I remember as a kid attending my first Halloween slumber party. We stayed up most of the night, trying to outdo each other with stories that sent shivers down our spines — tales of some brave soul venturing into the moonless night to face the dragon or to seek lost treasure in a haunted house. There was something thrilling about facing the terror in my imagination.
What better time than the season of ghosts and goblins to face the things that scare us? Frightening creatures can haunt our internal landscape — holding us back from reaching goals, trying new things, even expressing kindness. Being courageous means being scared and doing it anyway. How can we be courageous in the face of large and small fears? How can we role model healthy daring for our children?
What is your “positively scary” list? Each of us has our own unique list. Remember, simple things count! Maybe it’s doing an act of kindness for a neighbor you’ve never had a conversation with before. Perhaps it’s stretching into a new leadership role. For a middle school student, it may be using her voice to counter some bit of malicious gossip at the lunch table. For a young child, it may be using new skills to set up his own play date for Saturday. Building new skills, putting ourselves out there, doing something we’ve never done before — these are examples of positively scary.
Can you turn fear into excitement? A mentor of mine often says, “Awkwardness is the first step on the road to mastery.” As an example, I remember when I got my first smart phone. This technological foray felt “good scary” — awkwardly learning new skills; taking some risks; and investing time and money. I’ve noticed focusing on the excitement rather than the fear and awkwardness serves me best. Isn’t it interesting how fear & excitement can generate similar feelings in our bodies and minds? Which one do we want to get absorbed in?
Why not start with something simple? If you and your children are trying to figure out which “positively scary” things to do first, try something simple. Enjoy the experience of success. For the family hike this weekend, pick a trail you’ve never been on before. For a child who is sometimes shy, maybe saying hello to a new kid at school is a doable goal. Or, maybe smiling at the new student is a great step in reaching out.
Do you know what skills might help? Great question to ask — and to talk about at dinner. What tools might help you do the next thing on your “positively scary” list? Do you know someone else who does what you’d like to do? Who’s your role model? Are they available to have a conversation with you? Can you ask them “how do you do it?” “Writing more” is on my list. Interestingly, my friend Charlie recently emailed me a draft in progress of his new book. I love hearing him talk about what has inspired him and how he is making time for this important project. Learning from others helps!
I’m reminded of the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. But… that is not what great ships are built for.” What is your great ship built for? Take your ship, your navigational equipment, your crew and spirit of excitement. Head out on your “positively scary” adventure.
*Originally published in the Orange Cat Newsletter
2016 © Revised version, Melissa J Johnson, PhD
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