An Exercise in Absurdity: Tackling my Fears

By Laura Braden

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately.

How it protects you in some situations…and holds you back from realizing your full potential with others. How it can literally make your stomach hurt…and then seem ridiculous once you’ve faced it.

Back story: After a three-year relationship ended…followed by two years of on again/off again drama…followed by finally pulling the ripcord earlier this year, I’ve been on this self-induced journey to grow, determine what I really want out of life and stop caring about what people think of me (inspiration here). And you can’t do any of that without facing your fears and asking some pretty heavy questions.

And while the process has yielded some ridiculously euphoric moments, I’ve been shocked to realize just how much of a work in progress I am. When you allow yourself to be single for longer than five minutes and achieve some semblance of work-life balance (for the first time ever), you suddenly have all the time in the world to contemplate old wounds and struggles that you never fully appreciated at the time of impact. Yes, I’m fiercely independent, loving, confident and adventurous, but I’m also afraid of being judged, afraid to really trust people, afraid of regretting my turn left when I should have turned right, etc. It’s utterly exhausting – not to mention completely unproductive and vain.

Then I stumbled across a TED video from Kathryn Schulz that redefined how I view fear, regret and mistakes:

And that’s how I got inspired to develop my “fear bucket” list: seven fears that aren’t doing me any good and have no place in my life…and that should be relatively “easy” to conquer.

Because what would happen if they didn’t exist? What if I met them head-on? Would I receive divine inspiration to do something that I couldn’t previously conceive of? Would it become easier to tackle the “bigger” fears? Would it make me a happier person? Does the act of facing a fear erase it? Or is it a zero sum game that no one really cares to read about?

So, let’s find out! I’m giving myself until the end of the fall to do everything on this list. It’s far from comprehensive, some are silly, some are sad – but all are fears that I think I can eliminate from my life for good:

1. Skydiving 

I have this ridiculous, overwhelming fear of falling (or being pushed?) out of something tall that will inevitably cause me to plummet to my death. I don’t rappel off cliffs, I don’t dive off rocks and I avoid looking out the window as I’m flying over the ocean. Just watch this if you don’t fully understand where I’m coming from.

What in the world goes through your mind during that fall? We’ll soon find out because I can think of no better way to overcome this fear by literally being pushed (because it’s probably going to come that – I won’t go willingly) out of a perfectly good airplane. A quick google search directed me to Sacramento SkyDiving…Innsbruck it’s not, but it should do the trick. If anyone knows of anything better in NorCal, let me know.

2. Guns

Ok, this one is a little too real, but here we go…Back in high school, one of my best friends was killed in an accidental shooting that left me utterly broken. I’ve never forgiven my other friend who was on the more fortunate end of the gun, nor have I forgiven the mechanism that shattered more lives (directly and indirectly) in an instant than I would ever wish on my worst enemy. The very sight of a gun makes me catatonic, as if I believe it’s only job is to discharge spontaneously. Years later, I had an ex who helped me try to get over this fear by taking me to a shooting range. Result? I got woozy and light-headed the second the gun hit my hands.

Carpe diem – it’s time to try again. And this time I want to learn the full gamut of “respect” for guns – from handling to cleaning to….well, firing the stupid thing. Also lumped in this category is sitting down with the friend that I haven’t spoken with since the incident (because I was terrified of my reaction to facing him). This November marks the 15 year anniversary of my friend’s death, and I believe it’s time to make amends. I need to face him – not to open old wounds – but to hear his side of the story and apologize for having zero empathy for his situation. Embarrassingly enough, it was a crappy Nicole Kidman movie that served as inspiration.

3. Snakes 

No clue where this fear comes from. All I know is that it is entirely too cliche for a women in 2012 to be afraid of snakes. Stay tuned for the picture of me at some TBD zoo with a giant, gross, slithering thing wrapped around my shoulders – ala Britney Spears.

4. Karaoke 

You don’t have to be shy or introverted to be terrified of public speaking…Or maybe we’re all shy and introverted, it’s just that some of us are better at hiding it. Either way, from comedians to singers, there’s something so genius about standing on a stage and putting yourself out there – vulnerable, honest and raw – and fully connecting with an audience. I’m capable of reacting to that situation…but creating that situation is something I will never be able to do. Ever. The best I’m hoping for is a polite round of applause after I belt out “Call Me, Maybe” because even just typing while thinking about singing on stage makes my stomach hurt, hands clammy and mouth dry.

5. Nudist Camp 

Show of hands from those who can actually walk amongst strangers naked? And I’ve seen the 20/20 segments – this lifestyle is all about returning to nature, being comfortable with who you really are, shedding conformity, etc. But at the end of the day, that still requires you to get NAKED in front of a group of strangers, which is pretty freaking scary.

