Updated: Nov 30, 2018
This week in Austin, I walked into a random barbershop with a shaggy mane of hair and walked out, Ramona Quimby, Age 8. It was a bad haircut – objectively. Even my nearly always encouraging partner found words escaping him in trying to comfort me and help tamp down my vanity. “Oh boy,” he mumbled.
It’s just a haircut of course and hair has this magical quality of, you know, growing. However, it was not the day I needed an awkward hairdo. Already I was feeling as if I was stumbling through the city, tripping over myself. It was a day where I was lacking confidence.
Walking through the Austin neighborhood, hip and cool people passing me at every turn, I sunk further and further into my shell – just a body with an unstylish and dorky haircut. Oh boy, indeed.
Deep in my own self-doubt, I recalled our time in Denver, where we met with two “strangers” – Anne and Dan – for coffee and conversation about life in Colorado. They were encouraging, warm, and thoughtful humans – two random friends from the internet we were lucky to meet with during our travels.
When Dan took off for work, Anne stuck around and our conversation took a turn to the more philosophical nature of travel and self-discovery. Anne suggested that she often wondered, “Who would I be without fear?”
Identity and life devoid of fear – what a concept. Anne’s query stirred something in me. When I thought about it, fear was a core part of my identity.
Favored vast and existential fears include:
-Fear of not living my best life;
-Fear of regret;
-Fear of not listening to myself; &
-Fear of listening to myself yet making the “wrong” choice.
Equally important are the everyday frights and worries such as:
-Wasting money; &
Fear is present on this trip – moving in and out of our daily experiences. The common fears are here and new ones appear too: What will people think? Will people judge us for our decisions? Are we missing out on key experiences in places? Will we make the “right” decision at the end of the journey?
Of course, fear has an important role to play at times. For instance, sunblock use and avoiding falling down a flight of stairs. What I am interested in exploring, here in writing and through the experiences of this trip, is what to do with the fear that does not serve us. What do we do with the kind of paralyzing fear that holds us back?
I knew starting this trip that the fear that caused barriers and delayed momentum was one major thing I was trying to overcome. So, when Anne asked, “Who would I be without fear?” she was tapping into a core question I was wrestling with too.
I think some of it boils down to this binary of right versus wrong. The idea that there is a magical, singular path each of us is destined for. The false belief (or, at times, hope) there is only one way to live a life. When I lean into the belief of only one path for myself, it’s only on a rare day that it brings me comfort. Most of the time, this belief grows anxiety, increases self-doubt, and limits my capacity for bravery.
Stuck in the fear of one right way to do things, a single path to follow, I have not listened to the voices begging me to diverge. It took those internal voices a lot of shouting to get through to me, to remind me there is more than one way to live a life. To sell my house, take sabbatical, and venture out into the unknown. Fear didn’t want me to face the unknown. Too scary.
So, who would I be without fear? I would be kind to myself when doubt surfaced. I would make space for the possibility of various outcomes. I would be brave. I would embrace change. I would believe I am enough, even when I didn’t have all the answers. I would march out of the salon with my shitty haircut and shout, “IT’S JUST HAIR!!”
My whole life, fear has been a shadow holding me back instead of giving me space to push forward. In reflecting on fear during this sabbatical, I realize I can conquer its overwhelming power in my life. Not overnight, but certainly one day at a time. And it starts by facing it with honesty, reminding myself of its power and presence, and giving myself gentle release from its grip.
If I’ve learned anything on this trip it's how much I have the capacity to flourish and overcome the things holding me back. Hair grows. People do too.