What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
What dreams are lurking under the surface of your life? What questions are still to be lived? What gifts to be shared?
Part of you wants to find out.
But another part lives cautious and careful.
You have a lot to lose, after all. You ask yourself, isn’t it better to play it safe and comfortable?
Except it isn’t comfortable. Not completely. Not with the questions that surface when you are alone with yourself.
But what if you’ve had it all wrong?
What if facing those impossible fears is the gateway to finally feeling safe?
You’re More Powerful Than You Think You Are
There’s more to you than other people realize.
More to you than you even know yourself.
The thing is, you’re never going to fully believe that until you live it. And living it requires doing things you never thought you could do.
I remember the day this one really hit me.
I was staring into the round glassy eyes of a dead rat. A rat that I had killed myself.
We live on two acres of fruit trees and gardens, bounded by a canal and a pond. Rat heaven, the exterminator (who I didn’t end up hiring) explained to me. It’s inevitable that rodents are going to be drawn to a property like that, and that they will occasionally try to make it into the house.
The thing is, my husband always took care of problems like invading rodents.
At least until he died.
How I Stumbled Upon My Own Power
Don liked to protect me.
When he told his grandmother we had decided to get married, she shook her head and said, ‘Mijo, you can’t take a girl like that into the fields.”
I laughed. I knew, of course, that Don had grown up in poverty. That his family had worked seasonal jobs in agriculture to have enough to eat. That they had sacrificed in ways my middle-class background hadn’t prepared me to understand.
But I also knew that there was more to me than Grandma realized. And although we weren’t planning a future of migrant labor, I could work hard too.
Don heard her differently. He realized that he understood a side of life that I didn’t. And although I did work hard over the years, he committed to protect me from the harshest aspects of life.
So it was that after more than a decade of rural living, I had never been the one to pin back the heavy bar on a wooden rat trap, maneuvering carefully to avoid breaking a finger.
Or the one to come face-to-face with the resulting body.
Even when Don was so weak from late-stage cancer and chemotherapy that he couldn’t stand up straight, he did all of the physically demanding labor. After a lifetime of being the one to dig up irrigation pipes, put up fences, and repair the house and cars, he took stubborn pride in continuing to do the hardest jobs.
And that’s why me killing that rat mattered so much.
Why Doing Hard Things Matters
It mattered that when I woke up one day to rodent droppings in my kitchen and bite marks in the fruit my children eat for breakfast, I stepped up to handle the problem.
It mattered that the furry little animal I killed made me think of the pet rat I hadn’t let Don buy the kids at the pet store.
It mattered that this was the first death I had experienced since Don died. That it reminded me of the month I spent at his hospital bedside. That its broken body gave me flashbacks to Don’s beloved form, emaciated yet misshapen from the cancer that took him, and of what it felt like to tenderly caress it after he was gone.
It mattered because in spite all that impossible pain, I did it.
I did it, and I was okay.
The Reality Behind Your Fears Isn’t as Bad as You Think
Most of what you’re afraid of isn’t nearly as bad as you make it out to be. You worry about imagined outcomes that haven’t come to pass. You mentally play out a thousand possible scenarios of things that could go wrong but probably won’t.
By the end of all that worrying, you can feel like you’ve lived through war, trauma, and loss.
Except what you went through was probably worse.
That’s because when you worry, there’s never a moment of resolution. You don’t come to the feeling of peace and accomplishment that you get from facing real-life fears. You just keep the worse part of the experience on a loop of constant repeat.
The truth is, I’m still walking, despite pain that takes my breath away, and moments every day when I shout No! to the universe.
In the space of a few months since Don’s death I’ve dealt with rats, hornets, leaking pipes, flat tires, car trouble, and a broken irrigation pump that he would normally have handled. I have a long list of things that still need to be fixed in the house and on the property. My finances are in flux. My kids are struggling to make it to school under the weight of grief they are carrying.
And yet, I’m okay.
The Things That Can Never Be Taken Away from You
What are you afraid of?
What if you were to come face-to-face with it right now?
Would be it awful?
But awful in real life isn’t a final destination. It’s one step in the process.
Even when you’re talking about death.
The months between Don’s cancer diagnosis and his death were harder than the months since losing him. As unspeakably difficult as it is to miss him every day, it was worse to worry about missing him. And in between the bouts of fear and sadness that come regularly, there are moments of delicious empowerment.
(Is it okay to use the word delicious in a story about rats?)
Watching me, one of my friends observed that it was time for me to be confident, because, “When you have already lost everything, there is nothing left to lose.”
But the truth is more complicated than that.
I haven’t lost everything.
(Although I’ll admit it felt that way).
I haven’t lost everything because I still have creativity, and determination, and inner strength beyond what I even knew was there.
When I looked at that dead rat, I thought about how it was ironic that the one thing Don couldn’t protect me from was his own death.
And maybe he didn’t need to.
Claiming Your Power
So what does all this have to do with you? Maybe you’ve never lost a beloved life partner to cancer. Maybe you don’t mind killing rats.
(Really?? You don’t?)
The point is, you don’t have to have those experiences.
You don’t even have to experience your own worse fears (although I’m betting it would be transformative if you actually did).
You can choose to live with courage and conviction right now.
You are more powerful than you think you are.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Do it anyway.