Maybe it’s because I’m southern or because I don’t have sisters, but I can still undress and redress in any situation/location without showing so much of an elbow (a talent acquired in the middle school gym locker room). I don’t even particularly consider myself that modest … in fact, I consider myself a realist. Realistic in the sense that how can there be naked people everywhere and you’re not judging, comparing, analyzing? And why would you willingly submit yourself to that torture? So that’s why this funtivity made the list … But rest assured, even if I walk away with a new found appreciation for this lifestyle – there will be NO evidence. Y’all are just going to have to believe me when I say that it’s been checked off the list.

6. Rejection 

Knock on (A LOT of) wood, but I’ve never really been dumped. Sure, things haven’t always ended on my terms/timeline or I’ve been let down or cheated on…but I’ve never really suffered out-of-the-blue rejection (exhibit A: Carrie Bradshaw and the infamous Post It (scroll to 1:06)).

This is partly because I’m so paranoid (or intuitive, as I prefer to call it) that I walk away at the first whiff of trouble, but this is also partly due to the fact that I’ve been lucky to date really fun guys that started out as friends, turned into boyfriends where the relationship ran it’s natural course, and we were able to stay friends. But I’ve never walked up to a guy at a bar and asked them out, never been on a blind date, and never suffered through an awkward first date.

As a 31-year-old, I used to just consider that lucky, but now I’m starting to think that I’ve missed out on some fundamental part of relationships…or worse yet, subconsciously avoided those situations out of fear of rejection. So how am I going to conquer this one? Speed dating.

That’s right, I’m going to get all gussied up, head down to some cheesy chain restaurant and subject myself to awkward interactions with a dozen strangers. Do I think I’ll meet someone that I actually want to see again (and thus expose myself to the possibility of him rejecting me?). Absolutely not – but the attendees actually score each other and indicate who they’d like to see again. So based on my “report card,” I’m hoping to get my fill of rejection and meet this fear head-on.

7. Admitting Any of This in a Public Forum

This one needs no explanation – and is the first item I can cross off my bucket list. 🙂

So stay tuned – I’ll report back (to varying degrees of detail!) what happened and how (if) it changed me. This should be interesting … what’s the worst that could happen?

If anyone has any of these same fears and wants to join, or if you’ve done something similar and have a strong opinion on the process/outcome, let us know by leaving a comment or email girlsonthegrid AT!

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  1. Chantel Elder says

    Find your favorite quote or make one up to repeat to yourself as you tackle each one! The one I try to live by is “Jump and the net will open”. Seems appropriate for some of these.

    I often start with baby step to achieve a goal. Instead of jumping out of a plane work up to it. Start with zip-lining or something…I think it will give you a chance to learn to appreciate or even enjoy something you previously feared. I say start with looking out the window on the next plane ride.

    Also start with skinny dipping on the nudist camp goal, and go at night…and then the day and then check out a beach – I have a recommendation if you want one that has lots of rocks and trees. ( Am I revealing to much about myself?!)

    I truly think that if you give yourself permission to actually enjoy the journey to conquering these fears you will have one hell of a ride.

    You got this lady! And let me know if you need a friend!

  2. Gin says

    So many of these fears spoke to me, Laura, as we are very similar. But, #6 struck a very familiar chord. I used to be very afraid of rejection and failure as well. When I would meet someone new, I would build up whatever it was that I felt for them into something much bigger than it actually was, whether it was just a new friendship or it was a new, romantic relationship. I was very unrealistic. Which in return made me feel constantly let down. I’ve learned that the less expectation I put on a person or an experience, the less fear of rejection I have as a result. In realizing this, I forced myself to stop putting these expectations, what I now call ‘restrictions’, on my life. The more open I became to any outcome, in every situation, the less rejection was even a possibility. When I realized this, I was free. I’ve never been happier or more stress free.

    Anyways, I appreciate your honesty and openness. I wish more people would take more responsibility for their own happiness, like you.

    Good luck with everything!!

  3. Amelia McLear says

    Wow, fears #1 and #2 I totally get. I am deathly afraid of heights and we went skydiving a few years ago for Aaron’s birthday. Awful – I hyperventalated and scratched the arms of my instructor on the way down until they bled. Guns – I think it’s the loud noise and all the movies and TV shows that make them scary, but the first time I went to a shooting range and shot one, I started crying and I didn’t know why! You have to face your fears head on – that’s the only way to get through them. Good for you for facing them! You’ll be such a stronger person for having done so.

  4. Marlissa Hernandez says

    Such a fantastically honest story!!! I love it!!! Good luck!

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