Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

In January, I wrote that question on a Post-it note and attached it to my computer at work. Then I attached a second note above our kitchen sink so I'd read it while I was washing dishes or making a meal. So every day, I pondered the question:

"What would I do if I weren't afraid?"

Sometimes we allow fear to cripple us. Eight years ago, fear not only was preventing me from moving forward, but it also was overwhelming me so that I couldn't think lucid, rational thoughts. I was so gripped with fear--mind, body, and spirit--that I was unable to even make an action plan to move beyond my fear.

Then, while my feet were still cemented to the ground in fear, life took over and blasted me free to think, to act, to move forward again.

So many things--good and bad--happened to me in those eight years. My stable life was yanked from underneath my feet and I fell on my rear. Hard. But looking back, even the very hard things like the loss of my marriage, my job, my home, my financial security--were catalyts for me changing from the inside out. For letting go of fear.

In survival mode, I improvised a new life at age 52. Seeking an affordable, safe home, I moved five times in three years, including living in an artist's backyard studio with no heat, water, or toilet. I started a new career as a newspaper reporter.

Facing my fears, I sought adventure by trying new experiences I'd once feared. I joined a women's dragon boat team, the Mighty Women. I tried belly dancing, zip lining, archery, swing dancing, backpacking, kayaking, spelunking, skiing--and the scariest of all--online dating. I fell in love with the Mountain Man. Four years later, I moved to the mountains of Eastern Oregon to start a new life with the man in love--in 323 square feet with a breathtaking view of two mountain ranges.

I reveled in my new life in Eastern Oregon. But even though I'd changed almost everything about my life, I still clung to the notion of a secure job. Health insurance. Paid vacation. Stability.

Good jobs are scarce in Eastern Oregon, but I got a full-time job at a social services agency managing a program to help pay heating bills of low-income folks in four counties. I also managed a federal VA program to help homeless veterans. The job paid $ .07 more per hour than I made as a newspaper reporter, but with Oregon income tax, my take-home pay was less. I had health insurance again, but it had a $2,500 deductible. My insurance would kick in only if I had another catastrophic accident like my infamous breaking-both-wrists ATV ride.

Although there was some satisfaction in helping people in need, my job was an incredibly poor fit for my skill set. I am not a social worker. I am not a budget guru who can decipher spreadsheets. I didn't have the right tools to do the job. I am a writer, a story teller. My supervisor and executive director were pleased with my work, but deep inside, I was extremely unhappy. Unfulfilled. My spirit shriveled a little bit more every day.

Each day, I looked at the Post-it note and pondered the question: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

The fearlessness of friends and family propelled me forward.

* My high school friend, Kim Hogan, and his wife, Cindy, left steady jobs in the public school system to teach at a school in Qatar. They have seen camel races and gone camping in the desert. On their weekends and school breaks, they seek adventure all over the world: Germany, France, China, Greece. Fearless adventurers they are!

* My friend, Ruth Friebos was afflicted by a life-threatening, mysterious illness that eventually led doctors to save her life by amputating her leg above the knee. Despite so many setbacks, this active woman and skilled photographer continues to see life through the lens of hope and joy, rather than fear.

* My daughter, Katie, has been barraged by a series of very hard things--but has faced fear and not crumbled under the pressure. She's a survivor, that daughter of mine!

As I pondered what I would do if I weren't afraid, I came up with a list.

  • If I weren't afraid, I would go skiing again. I hadn't gone since I'd broken both wrists. I was afraid I'd crash on the hill and the titanium plates holding my shattered wrist bones together would poke out of my skin. So, calling up every ounce of bravery I could, I went skiing. I fell--a lot, but I wasn't hurt. I checked skiing off my fear list.
  • If I weren't afraid, I would make my living as a freelance writer. I started calling and emailing newspapers, magazines, and local agencies. Immediately, I began getting writing projects. I took a deep breath and quit my job. Now I'm freelancing full time--and loving it. 
  • The next biggie on my "fear" list is to finish writing my memoir, "Paddling Her Own Canoe." I've written about a third of the 33 chapters. Now, with discipline and more creativity flowing through me, I will finish writing my book and publish it.

As I write this blog in our tiny home with magnificent views of two mountain ranges, bluejays and doves serenade me.

Fear is behind me. Adventure and joyful living lie ahead.

So here's a question for you: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"


  1. You are an inspiration Sue, I'm so glad my dad has you in his life! Keep leaning into that fear and going after what you want in life, we'll be rooting for you!

  2. Wow, Susan. Your writing, like your heart, is full of honesty and courage. What an honor to know you, a delight to read your work, and an inspiration. Please put me on your list of readers for your book (and an editor if you're looking for encouragement and proofing).