“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Twelve steps or three leaps. That’s how far it was from my bed to the bathroom when I was a little girl.
The biggest step was the first one from my bed. I had it figured out, so there was enough distance before my feet hit the floor that nothing could reach out from under the bed and grab me. Brothers and boogeymen could be lying in wait in the dark. There was the added darkness just outside the bathroom door, as the stairwell loomed ominously, holding untold frightful possibilities.
Six steps or one leap and a skip was the distance from my bed to the bathroom when I lived alone in a small, upstairs apartment of an old home as a young adult. A 60-watt nightlight guided my way but didn’t keep me from being scared of what might be lurking beneath the bed or in the darkness of the old house.
Knowing the number of steps was significant in both cases because I knew that if I could make that short distance from the bed to the bathroom, I would be safe for a bit of time. In one house I was a young girl, the other a young woman.
In both houses, it was my fear of the unknown that gripped me and held me in the bed until I was forced to choose between the inevitable issue of wetting the bed or risking the dangers of the dark. It wasn’t until I had children that I overcame my fear of the darkness. The first step was the most difficult —admitting I needed to make a change.
There are many phobias with which folks suffer, and you might be surprised to know who else shares (or shared when alive) your particular fear:
Fear of flying: Jennifer Aniston, Cher, John Madden
Fear of clowns: P.Diddy Combs, Daniel Radcliffe, Johnny Depp
Fear of public speaking: Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe
Fear of butterflies: Nicole Kidman
Fear of the dark: Keanu Reeves, Megan Fox
Fear of thunder: Madonna
Fear of antique furniture: Billy Bob Thornton
Recognize any of those names or fears? Phobias are real and can make life difficult to live. These folks have taken measures to help themselves the best they can. It doesn’t mean they fixed their fears; it means they’ve faced their fears and found success in spite of their fears, and so can you.
My first step out of the bed and into the darkness was the most difficult for me, and it was the most important for my success. Your first step into your darkness is where you must begin and is how you will succeed.
Fear comes in many forms, and in order to conquer any of it, we must call on our courage. It took courage for me to race to the bathroom, and even more to return to my bed. It is that same courage that many people must seek as they attempt feats as small as leaving the house and as large as leaving home.
If you aren’t bothered by either of those terrors, maybe it is riding an elevator, crossing a bridge or speaking in public that brings beads of sweat to your brow and butterflies to your stomach. Fear comes in all sizes — big, little, debilitating or barely noticeable to others. Some fears we never overcome, but others are within our grasp of conquering. Either way, you must call on your courage.
Courage: the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
What are your fears? They might not be phobias that society has named, but they lock you in where you are just the same. Sometimes, we’ll conquer those fears, sometimes we find ways to survive them. Fears may or may not seem rational, but they are still very real to the person experiencing them.
I suddenly developed a fear associated with where I sit on a plane a few years ago, and thanks to an incredibly kind employee, I am able to work around my fear and keep flying. A friend asked a young man who had never skied why he was willing to ski hard slopes when he was still so unsure of himself. His response: “If you aren’t a little bit scared, you aren’t growing.”
Maybe today is the day you decide to live through the fear and grow.
Your willingness to face fear is the win. Facing our fear takes courage and, as Emerson said, is not for the timid adventurers. Facing the fear does not mean overcoming the fear, but if you find that the fear is much like a fake beard, you might also be surprised that when you disarm your fears they come off in your hand.
In the song “Courage” by The Strange Familiar, I love the words:
“Courage is when you’re afraid
But you keep on moving anyway
Courage is when you’re in pain
But you keep on living anyway”
Get out of bed, face your darkness, and know that even if the fear doesn’t go away, you win because you had the courage to keep moving and living anyway.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.