Ah, yes. The shallow pounding of the heart, the sweaty palms, the sudden inability to focus on the task at hand. The overwhelming feeling that everything might be lost, at any moment now.
Fear. A sadly familiar friend of mine. My worst enemy, turning me from a confident woman to a cowering child unable to make her own decisions.
For me, fear of risks has framed some of my more unfortunate life and career choices. Spontaneity and risk-taking isn’t my forte, unlike many of you jet-setting international development professionals and human rights activists who fly to conflict zones to report on ongoing wars and genocides. I want to be that person, but I worry I’m not, and never can be. I want to be the woman who flies fearless into the unknown, nevertheless, armed with a sense of casual self-confidence and a deep inner conviction that everything will be just fine.
But no, not me. Instead, I am a chronic worrier. As I try to sleep, my worst fears force me awake. I ponder the choices available to me, rapidly glossing over the pros and fixating on the cons. And at the last minute, my fears overpower me, preventing me from making – perhaps – the right decision. I am paralyzed, like my favorite protagonist, Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, a patient etherized upon a table. Like Prufrock, I have “time yet for a hundred indecisions / And for a hundred visions and revisions.”
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— [...]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
I am a wishful dreamer and endless optimist stuck inside a pessimist’s mind. The glass half-empty is my cage. My fears enslave me, forcing me to measure my life in coffee spoons.
A loved one recently told me “Don’t make your decisions based on fear. Make your decision based on the positives. Ask the question: what can I give back? Instead of, what is the less scary choice? What would you do if you were not afraid? Go out and do that.“
But it is far easier said than done, isn’t it, to take fear out of the equation? I’d allow myself to dream of going to Afghanistan for the summer, but then come crashing back to earth when I see 2 American Troops Killed in Shooting on Military Base and UN Staff Withdraws from Kunduz Province and UN Compound Set Alight. It is easier said than done, to remember only the peaceful and lovely moments I witnessed there – speaking with young girls about their dreams of being a doctor, laughing about Hindi film stars and the latest Bollywood movies, enjoying a mango drink and chips at Bagh-e-Babur, seeing a spectacular view of the Hindu Kush, buying trinkets and a rug in Chicken Street – while disregarding the chaos and fear that is prevalent in the U.S. news channels today. My experience there was full of learning and beauty, but how can I ignore what might be an alternate reality I could descend into come summer?
In a conflict zone, everything is quiet and peaceful. Until, of course, chaos strikes.
The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. Do not succumb to your fears, nor give in to your idealistic naivete. To live and grow and succeed in this world, we must be realists. Ignoring the obvious dangers is a recipe for disaster, and letting your fear govern you destroys any hope of a rational decision. It is back to the drawing board for me, back to the pro-con lists. Balancing the risks with what can I learn? What are my values? What do I seek? And most of all, What can I give back? It becomes a balancing game, but at the end, we must follow our “gut.” There is no other way.
But most of all, the comfort came in the realization that I am not alone in this. Though the jet-setting men and women I admire deeply seem nonchalantly pulled together, perfectly composed, and utterly fearless, many conversations have taught me that fear is human. Some of those who seem the most confident are surprisingly terrified inside. It is within everyone, yet rarely discussed. Perhaps we do not want to show our vulnerabilities, but our courageous sides. Our actions, but not the internal thought processes that lead us there. Yet, the truth I have realized again and again is, courage is not the absence of fear, but is taking action and making moves and pushing through the fear. Despite the fear. Perhaps even because of the fear.
And so, I am not alone is the mantra echoing in the back of my mind. Maybe, just maybe, I can do this. And if not, I know it is my own: my own decision. My own choice. My own instincts.
My own moment of growth.