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Fear and Courage

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all."

Yep, I totally ripped that from the Princess Diaries (the first).

I've been doing a lot of things lately that scare me. Not on a rational level, as in "fear of getting hit by a bus when you're laying in the street," but on an irrational level of "what if they don't like me?" The truth is, I lived this way the majority of my life.

When I was a child, as I've spoke of before, I was afraid of doing or saying anything that went against my father. I tried to tread lightly because, try as I might, there were no set rules as to what would set him off. I can clearly remember one occasion, sitting on the floor of the finished basement, my father in the chair behind me. We were watching a movie or some television show, all of us, as a family. For some reason or another, my father was upset. At one point, I sighed. It was an exhausting life as a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 to 16-year-old child, not knowing what each day would bring, not knowing what mood he would be in, wanting desperately to please him but always failing. I sighed. I thought I was quiet, but I realized I had done it too loudly when I got both a smack and a tongue-lashing from my father for being insubordinate and disrespectful. I was to HONOR my father and mother, he told me. I didn't know how my breathing could be a dishonor, especially as innocent as I thought it was, but it was moments like those that left me in (often mortal) fear.

As I grew into an adult, his all-knowing adult words of, "You will never amount to anything and no one will ever love you" haunted me. I was a child. He was an adult. And, according to him, adults were always right. Therefore, in the sake of logic, he must be right.

I met my now husband when I was 12 or 13 years old. I still remember the night I met him. My sister drove me over to his house. We had been talking through an internet e-mail service for weeks or months, and had spoken on the phone a time or two. I wasn't really sure how I felt about it, and I wanted to meet him before I made that decision. When I arrived I was shy. My sister had already pre-met him (more about that act at another time maybe), so I knew it was safe. The only fears I had were irrational ones that had been built in me by my loving father. (You hear the sarcasm, right?) The meeting went well. He was nice enough. He wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, but he wasn't completely unattractive either. And then, at some point (it gets a little fuzzy) he walked by me and his arm brushed mine. I never understood "butterflies in the stomach" so well or the "special chemistry" I had read about in so many novels I had lived my life in. Something was there. It remains there. But after that moment, I was afraid even more. Now I was in SERIOUS trouble. I liked this boy who would probably NEVER be able to like me. I was hideous and he was a God. I was done for.

Unconsciously throughout my life I missed opportunities I wanted because of my irrational fears. I didn't try out for cheerleading. I never took a dance lesson although all I wanted in the world when I was as little as I could remember was to be a ballerina or ballroom dancer. I never tried out for any sports, though I envied the softball and volleyball players and grew to hate them just because they were doing something I "couldn't" do. I never tried out for color guard. I rationed that I was too fat, too unattractive. I didn't look like the girls who did those things, therefore, I could never be one of them. I was SOL, as my father liked to say. I never told anyone what I wanted, because I didn't want to want it. I didn't want to face up to the disappointment of wanting something and not being able to have it/do it. So I pretended I didn't want those things at all.

The only things I took a chance at were things I felt I had talent for, a talent that just MIGHT overcome my hideous appearance. I sang in choir. I led the alto section. I tried out for solos and got 2. And when my choir director informed me that it was the best he had ever heard one particular solo sung in all his years of teaching, I simply smiled and walked away. "I knew it!" I thought. "See, if people would just give me the chance, I would go beyond their expectations of me!" But I always felt like my weight was the roadblock to that. Case in point, I wanted desperately to act. I was told I was talented in theatre class. I felt the emotions as if I were the characters I was to inhabit for that scene. I drew from life to make the story more real. But when I tried out for a part in a play, any part, even those in which singing was involved, I was moved to the back. Usually, the way back - as in the assistant stage manager. Once I landed the chorus, and that experience alone kept me from every trying out again. I was forgotten. It wasn't worth it to be on stage if I was constantly being asked to hide...it wasn't worth it if I had to watch what I loved too closely and not be a part of it. I was too fat for any part...and my talent wouldn't cover the gap, so I considered myself a failure. Even when I tried out for Stage Manager, I was given second place to a much prettier girl (I never faulted her for it, I adore her, and we match in a lot of talents - she actually works as a writer/editor at a small newspaper in Ohio...she was just prettier and skinnier than me, and that, in my haunted adolescent mind, gave her the job).

So, yes. I developed a whole set of irrational fears.
Don't try to hard, you'll just be disappointed.
Don't want it too much, the disappointment will be worse.
Walk away first so you don't get hurt.
They won't like you because you're fat, so you have to fight against that with any talent you have. You have to choose to either shine BIG or hide. Those are your only 2 options in life.

