It was dark when I headed out. No one knew where I was or where I was going. Alone on my pre-dawn jog, I could have disappeared and it would have taken about four hours before anyone would notice.
Last spring I ignored my friend’s advice to “stay on the trail where you can see people” when I went for a run among April azaleas. I don’t hesitate to walk under a poorly lit underpass at night, rationalizing that it’s only a few yards.
It’s not that I’m a thrill seeker. It’s just that I can squash a cockroach with my bare hand without hesitation and once foolishly refused to turn over my purse when asked to do so by a thief.
Given enough chanting, I can walk with enthusiasm across hot coals. What really scares me? Conversations.
I realize I am not alone when I hear these tales:
- The 55 year old entrepreneur was afraid to give feedback to his new employee, scared of hurting her feelings or of her resignation.
- The young lawyer was afraid to talk to a co-worker about her hurt feelings, frightened one of them would get angry.
- The husband of thirty years was afraid to tell his wife he was gay, understandably.
Decades of practicing law gave me plenty of practice at courageous conversations. Over time, it got easier to deliver news people didn’t want to hear: the strength of their case, the state of the law, or the cost of litigation.
But saying certain words can still scare me.
I need your help.
I messed up.
I don’t know.
My rational mind knows better, but my reptilian brain says “You are incompetent, incapable, or just plain lazy or stupid.” I may not even believe these thoughts, but that doesn’t stop my heart from racing, my chest from getting tight, or my eyes from welling up.
Saying what is in my heart can carry the same risks. Exposing your hopes or— heaven forbid—your dreams can be terrifying. Will I be misunderstood? Judged? Mocked?
The fear can feel as though our life is at stake. The sense of danger often far exceeds the reality. I may occasionally put myself in harm’s way by my choices, but I’ve been having conversations my entire life and have yet to be killed by one.
At the end of my life I want nothing unsaid between myself and those I care about. I want to know that I did not stay stuck because I lacked the courage to seek support. I want to be confident that I moved forward on my path without regret of scary words unspoken.
Is there conversation that scares you?
What is it costing you to not have it?
What role do your values play in saying what needs to be said?