I don't suffer from any debilitating fears or anxieties, and am very lucky to have an awesome support network of friends and family. Many of our fears happen beneath the surface though. We see the performer, not the petrified person throwing up backstage. For many, the idea of public speaking is mortifying. For others, any group of people leaves them feeling overwhelmed, and even just a brief self introduction will induce panic. Ironically, these same people may actually love communicating. They may be able to speak to Royalty, Noble Prize winners, Popes and Chief Executives without breaking stride. Something else is going on.
A lot of what we do isn't calm, calculated and rational. I think that is a good thing. A lot of the best bits of life lie in the emotional side of things. The story. The fears. The release afterwards. The beauty is in the battle. It is still interesting to look at afterwards. The story behind the story. The inner story.
Late last year I went on a climb up Table Mountain on a particularly scary route. Although I did it, I carried the fear monkeys up on my back. In Vancouver, I walked along the Lion's Gate Bridge and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Both were clearly very safe, and the views were absolutely spectacular. Again, I did it. But. But. Back on safe ground, my heart rate definitely came down.
Capilano Suspension Bridge - Hold On!
Lions Gate Bridge
Capilano Tree Walk
The fear doesn't come from what will happen, or even the lack of knowledge that I will cope. I will be fine. I know that. There is still a what if that sits with me. That will always sit with me. Poking me in the ribs. Refusing to allow my breath to do its thing. This morning, a friend and I went on a hike up to an old train bridge crossing in Victoria (British Columbia). Even though each step was on very solid wood with gaps of only about 8cm (way to thin to fall through), everyone was incredibly nervously walking along. Most would venture about a third of the way across, if at all, and then come back. I forced myself to walk across the whole thing.
When you got to the edges, the steps were the same distance apart, but in between there was solid earth. Suddenly the speed of walking increased and the breathing calmed. There is something very powerful about knowing that you will be fine if things go wrong. Even if you really don't think they will go wrong. Even if you know that the support is probably, intellectually, fine.
Track Easy, Track Hard
Emotional support is huge. I am lucky. I have that. I have a deep network of friends, family and people I care about who will pick me up if I stumble. That lets me walk faster. That lets me breathe deeper.
Our support network is not visible. But is as real. Our mental responses. Our emotional responses. That is why when someone is struggling, it may not make sense to us. That is why there are easy problems and hard problems. Easy problems are solved by the wooden slats that make the railway tracks. Hard problems take the deep networks that come with time, trust, belief, relationships, communities and the stories that we tell ourselves.