“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
– George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
People will tell you to be courageous. Look fear in the eyes. And no matter what, don’t be afraid.
It is okay to be afraid.
It might be new. It might be something you’ve done over and over and failed. It might be something with overwhelming pressure to succeed. No matter the circumstance, it is never wrong to be scared.
Fear will be there.
See the fear.
Feel the fear.
But then do it anyway.
I grew up in a gymnastics family. I started young (I was a bouncy kid), and we have videos of my baby sister toddling around the gym with a tiny velvet leotard covering her diapered rear. We came of age in the world of competitive gymnastics, which is, unless you’ve been under a rock for two years, come under pressure-cooking scrutiny. Casey and I, though, we were very lucky to have never had those types of encounters. Our coaches were hard on us; harder, probably, than what would be permitted two decades later. We got sharpened pencils taped to the insides of our elbows if our arms bent. If one girl got the willies and refused to throw a beam series, we all had to sit in the floor and wait for her to do it, no one allowed to go home, staring at the one keeping us. One time, our coach ordered the waiting girls pizza because it got too late. Beam is an event of the mind, and I imagine (thank God it was never me up there) that it can’t be easy to overcome your mind when twelve of your teammates are staring at you, waiting for whatever handspring-layout you can muster that isn’t dumped to the left side, with the sweet smell of Pizza Hut pepperonis wafting through the stale, chalky air.
When we crashed in gymnastics, we had a pretty basic, general rule: unless you were seriously injured (like, bone-sticking-through-your-skin kind of hurt), you got ten minutes to compose yourself. Run to the bathroom, cry, drink some water,
take a shot (lol jk but Lord, thinking about it now, I wish), worry, whatever you need to do. In ten minutes, though, come Hell or high water, you’re up to get back out and do it again. It seemed cruel at the time; you just landed on your neck/split the beam/peeled off on bars, and you were expected to shake it off and go back in, forgetting everything that happened, hoping that all your training would lead to a better outcome than the last time. At the time, at eight, ten, fifteen years old, I couldn’t figure out why that sort of sadistic torture existed.
I know now, though. God, do I know now.
And every time I come to one of those moments, the stern face of Coach Jeanne (or her husband Jeff, who coached floor and vault, my power events, but was always preoccupied with loudly singing the Pirates of Penzance soundtrack) flares up in the back of my mind, and it hits me why I always had to get up and go again, in spite of the fall.
Our coaches refused to let the fear of crashing keep us from doing something they knew we could do.
And in spite of all the shittery, something that small made a lasting impact.
Fear is good; in fact, fear is healthy.
And you know, deep in your heart, when your fears are well-placed and when your fears are your chicken-shit insecurities. You know the difference, even if you’re too afraid to admit them. The former is good. It means you’re smart.
But when you are scared of failure, of something you’ve been yearning to do and have convinced yourself over and over that you simply can’t, without ever venturing to try? That’s a whole ‘nother thing.
Like I said, be afraid. Fear makes you more aware of details.
Just never let it stop you from doing what you were meant to do.
Feel the fear. Embrace the fear. Respect the fear.
Then do it anyway.