Fear is a wicked little beast living inside our minds. It’s useful and certainly has helped keep us alive over the few hundred thousand years our species has been present on Earth, but that doesn’t mean fear’s not a complete asshole sometimes.
I went to high school in the Charlotte area for my junior and senior year, but I doubt there is a single person that would remember me. This isn’t because I’ve changed drastically or somehow morphed into another being, but because I was so afraid of everyone and everything, I did my damnedest to be completely unseen. Fear gripped my everyday existence. Fear kept me from walking into a lunchroom, huddled in a dark corner outside the school with a book and a sandwich. Fear kept me from even wanting to have friends. I was lonely and afraid, but I insisted to myself that this was how I had control.
If I was successful in defining my life in such a small bubble, one in which I could turn around in place and see everything I needed to maintain, there would be no fear of failure; no fear of reaching out to only be brushed aside and scorned. Fear is paralyzing, yet failure somehow seemed worse.
I may have considered myself to be the kid no one wanted or the friend no one needed; that glitch in the code that managed to squeak past the beta testers, but I wasn’t a failure. If I tried at something I knew I could accomplish, I could easily succeed. By taking no risk I gained little but maintained a peace of mind not allotted by the fear I let grip my other ambitions.
Putting angsty teenage to twenty-something me aside, there is no key turning point to this story. No epiphany suddenly lent me the courage to try and accomplish something beyond the initial boundaries I had set. What I had to go through, and what I imagine anyone sharing similarly unfond memories of youth has gone through, is the slow and agonizing crawl toward an outward expression of the inner ambition we kept clamped down. The broken glass and toxic waste of emotional scars littered across my mind were desperate to keep me in place, safe in my minuscule bubble.
The pain of toxic memories is inevitable if never dealt with properly. I never learned how to deal with my issues at school – I assume most everyone else didn’t either – and I had to find a way to address my desire to risk nothing if I wanted to live a life worth waking up for. It didn’t seem like a noble task at first, certainly not one I should overexert myself on until I started rephrasing the problem. Instead of convincing myself that I was merely risking nothing, I started to remind myself that I was managing to accomplish nothing.
Religiosity aside, there is a definitive end to this expression of life. The atomic structures that build-up, coalesce, and form the human being we hazily glare at in the morning is what we know for certain. Staring at the bleak representation of my life I had let fear produce, I began to wonder what it would be like to fail. Not just a mild failure, but a magnificent and utter catastrophe of failure, the kind on a scale that would make a person instantly recognizable to those around them.
It’s a petrifying thought, but a helpful one. How bad is the embarrassment in comparison to the fear that resided in its place? Would my life be any different than the current output I resigned myself to? An in 100 years, would anybody even care that I screwed up?
With questions like that in mind, I decided to step back into running, an overweight mid-twenties and exceedingly awkward person afraid to wave at the other runners passing by on the sidewalk. (Side note – I have yet to overcame that fear, in case any of you wonder why I act so awkwardly).
From my first mile running to my latest attempt at 100 miles, I have never lost the fear of failure. I don’t want to fail. I don’t know anyone who reasonably wants to fail. And the fear that gripped me as a kid still finds its way into all of my decisions as an “adult” – there is some dispute as to whether or not I qualify.
The only difference now is that I took the long and painful path through my mind to understand what hurt and fear are, and to understand what failure is. I’ve DNF’d the last 4 attempts I’ve made at hitting my 100 mile goal. I have failed at each attempt, but that does not make me a failure.
Burning that phrase into my mind like a lightning rod against the fear as it strikes through my nerves has kept me in continual pursuit of dreams. This is the one life that I am certain we have. This is the one chance to represent the accumulation of matter designated as ‘us’.
I’ve been fortunate that a few of the small risks I’ve taken have paid off with large dividends. A weird little redhead I asked out nearly twenty years ago still manages to find a way to love me through the constant storm of my never-ceasing thoughts. A brother I had little in common with, but who always had my back found a way to fall in love with his version of running to add support and passion to what became our shared dream. These measures of support can not be overlooked, but they do not change the inner workings of the mind. That’s up to us to continuously work on, to continuously ask the right questions, and force ourselves to answer.
I am afraid. I am awkward. I am continuing to fight the urges to curl up in a corner and be completely unnoticed. I am willing to try and achieve things so difficult, that I may continuously fail.
I am alive.