By George Angus
I used to have this thing about ladders. Hated them. Oh, not the physical object so much, it was more the act of using the darned things. Climbing a ladder made me breathe fast and made my legs quiver. In short, I was afraid of heights. As far as I can remember, that particular fear had always been with me. Not an unreasonable fear in my opinion. I mean, it does involve the potential of bodily harm or death.
I could have chosen to not do anything about my fear. It could languish away in some dark recess of my mind and only get pulled into the daylight when I had to hang Christmas lights. Sure, but that would have been way too easy. Instead, tackling my fear of heights became kind of a necessity. I went and got hired as a paramedic with the Los Angeles Fire Department. In those days (circa 1984) paramedics were just that – paramedics. We didn’t have to fight fires. We just had to save lives.
So imagine my fear and righteous indignation when I learned that as part of the 6-week new hire program I would have to climb a ladder. Not just any ladder either, friends and neighbors. Nope, I’m talking about the mother of all ladders – the 90 foot Aerial Ladder. Crap.
The big day came. The (way too gleeful in my opinion) ladder company raised the ladder to full height, 75 degree angle. Each of us recruits had to climb to the top of the ladder sans any kind of safety harness. When we reached the top, we had to peer over the top of the ladder, find the drill instructor and yell out our social security number.
I have never been so freaked out scared in my whole life.
But, wobbly legs and all, I did it. I knew that not doing it would mean washing out from the academy and I wasn’t willing to do that. I had worked a long time and had made some meaningful sacrifices to get hired by LAFD.
Climbing back down the last few rungs and setting foot on glorious solid earth was amazing.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t stop there. Once I got assigned to Fire Station 10 in downtown LA, I climbed a ladder at every opportunity. I searched and found scenarios that would allow me to climb a ladder. In short, I was a ladder-climbing fool. Here’s the takeaway: The fear was still there. It was mine and I had to own it. By confronting it every day, I was forced to learn ways of dealing with the fear and not letting the fear control me. I’m driving this damned boat. If fear wants to come along then that is fine, it just needs to ride in the back. Or on the poop deck. Anywhere but the bridge.
Are you getting the point?
One more brief example about fear conquering.
In my twenties and thirties I flew a lot. I lived in California and had family in Alaska. Lots of trips. I also had made my mark in EMS education and did a lot of flying to local and national conferences, speaking and chairing committees. I seemed to be living on planes.
Oliver sudden, I developed this fear of flying. I think the back of my mind found a calculator or abacus or something and started calculating odds. I quickly started to hate flying. I was a bundle of nerves, freaking out over each turbulent bump. If I didn’t hear the landing gear thump down on final when I thought it should, it took all I had to not run up to the cockpit to tell the pilots to wake the hell up.
So, I decided to do something about it. Anyone wanna take a guess?
That’s right. I became a pilot. It was painful. I mean, falling off a ladder is one thing, but spinning a Cessna 172 into the ground is something else entirely. I looked forward to my flying lessons with a mixture of trepidation and exhilaration. It wasn’t quite so bad at first because I had the instructor in the plane with me in case I did something particularly stupid. But I tell you what, when that fateful day arrives and the instructor steps outside the plane to send you on your first solo flight, then you know it’s real and there’s no turning back. I felt a lot like I did facing that damned aerial ladder.
I made it through my solo flight and amassed a bunch of hours and the more I did it, the more I enjoyed the challenge, the view and the sense of accomplishment. And of course the side benefit is that I am a much more comfortable flier. Though I still can’t sleep on a damned plane.
I’ll finish with this: Fear of writing is no different. If you have a fear of writing that is just fine. Own it, acknowledge it and know that it is yours. The important thing is to not let it run your life. Go a few rounds with it. I bet you can take it two falls out of three. Don’t let the damned thing win. Make it sit in the corner sucking its thumb. Make fun of it. Draw a goofy face and label it “My Fear of Writing.” Put it on the refrigerator. That fear of writing has got nothing on you. You are the boss.
Okay, your turn. What kinds of fear do you have in your past? How did you deal with them? Most importantly, what are your plans for conquering your fear of writing?
George is a writer slugging out an existence in Palmer, Alaska. AKA Tumblemoose, George keeps a blog, writes for some clients and works on his novels and picture books when he can.