Aunty’s mum is a whirlwind in the kitchen. Always has been. One night she invited the local doctor and his wife to our house for dinner. Mum was preparing a nice green salad and she was buzzing around chopping anything that didn’t move fast enough. This included the top of her thumb. She cut it clean off and it ended up in the fresh lettuce. Happily, the doctor lived in the house opposite to ours so mum raced across the road, tea towel wrapped around one hand and thumb tip in the other. From then on, all knives filled me with quiet terror. Blunt instruments and potato peelers were in and knives definitely out.
Inner fears will not always come from something you experienced yourself. Other people are very generous with their power of suggestion as they put their beliefs onto you. A lady at work told me how scary it was to drive in Sydney. So scary, in fact, that she had never attempted driving there. She was older than me, had been driving longer in this country and seemed to know everything about the subject. I had never been to Sydney before but driving there was obviously a horrible activity and one to be avoided at all costs. I decided whenever I went to Sydney, whatever the cost, I would cab, train or bus it. That way, I would never have to face the fear of driving there myself.
My last fear was sitting and eating in public on my own. My mind movie showed a lonely, sad girl picking away at a lonely, sad bread stick while everyone in the crowded restaurant stared and shook their heads in pity.
But life is tricky when you have fear. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, ‘Do one thing every day that scares you’, and the line became better known when Mary Schmich wove the quote into the “Sunscreen Song”. When I heard that song, I thought about my own three fears, eating alone in a restaurant, anything that chopped and driving in Sydney.
So, I ate in a restaurant alone and it was okay and I didn’t die. It was quite peaceful and pleasant, eating as I read the newspaper and listened to my latest audiobook. No one gave me a second glance as they enjoyed their own meals and company. First fear done as I congratulated myself and high-fived Eleanor. It wasn’t that hard.
Second fear to be overcome: one healthy knife phobia. I signed up to be a Meat Inspector, a job requiring daily and heavy knife use. Nothing like confronting those fears head on but this career move was probably a little extreme. I was quite sure I wouldn’t actually have to use a knife though, because I was special. I wasn’t special.
Learning to grind a knife is always the first activity on the new recruit’s first day on the job. Without a nice, sharp blade, the work is impossible. The terror threatened to overwhelm me but I couldn’t show the boss this. I had to be tough. Mr Boss would have sacked me otherwise. I started the grinding wheel. Holding the knife against the stone, I moved my arm backwards and forwards as I had been shown. Now, this was a really unfamiliar action for me because knife phobics do not go around sharpening knives as their favourite pastime. The task resulted in me having a very sore arm and I fainted with the pain. I hit my head on the grinding wheel, (I still haven’t figured out how the wheel didn’t erase my face), and ended up wedged between the wheel and the wall.
Being stuck fast, it took two burly blokes to pull me out. The same chaps then carried me off the manufacturing floor on a stretcher. Not bad for my first day at work but they didn’t sack me. I would have sacked me. Over the next two years, I learned how to handle a knife and fear number two was beaten. I am not suggesting you sign up to be a Meat Inspector if you don’t like knives. But this worked for me.
To conquer the fear of driving in Sydney, I bought one of the first GPS units out, hired a car and drove. I didn’t find it bad at all. I cannot speak for the other Sydney-siders on the road, some of whom waved sizeable fists and called out rude words. I never had been very good at driving. I conquered my driving fear but probably caused a few drivers to develop fears of their own.
For self-protection purposes, we apparently are born with two fears, that of falling and of noise. Every other fear we have is learned and, so can be unlearned. If you do have any specific phobias that you want to be rid of, chatting with a Neuro-linguistic Programming, (NLP) Practitioner can be a great investment. A tough dude who appeared scared of nothing, was reduced to a shivering and sweating mess at the mere mention of needles. He had suffered from this ‘incurable’ condition all his life. After twenty minutes of conversation with an NLP expert, the phobia was gone, never to return. Amazing stuff!
Public Speaking ranks above dying as the most common fear we humans hold onto. We play mind movies of others not liking our presentations then successfully talk ourselves into failing. If speaking to a crowd makes your palms go sweaty and your eyes fuzzy, confront that fear. Join your nearest closest Toastmasters’ or other leadership and public speaking club. This will be the best money you ever spend on yourself.
It might not be a full on, life-constraining phobia that is causing you grief. It could be just feeling the jitters in your tummy when thinking about having a difficult conversation with your children, asking your manager for a raise or calling time on a relationship going nowhere. Think about what scares you and then find ways to confront and overcome these fears. You will grow in the process.
Do one thing every day that scares you.