What to do with that one pesky, infuriating fear…

On the way to Asheville“I hate driving with all those trucks,” she said, rather sheepishly.

“I can do it! But I hate it, so I avoid it as much as I can.” We were talking about a trip she wanted to take, but the interstate between here and there was a real challenge for her.

To get from East Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina, we have to drive a section of I-40 called the “Million Dollar Mile”. It’s called that because it cost at “least a million” to build each mile of interstate right through the heart of the ancient Appalachian mountain range.

It’s heavily used by huge semi trucks delivering goods each way, and most of them are forced to a crawl on the steep, curvy route.

Now, me? I love roads like that. Growing up in the mountains means a curvy road at high speed is one of my favorite forms of entertainment!

But if you’re used to flat land and open spaces, traveling at 70+ mph while passing a line of semi’s around a sharp curve as you crest the hill can be a daunting experience for anyone.

The concrete walls edging the lanes don’t help much, either.
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How to keep going when you really want to quit.

Backpacker - Mat Honan

I thought this was supposed to be fun.  

It was, after all, a celebration.

I’d finished grad school (finally), and friends and I were celebrating with a backpacking trip through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We’d decided to tackle a stretch of 72 miles on the AT, a world class trail running 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia, following the ridge line north to south, through one of the most beautiful places on earth.

That section of the Appalachian Trail is also considered among the steepest. So perhaps I should have known that my first day, carrying a fully loaded pack weighing in at forty pounds, was going to be a little rough.

Before we could hike the AT, we had to get to it, starting with a steep climb up the aptly named Snake Den Trail to reach the ridge. And those first few miles were straight up.

Unrelenting.
Brutal.
For what seemed like forever.

My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. My initial joy quickly turned to worry as I thought about the days ahead. “Am I going to be able to do this?”

Self doubt roared in my ears, competing with a pounding heartbeat and labored breathing for my attention.

I’m a slow hiker on my best days. That day, I was so far behind, my friends thought I’d turned around and gone back to the car!

I thought I wasn’t going to make it at all.
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Good stuff happens on the other side of terrified.

Speedometer - Nathan E Photography

Your heart pounds.

Your breathing picks up. You get this tingling sensation at the base of your neck. You may have a knot in your stomach, and the palm of your hands are a little damp.

You may even fight back a few tears.

Ugh. What IS this? What in the world is wrong with you?

Could be that you’re scared.
Could be that you’re excited.

If you’re in the middle of a growth spurt, could be that you’re both.

When I challenge my clients to grow in a way that I know is good for them, it gets really uncomfortable sometimes. They’ll smile at me and nod, agreeing completely that we’re on the right path. Yes, this is something they really want to do, have wanted to do, like, for-EVER.

Yes, they’re ready.
Yes, by golly, it’s time.

They sit still for a second, wrapping their heads around this Big Step. Then there’s this sudden inhale as they put their hands on their stomach and get that OMG! look on their face.

That’s when I tell them to pay attention to the feelings coming up through their body.  What they’re about to do feels really big, so they may experience it as fear. Sometimes, the fear is so strong it’s overwhelming. (That’s when the tears come!)

But wait a sec.  Our physical reactions to fear, and excitement, are almost the same.

Our heart races at something scary, like peeking over the edge of a cliff, or stepping on the stage to give a talk.

AND our heart races at something exciting, like driving a little too fast on a fun, curvy road, or launching our first program on something we love.

A few years ago I felt this, too, in a deeply powerful and personal way.  
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