One of the most common fears in humanity is the fear of the unknown, and while it may at times be wise it can also prevent us from discovering new sources of joy. Since childhood I was one of those people who always had to be prepared for things. It was an unhealthy obsession to rehearse responses to possible events in my head. Fortunately, that habit was broken when I saw the futility and foolishness of it, but now I see it in my kids.
My son gets particularly fearful when faced with a situation that is unfamiliar and contains unpredictable elements. This was demonstrated last week when he had the opportunity to participate in a regional science fair. He wanted very much to go with his Science Olympiad group but the night before the competition he suddenly wanted very much not to go. He was afraid the venue would be too big and crowded and he’d get lost. He was afraid he would be too nervous to do his part, and fearful that what he made would not be well received. He asked, "What if I mess up? What if I don't do a good job?"
The first point of business was to bring him back from the future. He was playing all his fears out in his head. We can’t make decisions from there, at least not clear and wise ones. Then we could talk about the possible opportunities in attending the science fair. How many times as adults do we pass on opportunities because we so fear what negative things could happen that we don’t even show up? If, like my son, we focus on negative possibilities we immobilize ourselves.
So our conversation that night involved letting go of the fear of what may be, embracing the wonderful possibilities, and coming back to the present moment. In that moment, my son was safe and sound in his bed with his mom by his side. He had a great day and it was time to rest. The only thing keeping him up was fear of future phantoms. Boy, can I relate to that! I couldn’t count the number of nights I lay awake, robbed of sleep by phantoms of fear. And, like the science fair, they never came to pass. It was all wasted energy.
The next day my son had a great time at the science fair … and came home with 3 medals! He made new friends, learned new things, and discovered that he doesn’t feel pressure when working with an audience. How about that!