“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. – Nelson Mandela
It has always fascinated me how ones perception of another very rarely aligns with who that person actually is. Even after having known someone for quite some time, can we say we really know them? Do we ever truly know ourselves? How many times have you acted “out of character” or discovered abilities you never knew you had? I believe that relationships are not about knowing another but rather committing to a journey of learning and accepting the other as they emerge in front of you and where possible being the catalyst that creates the environment for yourself and others to grow. Likewise, your relationship with yourself is an ever evolving process of experimentation and discovery. Each day is an opportunity to push your boundaries a little more and expand your comfort zone. You see a comfort zone is not a static place.Your comfort zone is dynamic, and is meant to be stretched and expanded. The more time you spend outside of it, the bigger it grows.
So here’s my dirty little secret…. I’m a giant Wuss! There! I said it! The secret is out. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people but fear plays quite a significant role in my life. I have never considered myself to be a brave person. My relationship with risk has always been an extremely calculated one. Growing up I was never the first one in line to ride a roller coaster and often would be the only kid not to participate in an activity due to crippling fear. When faced with even the slightest danger I would play out every scenario in my head until I was so sure that it was going to end with my death that nothing would convince me otherwise. Of all the fears though, heights was by far my most acute. There was a time when my acrophobia was so bad that I couldn’t even walk across the Victoria Falls bridge. In fact I remember a particular time when I was about 12 years old at a birthday party in Matopos National Park when I was frozen with fear clutching a boulder only about 3m off the ground unable to move. The birthday group had decided to climb to the top of one of the kopjes and half way up this boulder presented itself that needed to be scaled in order to reach the summit. Half way up the boulder I realised where I was and fear won. Rosie, a very influential maternal figure in my life, spent ages talking me down and eventually managed to pry me from the rock face. The whole time I was frozen with my white knuckle grip on the rock other kids were casually climbing up and down past me like it was nothing. It was spectacularly embarrassing. It was that night that my young brain had an epiphany. I realised that fear is not real. It’s not tangible. It cannot be measured or seen and has no basis in the physical world. Fear must be a lie.
Ok, before I get ahead of myself and you all start losing your minds due to my over simplification of the concept of fear, just hear me out. Fear as an emotion has evolved in the human brain as a method self preservation. For this it is very useful and can keep us from harm. But like all emotions, when left to run riot, can be detrimental. When you allow fear to take charge you surrender yourself to a passive role in the relationship with fear. But when you recognise and rationalise that fear you get to take a proactive role and utilise that fear to achieve you desired goal. Recognising that fear is not the enemy and that it is a tool you can harness is the first step to overcoming that fear and eventually realising that what you fear is being afraid. The discomfort experienced when you are afraid can either cripple you or galvanise you into action. But this is completely our choice. Naturally at the tender young age of 12 I didn’t fully grasp the extent of my epiphany and it would only be years later that I would really start to face my fears head on, but that day on the rock was the start of my journey. I didn’t realise it at the time but the journey had already started when I was 9 years old, when my fascination with reptiles started. An obsession that also started with fear. Looking back on my life so far, it’s pretty obvious to me now that nearly all my achievements and interests have stemmed from this obsession with fear. Fear turned to fascination which turned to obsession. As cliché as it sounds knowledge is power ! Fear is often based in a serious lack of understanding and in the majority of situations a little bit of knowledge and understanding can go a long way to conquering fear and this has always been my first step to overcoming my own personal phobias. When I am afraid of something I try to learn as much about it as I can. In the words of Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
A couple of years ago one of my Wingsuit Pilot friends shared a YouTube video by Chris “Douggs” McDougall. This video changed my perspective on both safety and fear quite drastically. In the video Chris is giving a speech to a bunch of BASE jumpers and Sky divers on safety and how to grow in an inherently dangerous sport. In his speech he recommends always pushing yourself to 75% of your ability. That way you have 25% left in case something goes wrong. Those that push to 100% have nothing left in the tank for when things don’t go according to plan. I loved this concept and thought I would apply it to my battle with fear. Instead of hurtling head first at my fears I decided to give them anything up to 75%. You see at 75 percent you still grow. Your 75% increases exponentially every time you achieve it but so does the 25% reserve. It’s possible to grow without being completely at the edge of your ability. This small detail changed the way I handle and evaluate dangerous situations and completely changed the way I manage fear. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and sometimes a head on 100 percent approach is the answer but as a general rule Chris’s words ring true.
In closing, I would just like to remind everyone that your journey is your own. Everyone has their own fears and challenges. We all have our own personal “Everest” to climb. Often we get disheartened by comparing ourselves with the perceived “achievements” or “bravery” of those around us. This can make our own achievements seem insignificant. But let me ask you this…… Who has achieved more? The one who achieves seemingly amazing feats without a shred of fear or doubt? Or is it the one who overcomes insurmountable challenges and extreme fear to overcome their own demons and reach their goals? Also remember to do it for you, nobody else, and when you accomplish what you have set for yourself CELEBRATE! And if you fail………….. CELEBRATE and Try again!
If you enjoyed this Instalment then I am sure you will love the stories to come. If you would like to stay up to date with my short stories please like my page and join the facebook group “The Chronicles of Suntwe“. And please please feel free to share with your friends or anyone that you think might get some enjoyment from my work. Below is a highlight reel of some of the stories to come………..