An open question to a mountain biking group:- Had other riders felt the fear and had they managed to get over it?
The comments section was stuffed with other riders’ thoughts on fear.
There was practical advice: seek coaching, watch the trail ahead, try some good flat pedals, try riding with different people (boyfriends can be more enemy than friend), just keep getting out there. Some even offered company. Overwhelmingly, though, it was clear that most could offer empathy. We have all, it seems, been afraid.
I cannot name a time when I have not been afraid. Fear has not always been a great-rag shaking ghoul rendering me catatonic; more often, it is just an ember in my chest with ferocious potential. Naturally, it became one of the main motivating forces in my life. I was an insecure child, needy and raw.
So I grew up with fear as my companion. The easiest thing to do was hide from it. I did this while trying to be a normal kid. Only, it didn’t seem to work, I did not understand why much of what I did did not feel real. It was like starring through a window I but could not find a way in. Fear was living my life. And as I became old enough to make decisions fear made them for me.
Once, a friend tried to encourage me to travel. Amazing, she said. Just go. She was talking a foreign language. No, said fear, making yet another decision. She knew then she hadn’t touched me. Her pity and my fear hung between us.
That was 15 years ago. Since then I have walked in many countries, the most stunning of which was Nepal. I have wintered in the French Alps and used pedal power to make my way across Thailand. I have kayaked the Seti River in Nepal and hiked through the Himalayas, survived buying a house and skated around Sydney with a bunch of wild locals. I have even taken the stage and read my creative writing to strangers. During each event terror reared up to dominate my mind.
My fear is rooted in the risk of failure. For a long time, I adopted the ‘if you don’t try, you can’t fail’ mentality, although eventually, I realised this would only lead to the biggest failure of all. So, many years ago, I began making chicken steps into fear’s territory, taking it back for my own and I have found that one of the strongest ways to do this, for me, is through sport.
Sport is immediate. I take up a board, a bike, a pair of roller blades (these are my things), and head out. Instantly that spark in my chest fires and fear explodes into ‘what ifs?’. I could fail, I could get hurt, I could get left behind. I am inflamed. But I get on the board or the bike or the skates and I do what I do. On the other side I have my own message for fear.
Sport is challenging. I am beginning to accept that I will never be in a comfortable in a sport, because I will always be pushing. I will always want to go to my limit. That is where the fear of failure lurks. If I want the speed, the technique and the scenery, I have to accept that fear will be part of those experiences.
Sport is social. Boards and bikes and blades don’t need teams but sharing the experience makes it so much better. Fear does not like company, it wants to separate you; for me it is concerned with rejection. If I want to share sports I love with people who feel the same way, fear of rejection must not dominate. My choice.
Sport gives you results. I still experience fear every day. For instance, on a ride I will catch myself, breathless, mercilessly comparing myself to the riders around me. This is not helpful. Competing with fear is much more positive. Every time I get on the board or bike I win. On each ride there will be little victories along the way. The things that I chose to walk away from are not a loss but a potential win on another day.
I have come to know the voices and multiple faces of fear so well through riding bikes and boards. I have come to know them for what they are. But they are not restricted to this part of my life. I wish I could stop them but I know this is unlikely; for now. Instead, I can put what I come to understand about fear to work in other parts of my life.
I did not comment on that post in the end. I’ll be honest, fear stopped me. I might have said, ‘I don’t get over fear, I get through it’. Some days I do this better than others. But always on the other side are joy, confidence, experience, wonder, new paths, new people, new me. So I’ll keep chasing it with two things in mind. Chase it. And don’t feed it.