I’m afraid to drive.
There. I said it.
It’s not something I tell a lot of people because they think I’m silly and roll their eyes. This fear was easy to keep under wraps for the first 20 years of my driving life because I lived in New York City and no one needs to drive there. However, once we moved to suburbia (I wa 37 years old) and I had a child I had to learn to drive. My driving instructor will tell you it was a challenge for him because this fear sometimes left me paralyzed on the side of the road because I was so afraid to drive into traffic. But I did it. And I passed my road test on the first try.
Ten years later I’m still afraid to drive but I do get around locally, and make a lot of right hand turns. I’m still afraid to head into busy parts of town and I stay away from freeways and turnpikes. I’m so embarrassed by my fear of driving I make up excuses not to go places because I don’t want anyone to know it’s because I’m afraid, or because I don’t want to see the eyerolls. I’ve declined trips to the shore, shopping with friends, and dinners out because I was too embarrassed to ask for a ride.
This fear has prevented me from landing clients because I’d have to get on a freeway to meet with them and it’s prevented me from attending meetups or speak at conferences that I’d need to drive to. It’s prevented my progress.
I know fear has gotten in my way and while there are people (the eye rolling people) who will tell me to get over it, get in the dang car and drive, I can tell you it’s not so easy for me. There are also people who feel that this fear is really laziness or an excuse to not do things I need to get done, and I think that’s harsh. I can’t think of anyone who would enjoy this and want to have to put up with the eyerolls, embarrassment and snarky remarks all the time. Just as it’s hard for some people to understand, it’s even hard to explain without looking whiney.
I also have a fear of heights. This fear isn’t as paralyzing as my fear of driving, though I did have a panic attack at the Grand Canyon one time. I find it hard to get on escalators and I avoid roller coasters at all costs, but I’ve been known to take one for the team now and then. The difference between my driving fear and my height fear is that I rarely find myself in a situation where I have to be up so high without some sort of barrier to keep me safe. This fear hasn’t prevented progress.
Fear of Success
When I run into people who I knew in the 80′s and 90′s when I worked in publishing, they’re very surprised to learn what I’m doing now. The reason they’re so surprised is because I let my fear of speaking up or losing my job almost ruin my career. When people consider you a ne’er do well, there comes a time when you start believing it even if you know in your heart of hearts that you’re better than that.
I never spoke up and I never spoke out. I never took any kind of initiative. I did my job without question. I never tried to get ahead because I was afraid of rejection. Beyond rejection, I was afraid of what the next level might mean. What would happen if I achieved this success? What would happen if I stepped out of my comfort zone? Would I have to attend meetings with people who were smarter than me? Would I have to travel? Would I have to work late? Staying under the radar is easy, stepping up to the plate is hard.
I don’t regret my fear of driving, though I do wish I didn’t have it. I don’t regret my fear of heights, it hasn’t kept me from being who I am. However, I deeply regret not reaching for the stars when I was much younger. The closer I get to 50, the more I regret not working to my full potential so I could have enjoyed success at an earlier age.
We all have our fears. Some are rational, some irrational. Some get in the way and some we can work around. The problem lies when they get in the way of who we are or living life to the best of our ability. I can live without driving on a freeway and I can close my eyes when I step on to an escalator. Those are compromises I’m willing to make. However, I’m glad I realized that the fear of success was the most irrational fear of all. It may have taken me a while to get there, but I’m glad I didn’t compromise.
Have you ever had fear prevented you from reaching a goal? What was your fear and how did you overcome it?