I lived large for some years. I was friends with a lot of people. I was funny. I was a great singer. I was a great leader. People listened to my advice and trusted me.

And then I got pregnant. Suddenly, any talent I had became tainted because I was tainted. And I hid. I hid for a LONG time. There are people I graduated with that still, to this day, do not realize I graduated from high school when I was 6-months pregnant. Because I hid, and the fat hid the baby belly, so I was completely hidden. I worked instead of participating in school functions. I grew up in a year because I had to...and I gave up any wants I had other than being able to be the best mother I could be.

I wasn't the best mother ever. I don't know that I've met the mother that is perfect at her job. And understanding that was a big step in understanding a little more about irrational fears.

If I don't try hard enough, I certainly won't get what I want.
If I pretend to not want something, it can never be given to me or, worse, I will never have the strength to go after it.
If I walk away first to avoid getting hurt, I will never know what it's like to be in the meat of relationships - where you really know someone and learn to love them despite their faults. And no one will ever truly know me.
And if I kept trying to conceal or overshadow myself because of my weight, I was simply becoming an overdramatized person of myself. I would never know who I really was or wasn't, without weight as a consideration. It wasn't that THEY didn't like me because of my weight...because *I* didn't like my weight, I couldn't like me.

I have a journal still from March 2005. In the front cover it says:


Sometime later, I added two words:

Goal Journal

I underlined the word Goal. Suddenly, for whatever reason, I was ready to set goals again. I was ready to try my hardest...even if it meant utter failure. I was done hiding and I was ready to live. I can't tell you what day that happened, but what I can say is that over the past 5 years it has been a progressive journey.

I got a job first, and took on a leadership role as supervisor.

And then I left my job and moved to one full-time. Something I always wanted. A regular 9-5 to set stability for my family...something I always admired about my mother.

And then I went back to school. That was a big day, the day I decided I was going to do it. I didn't have everything planned out to the letter, though I did have a lot of plans. 3 years, in and out. It was the only way I was going to be able to survive it and get over that irrational fear that I was stupid and knew nothing because I once left college. And in that choice, in that small decision that led to big changes, I discovered how much I loved the English language. My major was born out of refusing to deny myself what I wanted because of my fears.

And as I went through school, I started to remove layers from my shell. I made a film, and even after everything went wrong, I put it in the school's film festival - just because I could. I wrote scripts that scared me. I wrote topics that seemed beyond my level. I started speaking up in class. And somehow I built a name for myself as a leader - one I took to the Presidency of two honor societies. I was scared every single time, but I did it any way...because I knew it was more important to build my resume than it was to hide in fear. I knew there was something much more important than any of those fears -- the possibility of future success for my family and future happiness for myself.

When I graduated and started applying for jobs, I got more brave with every application. I decided that even though rejection hurt, it didn't hurt as bad as knowing I had missed a possible opportunity. I flew to New York for an interview in one day and flew back that night. It was the scariest thing I had done to date, but I did it anyways because I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I had missed the chance. To this day, it is also one of my proudest moments. All alone, from the hills of quiet WV to the busy streets of NYC, I took that journey. I interviewed for a job that could lead me to exactly where I wanted to be. And even though I didn't get that job, I will always know that I didn't miss that opportunity. I'd do it over and over again, just for the chance to try harder. And I learned something else. I never really wanted anything more for just myself than that job. It would have meant another 2 years of sacrifice, but I wanted it hard. I wanted it with every part of me. And when I didn't get it...I didn't die. The world went on. I didn't break either. I'm still here, in one piece, and still looking toward one day achieving that dream or something like it.

The Vegas adventure was a fear overcome.
And every time I up the ante in my workouts, it's another fear overcome.
And the fear monster grows smaller each and every time I show him that I know better...and that's what this year is all about. Shrinking the fear monster...at least, the irrational one.

Later this month I will face one of my biggest fears to date. I will walk out onto the stage, lights blaring, audience watching, and will (hopefully, flawlessly) deliver my lines to at least 2 separate monologues from The Vagina Monologues. I can't tell you the fear that grips me deep in the belly when I even think about it. It's that biggest fear I've gone after since school and that job interview...everything else in between has been mighty small potatoes in comparison. This fear dates back to 1996 for me...those fated theatre auditions in which I was passed over.

