Oh friends, I can’t wait to introduce you to a friend of mine, Heather Caliri. Heather has taught me what it means to be a truth-monger, to be brave with my words, and to tell the very best story I can tell. We are friends through a number of different online writing portals, so I’d sure love it if you got to know her through her story today. Enjoy!
The other day, one of my kids got upset about some schoolwork in her least-favorite subject.
“You can do it,” I told her.
She stared at me.
I didn’t blame her. Talk is cheap.
So I posed a different question. “What’s the worst-case scenario if you fail?” I asked.
She told me, her eyes worried. She finds the current hurdle hard, so what about the next steps? What if they prove impossible?
I nodded. These are real worries, and so much like mine about other things: about writing, faith, and (my daughter might laugh) homeschooling and parenting.
I ask her another question. “Are there worse things that can happen if you don’t try?”
Armed with those questions, we pick up her fear like a little knotted cord and examine it more closely. Are the intractable problems actually slipknots in disguise, where if you tug, they come undone? What’s the hidden risk behind giving up?
After we get curious together for a while, she was ready to try again.
I have learned the hard way to ask these questions for myself. I know my fear’s contours and knots like an old friendship bracelet, because I examine it nearly every day.
“What’s the worst-case scenario if you fail?” I ask myself, over and over. “Are there worse things that can happen if you don’t try?”
These questions astonish me.
See, for a long time, I didn’t know you could be curious about your own fear. I didn’t know you could question it, examine it, learn from it. I thought it simply was, a wall, a cage, a weight pressing on your chest.
I thought it was real, more real than anything else.
I did not know you could make it give a reason for its existence.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says that at age fifteen, she realized that fear was boring. “My fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was ‘STOP!’”
I learned that lesson at twenty. I went abroad to live in Argentina for a year. I had (I thought) faked my way into a very generous scholarship despite my middling Spanish and complete lack of travel experience. I’d charmed some generous people, and they’d bought me a plane ticket and now I was going to go live ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD even though I was COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT.
The terms of the scholarship meant I travelled alone, with only vague links to other students and Argentine contacts. The scholarship lasted ten months. One of my first acts after landing and arriving at my rented room was calculating how long I had to last before I could go home.
The result made me weep. More than forty weeks.
What I wish I had asked myself, besides just the number of weeks I had to survive was: “What’s the worse-case scenario if you fail?”
And also: “What is the worst case scenario for never trying?”
Honestly, my worst-case fears about Argentina didn’t really go far enough. I struggled with absolutely brutal loneliness for months.
But as I learned in those forty weeks, the cost of not trying was infinitely greater than the fear ever was. It wasn’t even in the same universe.
Had I turned down the scholarship, I would not have known I could not only survive my worst-case scenario, but thrive.
I would not have ever experienced the joy that came with digging myself out of a hole and finding Argentine hands waiting to grasp mine.
Since Argentina, I’ve learned to ask myself questions about my fear, rather than simply letting it belt its one-note tune in my ear. Like my daughter, I have to ask the questions over and over, because the song is so damn repetitive.
I’ve learned to have holy curiosity about my own fear.
The more curious I am about my fear, the more lessons it teaches me. My fears tell me something about my values, about who I am, and the pain and suffering that shapes my character. My fears whisper, unwillingly, of the path that probably will lead me to the greatest payoffs: going straight through them.
And they remind me that in some ways, I’m still a child. I’m still shivery-scared about tough next steps. So it’s worth treating myself with gentleness.
Fear may be boring, but it is, in its odd way, also holy—if we only learn to look it in the eye.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who knows first-hand how tiny, brave yeses can transform lives. She’s scared of (among other things) bees, heights, and the children’s movie Gremlins—but slowly found out she’s more courageous than she thought. Get her short e-book, “How To Become Braver,” for free here. Do head over and get Heather’s e-book if you haven’t already! Otherwise, two things: first of all, I’d love to feature your words on a guest post today. Hit me up! Second, what did you LOVE about Heather’s story? Leave her a comment below!0