Eleven years ago, on the eve of their 3rd & 1st grade years, I was putting my two little boys to bed when I heard a sniffle. My oldest son was holding back a few tears. “What’s the matter, honey?” I couldn’t imagine what could be bothering this high-energy, highly social little guy. “I’m worried that 3rd grade will be too hard for me,” he managed. Apparently he’d been told that the stakes would get much higher, the homework tougher and the challenged more numerous and was now, rightfully, afraid. He was convinced he didn’t have what it took to manage the coming days.
After ineffectually trying to convince him otherwise, I tried a new tactic. Telling him he had what it took to face the school year hadn’t worked so here’s what I suggested: “Let’s freak out.” Eyes wider, he asked, “what?” I launched into fear-laced moanings of all the things he couldn’t do during 3rd grade: he’d fail, he’d not be able to swim, he’d not make new friends….soon he was joining in. From the above bunk, our eavesdropper joined in. We laughed as this little dynamo face-planted during recess, got forgotten on the bus and even received a wedgie from a 4th grader. Oh, the horrors.
Seems cute when an 8 year old does it, but we adults are no different, really. In my quest to keep ‘courage’ at the forefront of my mind this year, I was piqued to listen to a conversation recently about people’s main motivation. What do you guess? Money? Nope. Accolades, accomplishments, pride? No again. What motivates most of us is fear. That’s right, fear. Think about it. Deep down, so many of our decisions are made because we want to keep our fears at a distance. I’m not criticizing it…heck, I do it myself. Why did I watch my kids so closely when they went outside? I feared they’d be snatched. Why do we say ‘yes’ to things we don’t want to do? Fear of what others will think.
For our 3rd grader, it took emphasizing everything that could go wrong to realize how ridiculous it was to worry. If we’re in a good frame of mind and with someone who loves us enough to let us express ourselves, we could easily launch into our fears with our finances, our relationships, our jobs. But I learned something in that moment all those years ago that I need reminding of now and then: “Courage is the complement of fear. A (wo)man who is fearless cannot be courageous.” Courage and fear are like ying and yang: close bedfellows.
We cannot have courage unless we first have a taste of fear. Firefighters and police officers can tell you this. So can kids going to a new school, you beginning your retirement or someone going to the gym in snug yoga pants. We won’t have any reason to exercise courage unless we’re a little freaked out. Ever witness someone make a speech when they’re pea-green scared? That’s courage. Ever have to stand up to an angry, intimidating person? Fear could keep us from doing lots of things, but courage allows us to follow through.
So my year continues with looking at my fears but not shrinking from them, knowing that courage wraps itself around those fears, ready to lift it up and out of the way. It’ll still be there, circling back around for more, but in the meantime, I’ll choose to laugh while I freak out, then move on to face those snug yoga pants.