A Fear a Year

February 27th, 2012

It actually started years before I developed it as an intentional practice – taking on a ‘fear a year’ that is.    In some ways I think I was hard wired for this, though not with any understanding of what it really entailed.   For instance, I was afraid of telling my parents that I didn’t want to keep going back to semester after semester of college, racking up bigger and bigger loans, pouring all of my hard earned cash and quite a bit of theirs into an experience that wasn’t worth it, in my eyes at least.  So, in 1972, at the end of my junior year at UVM, after three years of battling with my parents, I just did it.  As scared as I was to disappoint them, deny them, confront them, I dropped out of college. To pursue my passion for life-long learning, emphasis on learning,  experiential learning.  My first of many ‘the road less traveled’ decisions.

It wasn’t until I was dealing with turning 40 (yikes) that I started an intentional practice of taking on a ‘fear a year.’  It was the early ‘90’s, I was wanting more from life, more from my career (right livelihood perhaps?), more from myself that I realized that since I was afraid to speak in front of large groups I should do something that forced me to speak in front of large groups.  I combined taking on that fear with a current (and life-long) passion for public education and decided to run for our local school board.  Running for office wasn’t the fear (although I did have to ‘mount a campaign’ it was not exactly heavy politics) it was the fear of public speaking.

Sure enough, four years on the Board and I was cured of that one.

By the time I was approaching my 50th birthday the stakes became higher.  Much higher!  For my 49th year I took on scuba diving.  May not seem like much but it was a big one for me.  I loved to snorkel.  More than half of my Men’s Group were all divers and I was definitely envious of their annual trips to exotic locations to dive together.  I tried going on one of the trips as a ‘snorkeler’ and it was fun but definitely not the same thing.   So I did it.  It felt great!  Still feels great!!

For my 50th year it was really big.  A 25 year marriage that wasn’t working anymore.  We had been in couples counseling for months, tried a few big ‘relationship jump starts’ and had gone through many, many, many hours of processing all to no avail before we realized that it was over except we both were too scared to call it.  So, after three ‘heaven sent’, painful-to-the-max but loaded with the same message experiences within a six month period, we decided to separate.  In doing so, I realized that one of the fears I hadn’t even let myself consider until I was knee deep into it was that I had never lived alone before.  In my whole life!  Not a reason to stay married when a marriage isn’t working (and lots and lots and lots of work and effort to try to get it to work didn’t work), but so, so easy to do given all of the givens.

Last year, 2011, my fear was that I couldn’t take three weeks in a row on a vacation.  I had never, ever done that, in my entire adult life.  And for the past 18 years I’ve been self-employed as an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant which seemed to make it even more impossible to even consider doing.  But I knew that this was the fear I needed to take on and besides, I would find an excuse no matter what my job. Boy am I glad I tackled that one, as it proved to be one of the best experiences of my life!

The idea was to go to Italy with my lovely second wife Lisa where we spent three weeks in Northern Tuscany, in a sweet farmhouse in the Chianti region, just slowing down.  Disconnecting from technology (mostly), matching our rhythms to the sun and the weather, taking time to just stroll, wander, read, wonder, write, read, hike, eat, cook, sit, do Tai Chi, stroll some more, do some yoga, hang out and just be.  For three weeks.  Not  the somewhat recently discovered exorbitant  practice of taking TWO weeks in a row instead of the usual and customary one week.  Three weeks is to two weeks as two weeks was to one.  Geometrically, exponentially, vastly different.  Viva la difference!

A fear a year.  I highly recommend it.