me, over the “safe” choice of trying to immediately find a new job and replace my income.
So should you find yourself on the edge of your own proverbial cliff, I urge you to look fear right in the eyes and fully acknowledge it’s presence, possibilities, and its hold on you. And then jump anyway. It just might change your life.