It is possible, of course, to challenge ourselves without scaring ourselves. I can take on a difficult assignment and not necessarily be afraid of it. I can try to run a mile further or lift more weight than usual without any accompanying fear.
So what's the inherent value of doing something so very, very uncomfortable?
Myself and a few other weirdos chose Russia, where, prior to our departures, we received guidebooks with instructions like, "If you see a policeman, walk to the other side of the street and do not catch his attention"; "Do not speak English in public spaces"; and, my favorite, "There are different rules for Russians and tourists. Just because you see a Russian doing it, doesn't mean it's not illegal for you."
We had a great time though. I mean, it didn't always feel so fun in the moment - and there WERE moments - but when I came back I felt like I had done something. I had scared myself into being a little bolder.
It wasn't until I was an adult and noticed my friend's cat was pretty cool (and harmless) that I started to think I might have been wrong about the cat thing. And then in June 2012 we brought home little George as a 9 week old kitten. Taking care of something so little scared me. Being a pet owner scared me. Having a cat scared me. And I continued to be a little nervous around cats, but I returned to the cat rescue where we got George to keep volunteering with other cats.
Later, having two cats scared me. But how could I say no to Gloria's little face? And now I wouldn't have it any other way.
Here's my latest: last month an online friend and fellow Notre Dame alum alerted me to an opportunity that really truly scared me. Two hours away in Portland, auditions were being held for the show Listen To Your Mother, where 12 women are selected to read a piece of their writing on the topic of motherhood.
My first thought was, I'm not going to get it, so why bother? My second thought was, Oh my goodness, If I DO get it, I will have to perform in front of an entire theater. My third thought was, I know what I want to write about, but I don't know if I'm comfortable sharing this with people I know, let alone a national audience.
My husband drove with me to Portland. I read my piece. And then I found out I'm in.
The topic I will speak on is incredibly personal and I'm still scared to share it with so many people. But I think it's important one, especially for young women, to hear. In May I'm going to do something that really, really scares me - I'm going to sidestep my usual Hyper Privacy Personal Bubble to talk about overcoming two intertwined personal challenges.
Challenging yourself in the distinct form of confronting and overcoming a fear is emboldening, confidence-building, and character-forming.
How has scaring yourself in the past paid off for you?