“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
I wonder what experiences led Eleanor Roosevelt to write or express such wisdom. Today, they are words on the page that inspire . . . but I would suspect that there were some sleepless nights that provided the wisdom and the conviction to be brave, take risks, and look fear in the face.
I have not read any biographies about Eleanor Roosevelt and I would suspect that Eleanor experienced her share of uncertainty and doubt. Looking “fear in the face”? You can’t make this stuff up from fiction-based imaginings. It would be like writing a story about miracles without having experienced one. You just can’t make it up. It is necessary to have lived it.
I take her one quote to heart: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I don’t like feeling fear. Fear is one of those queasy feelings that goes to my stomach and rests there like an ugly orc — ready to smite me down to smithereens if I steal a glance at it. Fear is unpleasant, unpredictable, and unlovely. It does not bring out the most attractive parts of me. It gives me cause to doubt in my belief that something wonderful is about to happen. It messes with my chi. It gives me bad advice. And it does not inspire me to lead by example. Fear overpowers any other emotions. It disallows my willingness to take a chance. To do something risky. It is a detour from bravery. It is the absence of love. And without love, what is life?
I have another Eleanor Roosevelt quote on my desk: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift.” A gift. Which leads me back to the reminder to do one thing every day that scares me. This is all so much easier to write about in the wee hours of the night in my cozy house than to actually do. Some days this gesture is a little thing. Other days it is huge. I have never regretted one single thing I have done while keeping Eleanor’s words in my heart. I always feel better when I have chosen to beard the lion in its den. If I succeed, my friends are there to celebrate with me. If I fail, my loved ones are there to help me re-hash it with some degree of humor. What is failure without a little light of humor shone on it?
People who are nearing the end of their lives have said that they didn’t regret the things they did. Rather they regretted the things they did not do. The same message with fancier language was written by Sydney J. Harris: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
When does life begin? “At the end of your comfort zone”? Today is a celebration of looking fear in the face and going for it. Pushing past your comfort zone. If you are feeling a lack of confidence, remember: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We are as free as we choose to be in the face of fear. By disallowing fear, we invite love to enter. And what an amazing thing this is.
When I think on these things, I feel a strange Muse entering my office. Like a sobering calm has entered the room, and I long for spontaneity and laughter to overtake the moment. But these moments have value in that they embolden me with the rootstock courage to be spontaneous, to take risks, to take the chance of making a mistake, “to do that which [I] think [I] cannot.” I want to be wildly unhindered by a lack of regret. I have been accused of being foolhardy and goofy. Ditzy and capricious. Irresponsible and risky. Maybe these adjectives are the encouragement that I need to tell me that I am on the right track, and I don’t even know it.
Today . . . I am going to do something that scares me. I am familiar with my fears . . . one of them being the fear of failure. The fear that I won’t have enough time in my life to do all that I hope to do. The fear of not having tried to accomplish that one dream within. The fear of feeling regret at the end of my life. Do I live this way? I try not to . . . still, these little nagging doubts linger on occasion. Eleanor believes that we “gain strength, and courage, and confidence” by trying to do something that we cannot do. It is time to shake things up, go forth, and do something a little scary.