“Have you ever been afraid?” asked an incredibly articulate 7th grader from the Timilty Middle School in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. The question came via a letter about a month ago as part of a pen pal program that I participate in between the school and Simmons College, my undergrad alma mater. He went on to share that his fears were rooted in the violence that plagues his neighborhood. How could he walk home alone? Not long ago a classmate at the Timilty, an honor student, was gunned down on the basketball court. Fear?
This young man is incredible. He told me about how scary it was to walk home alone because where he lives, ‘there are a lot of gangs and shootings.’ The weight and simplicity of his ‘fear’ really hung with me.
Have you ever considered what role fear plays for you?
Let’s start with the fact that I – along with many of Novofemina’s readers – am incredibly fortunate in that I live in a place where I don’t constantly have to fear for my safety or that of my family. For my pen pal fear is explicit. Omnipresent. Palpable.
My experience with fear is more silent. Invisible, perhaps.
I think if I’m honest fear for me manifests itself in thoughts that cause me not to dignify ideas or aspirations. I recall over the years not reaching for jobs that caught my eye. “I couldn’t do that…” became the unspoken refrain. Over the years I diverted away from many paths that seemed more grandiose than I could or should pursue. Was it fear all along?
Having said all that I’ve heard many people describe me as ‘fearless.’ My hunch is that this really means that my risk tolerance is super high. Not that I am without fear.
Fear, or being afraid, comes up explicitly in my household in conversations with my nine-year old son. He will occasionally say, “I’m a little nervous,” on his way out the door. Or, “I have butterflies.” My response is typically, “It is ok to be a little afraid but we can’t let that stop us.”
I wrote my pen pal earlier this week. I told him that I was proud and incredibly impressed with how he handled his fears. He summoned up the courage to get through the gangs and the risk. He walks home alone now. Unchecked.
I also shared with him some powerful math…
74: The number of revisions required to finally get my book proposal into ‘ready’ shape.
6: The number of rejections that occurred before I had a decent conversation with a publishing industry executive who was willing to take a risk on my dream.
1: The contract I just executed with fancy publisher, a simple step that allows me to pursue my passion a little farther.
I shared with my pen pal how devastating each rejection was. How I almost stopped. How his courage – particularly over the last few weeks – inspired me. How my real fears now have changed. They’ve reconstituted themselves on one simple question: ‘how do I write a book?’
“Your face lights up when you talk about it,” said a friend yesterday. I’d just told her about my victory. Three years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that this would be a course I’d pursue. Having said that…..in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to write a book. I just never dignified that interest nor had a topic rich enough to warrant the effort.
I hope that my efforts and my failures along the way encourage you to continue to reach for all that might be for you. I cannot remove the fears – they will be a constant. They’ll manifest themselves in explicit and inexplicit ways. I can however offer you courage – as my young brave friend did for me.
Thank you for the enormous gifts you continue to give me. Your patience, comments, feedback and interest have encouraged me to keep exploring. Untethered. Unencumbered. Unafraid.
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