When was the last time you were afraid of something, but did it anyway? For me, the answer is: today.
Fear is funny awful actually a really good thing. Fear is the reason we’re all here right now. 20,000 years ago, fear drove everything we did (or didn’t do), and when we responded to that fear, we survived. Fear made us run away from bears, learn how to build shelters, and create villages that kept us safe. So, a real heartfelt “thanks” to our ancestors for paying attention to fear, and acting in ways that made sure that we did not become extinct.
Fast forward to today. Our world has changed dramatically, but our brains have not.
We’ve learned stuff, sure. But our primal instincts are still very much alive and well, and on the constant look out for bears. The modern, logical part of our brains knows that we’re not going to die if he says no, or if we don’t make the team, or if our childbirth education business falls flat on its face. But while our bears have changed, our brains have not. Our primal little amygdalas (the part of the brain thought to be responsible for fear) can’t tell the difference between a wild bear and an Etsy shop that doesn’t take off. All it sees is “threat.”
And so, we run. Usually in the opposite direction of what we’re afraid of, which is usually the thing we want most. This is precisely what I was doing.
Enter Kate Novotny, labor and delivery nurse, doula, founder of The Tap Root Doula Project in Dallas, and kick-ass advocate for mamas (yes, there will be profanity in this blog, and I am excited about it). You can learn more about Kate’s awesomeness here. Kate and I went to nursing school together at NYU, and though we now live many miles apart, we have remained connected through our shared love of birth. In a recent conversation, I mentioned to Kate that I was thinking about starting this little project, but there were so many things that needed to happen first; I needed more time, I needed to read a few more books, I needed to save a little more money (cave-lady translation: I should collect more firewood, I should make a bigger spear, I should draw a few more antelopes on this cave wall)… and then she said it. The words that stopped me in my cave-lady tracks:
Don’t be scared. Just start.
Words that knocked the wind out of me. Because she was right; I was scared. But why?
My primal, cave-lady brain was doing a very good job of giving me reasons to be scared, reasons NOT to do this. For example:
“Now is not a good time.” Cave-lady translation: There are A LOT of bears around right now, this is NOT a good time to go see what’s on the other side of that hill.
Nope. No. Not even a little bit. You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again, there is never going to be a “good” time. There will always be bears. There will always be at least a little chaos. I had it in my mind that I would enact my dream in a few years… but what’s so special about “a few years” from now? Today is my life too… so why not today?
“What will people think of me?” Cave-lady translation: Don’t be weird or they’ll kick you out of the tribe!
Tim Urban wrote a fascinating (and very entertaining) article about the evolutionary reasons why we care so much about what other people think of us. You can read it here. Basically if our ancestors annoyed their neighbors enough, they were rejected by the tribe and left to fend off the bears alone, which usually did not turn out well. So, it was very, VERY important to be liked. Well, my tribe seems to be fairly fond of me, and if my project fails, I’m pretty sure they’ll keep me (I am, after all, the only one that buys the right kind of Band-Aids).
“What if I fail?” Cave-lady translation: If this doesn’t work, that bear is going to kill you dead.
If this thing flops, you, my loyal blog readers (who may at this point only consist of my husband, my mom, and my college roommate) are not going to eat me. Or even really care. I mean you’ll be sad for me because you want to see me succeed and be happy. And my pride will be a bit wounded. But if this doesn’t work, the sun will rise, and I will not become bear food.
Most importantly, instead of saying “I was too scared,” I will say “I was brave, and I tried.”
Fear has a legitimate place in our lives. Goodness knows there are a lot of truly scary things happening around us right now. And there are times when we really need to pay attention to how our primal fears are affecting our outcomes, as they do in birth (more on that soon, if a bear doesn’t eat me first). But when fear threatens to stop us from realizing our dreams, it’s time for us to stand up to it and say, “I’m a beast too.”
And so, in spite of the bears, I give you, Gathered Birth.
When was the last time you were afraid of something, but did it anyway?