Everything I Am, I Was Once Afraid Of

Times Are Changing, paper collage, 2021

Everything I am, I was once afraid of or vehemently disliked or found to be boring, uninspiring, or otherwise not worthy of my own time and attention. It’s true.

When I was a child, I was terrified of water. And I mean terrified. Screaming, wailing, panic-stricken terrified. So, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons in the hopes that I might learn to become comfortable in water, or at least proficient enough that I wasn’t likely to drown in a friend’s swimming pool. It took me an extraordinarily long time to get acclimated. (My swim instructor was a saint.) But once I did, I fell in love with swimming. I was even—much to everyone’s surprise—rather good at it. I joined a swim team at my local YMCA and became a lifeguard years later. Swimming is still my best—and favorite—sport. Ironically, I now also find the water to be a source of great solace and tranquility. Nothing brings peace to mind, body, and soul quite like a good swim.

This same logic holds true for birding. I remember saying once many years ago that I felt birdwatching would be “like watching paint dry”. I said that verbatim. At the time I could never have imagined that birding would become a passion and one of the most fascinating and enriching pastimes I’ve ever had.

Likewise, if you’d have asked me when I started this blog in 2017 if I was or ever could be a visual artist, I would have said emphatically, no. No way. Not a chance. That will never, ever, ever happen. It’s impossible. 

Everything I am, I was once afraid of or vehemently disliked or found to be boring…but, why? I can think of two distinct, but interrelated, reasons. First, because of an inner enemy. Call it what you will: Jung’s notion of the shadow self, Freud’s Thanatos, or death instinct. It helps me to visualize it that way—as a kind of death instinct. An inner force that stops us from evolving, from opening up to ourselves, or from opening ourselves to the world. It keeps us lethargic. It keeps us small. It keeps us afraid. And it keeps us stuck. 

The second reason, I think, has to do with the ways in which our talents and personalities develop. Five or ten years ago, I may not have been able to be a visual artist. I wasn’t faintly interested in becoming one. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. Perhaps I needed to evolve and change in myriad other ways that allowed for that particular interest to manifest. But if I never challenged myself or afforded myself the freedom to explore and change, I would never know, would I?

That is the point of this brief essay, of course: if I never do the things I am most afraid of, I will never know who I am. All of those things I consider safe or acceptable or well within my repertoire—they’re the stuff of a mediocre life. At my center, I am very much the opposite of who I think I am. I am the thing I think I cannot do or be. I am the thing that terrifies me. I am the thing that causes intense (not lukewarm) discomfort. I am the thing that is so boring or trivial or disdainful that it is unworthy of my time and attention.

Jung was right when he said, “Where your fear is, there is your task.” Everything I am, I was once afraid of. Everything I will be, I am afraid of now. 

11 responses to “Everything I Am, I Was Once Afraid Of”

  1. that’s why, we have to make ourselves, try things, at least, twice, before we make the decisions of whether or not we would enjoy it, once just wouldn’t be enough, and we often let our own initial experiences with something terminate all the possibilities we may have had.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great point. We can’t be afraid to make mistakes or to quit something because of one bad experience. Overcoming those obstacles can make for a very rewarding experience.


  2. Your essays are rich in wisdom, insight, and lessons. Thank you for adding inspired thought to my day. ✨ Fascinating story about your early experience with water compared to now. And the birding comment. 😆 I find myself doing many things now that I never would have imagined doing a few years ago. With that thought, it is exciting to imagine what the future has in store!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow…this is so so good. I needed to read this. It’s an amazing thing the role of fear and doubt and not being what we hope…it can truly paralyze us, prevent us from being what we can still yet be. Pushing ourselves beyond what we have told ourselves we can’t do, won’t do, refuse do leads to a life we dream of…allowing some “death instinct” to prevent us from our potential leads to less…less when the goal is to always to feel more, be more, do more. And just as you have stated so perfectly, sometimes we need time to develop our personalities and talents. To hold stubbornly to what we thought we liked or could be five years ago, is quite silly actually. We are beings of change and growth and pursuit. Stepping into possibility and what we fear is so often such another discovery of all we are capable of. Wonderful entry, my friend. It spoke directly to my heart. Thank you….

    Liked by 1 person

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