She was taking her final steps toward the plane when it hit her and she started to cry. I put my arm around her shoulder.
“Sad?” I asked.
“Just a little nervous.” She replied. What I really wanted to say was, “Be careful.”
Instead I replied, “I’m really proud of you for doing this. I hope you have a ton of fun, and take lots of risks because no matter what happens, I know you can handle it.”
From the time that my brave, beautiful, daughter Deena made the decision to become a foreign exchange student in Chile, and her brother Thomas decided to follow, I watched us all go through varying stages of anxiety and apprehension. (Especially their father Bob and me.)
What if her grades aren’t good enough? What if she gets mugged in Miami? What if they can’t find a host family for her? What if the host family doesn’t like her? What if she doesn’t like them? What if she doesn’t know enough Spanish? What if she gets really ill? What if it is too cold? What if she falls in love with a handsome Chilean man, gets married, has his baby, stays in Chile and we never see her again? You get the picture. So I ran to the nearest library and checked out every book on mastering fear that I could find.
In her book, Feel the Fear and do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers describes three levels of fear.
Level one fears are the most obvious. They are the ones we easily recognize as fears, and they fall into two categories, those that “happen” like;
loss of financial security,
or in my case, children leaving home;
and those requiring action, like;
going back to school,
writing a book,
meeting new people,
making a mistake,
or going to South America to study.
Level two fears are a little deeper. They are not situation-oriented they involve the ego. Examples would be;
and loss of image,
or as in my case, helplessness.
Level three gets to the heart of the issue. It’s the biggest fear of all. The one that really keeps us stuck. Are you ready? The level three fear is;
I CAN’T HANDLE IT!!
At the bottom of every one of our fears is simply the fear that we can’t handle whatever life may bring us. Let’s test this. Level one fears translate to;
I can’t handle aging.
I can’t handle loss of financial security.
I can’t handle children leaving home.
I can’t handle writing a book.
I can’t handle making a mistake.
I can’t handle going to South America to study.
Level two fears translate to;
I can’t handle rejection.
I can’t handle success.
I can’t handle helplessness.
The truth is,
if we knew we could handle anything that came our way, what would we possibly have to fear?
I’d love to wrap a big plastic bubble around my daughter to keep her safe physically. Then I’d like to put a protective shield around her heart so she doesn’t get her feelings hurt. But I can’t do any of that, so I might as well help her learn that she can handle life as it comes to her.
What a novel idea. Can you imagine saying to your child on the first day of school, “Raise your hand and ask a lot of questions. If you start to feel foolish I’ll help you handle it”? Or, “Take a risk and try making some new friends. If your feelings get hurt, I’ll show you how to manage.” Or, “Be as active as you can on the playground. If you skin your knee, I know you can handle it.”
Winston Churchill gave us the famous quote regarding fear,