Fear is a funny thing. Different people are afraid of different things, and what terrifies one person is no big deal for another. When The Fear grips hold of you, even if you know deep down that it’s irrational, it can almost literally paralyse you. I usually experience that acute, physical type of fear when I attempt any kind of sporting feat: being inherently wussy and non-athletic, I am terrified in situations where I am not fully in control. Hurtling down a narrow country lane at 40mph with my feet clipped into my road bike pedals, for instance. Or (don’t judge me), attempting to ice skate around a tiny little artificial rink in the town centre with small children whizzing around me. The latter to the delight and, inevitably, ridicule of my friends. Involuntarily in these scenarios, my muscles jam and lock, thereby sabotaging any chance of success I may have had, which in turn reinforces and vindicates The Fear: ‘See? I AM rubbish at this!’
The oddest thing about fear is that it is so irrational. Whilst grabbing for the edge of the tiny ice rink to steady myself, I knew perfectly well that the chance I would have to be airlifted to hospital with some life-threatening injury inflicted by a six-year-old crashing into me with one of those plastic penguins was relatively minor. And yet, I couldn’t just relax and allow my muscles to find a natural rhythm and balance which I’m sure was there somewhere (I am Dutch, after all). I just gave into the fear, and gave up.
Not all fear has such an immediate, physical impact: some fear is more of a slow burner. It can be there in the background, somewhat nondescript but no less destructive. The fear that kept me in a job I didn’t really enjoy for 10 long years was one of those. It was a mixture of fear of the unknown and fear of failure, combined with a deep-seated conviction that somehow I would be incapable of doing anything else. It’s probably no surprise that the fear started to dissipate at around the same time that I started to feel more confident and generally comfortable in my own skin: I was settling into a new life in Brighton and began to realise that a. there is more to life than work, and b. there are many more ways to go about making a living than sitting in an office all day. Most of all, I discovered something called ‘fun’. And it’s easier to dismiss fear when you are having fun.
I would of course be lying if I said I never experience moments where I go, in the words of The Wire’s Senator Clay Davis, ‘Sheeeeeeeeeeeeit’. In fact, the Clay Davis moments are getting more frequent as my leaving date approaches and I remind myself that yes, I am actually going to wake up one morning with no job to go to and no monthly salary coming in. What if I haven’t got anything lined up? What if my money runs out too quickly? What if nobody wants to work with me? What if I never earn decent money again? What if I get ill? What if I end up stacking shelves in Poundland? One part of me, a not insignificant part, is terrified. But actually, if I sit myself down and ask myself sternly, ‘Now then Ms Rupert, what is the worst that can happen?’, I have to concede that really, the risks are not as great as I think they might be. I’ve saved up enough money to see me through a few months; I’m not in debt; my CV is decent enough for me to find some sort of employment. And even if I do end up stacking shelves in Poundland, so what? There is nothing wrong with that.
Generally, there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to feel The Fear every now and again, to challenge your own preconceptions of life and how to live it. So whilst I am standing up to Fear, I am also embracing it. Who knows, you might even find me putting on a pair of ice skates someday…