Afraid (Not)

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Me being scared… and struggling to master the art of the selfie stick.

When I was growing up, I was chronically indecisive. A decision’s insignificance made no difference. If there were a choice to be made, then I would likely have trouble making it. Cookie dough or mint ice cream? Read a book or watch a movie? Go for a run or ride a bike? Making decisions could absolutely paralyze me. Some of my most vividly terrible childhood memories come from drive-throughs at McDonald’s where I would be faced with a whole host of miniscule, yet somehow debilitating choices. Somehow I had to choose between a hamburger and a cheeseburger, a fry or a side salad, a soft drink or a water–all in 30 seconds or less! Ridiculous though it sounds, these moments were traumatizing. I mean, making decisions was hard enough, but making them at the pace of my family’s fast-food ordering was nearly impossible.

Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I have also gotten much better at making decisions. Now I rarely think twice about the silly little choices that used to be such a challenge. In fact, the other day my Omi even commented about this, noting how far I’ve come. Most everyday choices now come easily, and it’s amazing how much better I feel.

Some choices, though, continue to be difficult. And unfortunately, these decisions aren’t of the transient fast-food variety. No, these are the big choices, the ones that end up defining a person and possibly determining the trajectory of a life. And to make this decision even more complicated, it’s not always obvious that a choice is involved. Let me explain with an example.

About six months ago, I sat across the table from Emily, one of my dear friends and mentors. It was the Saturday evening of our church’s spring retreat at a beautiful camp in north Georgia. Emily had just spent some time chatting with me and a new friend of mine… it was a guy. Jim and I had been on several dates during the preceding few weeks. By all accounts he seemed like an amazing guy, and he was interested in me, which was even better. There was just one problem: I was scared. You see, just a few months earlier, my heart had been broken by my last boyfriend. I didn’t know if I was ready to trust someone new, no matter how great he seemed to be. I was just so afraid. And that’s when Emily said something that changed everything:

“Fear is a choice, Steffi. You can choose to be afraid, or you can choose to move forward as though you’re not. It’s up to you.”

Needless to say, Emily’s words found their mark that evening—Jim and I started “officially” dating the very next day—but they have come to mind many times over these last several months. This question nags at me: If fear really is a choice, then how often do I choose it without even realizing it? Probably more frequently than I would like to admit.

Looking at my life from the outside, you might think it strange that I would struggle with fear. After all, I spent more than a year living out of a suitcase. I’m getting my PhD. I’ve traveled across almost all of Europe by myself. I run marathons, I learn Slavic languages, and I even share my thoughts, feelings and experiences on this blog. From the outside, I may seem adventurous, ambitious, and even brave. But appearances can deceive. Yes, I take risks, but only calculated ones, the kind that I feel confident about. Fear dictates more of my life than I would often care to admit.

And so tonight as I was running, I found myself pondering Emily’s question yet again. In what ways am I choosing fear? And what would it look like for me to move forward as if I’m not afraid? My thoughts landed here, on this blog. I love to write, but sometimes I go for months at a time without posting. Not because I don’t have things to say, but more because I am afraid to say them. You see, I want my writing to be authentic, honest, and real, but I’m afraid of not ending on an upbeat note. Yet I’m finding that much of life—if I’m honest about it—doesn’t come with the neat little ending. Life is messy; I’m messy. But since I’m afraid to show that to the world, I opt not to write.

Maybe, though, there is a different way forward. Maybe I can choose to be more open in my writing, even though it scares me. Maybe that’s the choice I should make. Because heaven knows I’m tired of letting my fear have so much sway. And maybe by being a bit more transparent about my journey, I can encourage some of you in yours.

So here begins my little experiment. There will still be funny blogs with self-deprecating “Steffi stories”—these bizarre, blog-worthy situations have a way of finding me—but there will also be more serious posts, ones that may pose more questions and offer fewer answers. Ones with more loose ends than tidy endings. Ones with more musing and less concluding. And maybe at some point there will be less fear and more courage in me. Who knows if this little experiment will work, but it seems like it’s worth trying.

Am I nervous to post more blogs like this? Yes, I am. And I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But starting today, I’m going to do it anyway. Starting today, I’m going to try acting like I’m not afraid. Alright, here goes…

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