First of all, there was no audition...but, still, I agreed even before I knew that. I agreed to audition, and that was HUGE for me. (I think I was sick that day! *lol*)

Second of all, it's a small-town production, so I'm not playing a huge stage here...but considering the last time I went up there like that was in high school, it's still a pretty friggin' big deal to me.

I want to back out.
I want to run.
I want to pull my tail between my legs and pretend that day I agreed never happened.

But I can't do any of that...

...because I want my chance in the spotlight, just once.
...because I won't ever forgive myself if I back out.
...and because it will be one more step toward proving to myself and the world that WE, OURSELVES, ME...I'm the thing that has held me back the most. I can blame theatre directors and parents and circumstance, but when push comes to shove, I had opportunities to make things happen and I let them slip me by because I was too afraid to want them.

I want this.
I will have it.
Even if I fall on my face while walking out on the stage, get blinded by the lights, get a rip in my pants, forget every line and have to read them off my arm - I WANT THIS.

"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all."

I want to live.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I could so relate to your blog. Thank you very much for sharing. I am finding that as I release excess body fat, the fears that I buried over with the fat are coming to the surface. Old fears and anxieties. At first, I tried to eat them away. Then I tried to strong arm then to keep them at bay. Today i am welcoming them. I am trying to learn from them and celebrate that I developed those fears as a way of trying to cope with my childhood. I thank them for all that they did to keep me safe. I also let them know that they are no longer needed and that I am strong enough to release them. I am amazed at how they keep coming up. I am trying as best as I know how to be patient with the fears and to release them so that I am free of them. All the best to you on your journey, Kymm
    3744 days ago
    Wow Esther. Your journey has been so full of triumph. I felt hope in your words and a tenacity that can't be beat. You know, it might be completely unconventional, but you might consider sending THIS (perhaps a slightly edited version) in as a sample of your work with your resume. It shows candor, compassion, and strength. It would most likely get you a second look.

    You are simply amazing and I'm honored to be your friend.
    3745 days ago
  • MAIA2011
    "because *I* didn't like my weight, I couldn't like me"

    There's a theme in the blogs I am reading this past week--beautiful, amazing, courageous, inspiring people who don't know they are or forgot it or both.

    You're going to rock V-Day, Esther! I will be thinking of you (as well as way too many others).

    3746 days ago
    It is shocking, sometimes, to read your blogs because you describe so well, so much of how I feel at times. And, as I'm reading your story I realize that each of us has come to these emotions through entirely different circumstances, but here we are nonetheless. This is bringing up a lot of feelings for me. Thank you.
    3747 days ago
    Congrats for getting out on stage. It's hard for a lot of people to admit that they want that recognition when they really do. I'm one of them. I'll be back ON the stage in April and I'm looking forward to it as well, after hiding behind the scenes for too many years and being resentful of the people who got the applause night after night.

    Wish I could see you perform!
    3747 days ago
  • KARVY09
    Tears. Of joy for you and your amazing journey.
    3747 days ago
    Just amazing how far you have come Esther, thank you for sharing.
    3747 days ago
  • MAGSA10
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    3747 days ago
    BRAVA! Love the quotation. WOW. And you know we are all cheering you on!
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    3747 days ago
  • ERIN1128
    You are so awesome, woman. I wish I could be there to cheer you on when you're on stage!
    3747 days ago
    Wow E. There are not enough words...
    3747 days ago
  • no profile photo CD7466362
    You are so strong, brave. And amazing, too. Honestly, I don't know how some of us survive childhood and high school. But becoming amazing people is the best revenge (if that makes sense?).
    3747 days ago
  • MAGPIE17
    You're amazing. That is all. ;)
    3747 days ago
    what a blog, E. Wowza.
    3747 days ago
  • MENACE79
    I have tears in my eyes, and goosebumps. I know that you have worked hard, physically and mentally to become who you are today. I have to tell you though, THIS is what people strive for. THIS - in this blog - is who most people wish they could be. You have BALLS! Strong, talented, smart, and beautiful... I am so looking forward to hearing about the show.
    3747 days ago
    I can really relate to a lot of this! Not so much the Dad thing, but the low self-esteem, the love of my life, the pregnancy, the growing up too fast, the schooling, the job, the being too fat ( that in itself was irrational btw) and mainly the not trying or being brave enough, so I wouldn't be disappointed.
    I want to live, too! I know that being scared is not a bad thing, as long as you don't allow the fear to hold you back!

    I think that's great that you choose to live! You got so much to give and try and see-- so go for it girl!!!
    3747 days ago
    All I can say is wow. Thank you so much for sharing!
    3747 days ago
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