Summer Summary - On Overcoming Fear

~As seen at Deseret Book~

I want to talk about the word "faith."

Faith. Believing in things we can't see. Believing in the truth we feel in our hearts, even when there's no logic or evidence to confirm it. Believing in people who have failed us or hurt us. Believing in ourselves when we have failed or hurt others. Believing that things will be okay when the world seems so flawed and people are understandably so afraid.

It's hard to have faith.

This summer, the news has been full of violence and upheaval. Terrorist attacks, shootings, civil unrest, hateful political rhetoric, and other conflict of all kinds. This summer, a person I briefly knew in elementary school was killed in a lightning strike just after his high school graduation.  Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.

I'm often one of those people who has a hard time accepting uncertainty. I like to plan things out, to be in control, to be sure that I'm prepared for what's coming. But with things like leaving for college, that's not always possible. Each step of the way has been a leap of faith. Choosing a major and a career, choosing my classes, applying for a visa, preparing to the other side of the world... it's challenging when things are so uncertain. It's hard to let go and let God direct my life.

Life throws random things at us, and change can be so scary. But I've seen a lot of people in my life who have especially allowed fear to paralyze them. These people would rather limit themselves and remain in their comfort zones, allowing the world to become an overwhelming, divisive, and negative place. I've done this as well at times. We start to make excuses, and these excuses tear us down and limit our self-esteem.

"I can't."
"I'm not good enough."
"I'm not strong enough."
"I'm not smart enough."
"It's too stressful."
"It's never going to get better." 
"I could never do that."
"But what if... [insert unlikely possibility here]"
"I'm too [insert negative personality trait here]"

Sound familiar? Sometimes there are things that actually are not possible for us to achieve. But I think so much more often we limit ourselves by our fears and insecurities.

I'm not particularly brave, but if there's one thing I've determined from 18 years of life, it's that I'm not going to allow fear to dictate my life. I'm not going to miss out on life's adventures because of the fear of the unknown.

This summer, I set out to prove to myself that I could overcome fears and do difficult things. Bravery isn't about being fearless or doing reckless things- it's about stretching ourselves little by little to become greater than we are and to have experiences outside our comfort zone.

Here are some things I have done this summer that have helped me overcome my fears and grow as a person:

1. I cut my hair into a pixie cut, despite my fear of what people would think. 
2. I went skydiving, despite my childhood fear of falling/ roller coasters.
3. I got three vaccinations for college, despite my fear of needles.
4. I said goodbye to my piano students and decided to take the summer completely off from working, despite my fear of letting other people down.
5. I decided to register for engineering courses instead of biology courses, despite the fact that they are harder and don't include as many familiar topics.
6. I had an 18th birthday party with 12 friends and had a great time, despite the fact that hosting parties is stressful for me and I've avoided it for the past 5 years.
7. I went through the Mormon temple for the first time (see my Utah post for more on this), even though unmarried girls who aren't missionaries don't often do this at my age and it required a lot of trust in God and in my church leaders to make sure that the time was right for me.   
8. I made the necessary preparations to move to Abu Dhabi, even though I don't necessarily know what to expect.

I've come a long way from the anxious, pessimistic, exhausted high schooler of just a few months ago. I've proven to myself that I can do hard things, and that life can be full of wonderful and beautiful adventures, as well as the difficult times.

But it's okay to still have things that hold you back. I'd like to tell a little story:

For some reason, I really do not like needles and I am working on overcoming my fear of them. I just really hate the sensation of having a foreign object going through my skin; it makes me really nervous. Two years ago, I signed up to donate blood at my school for the first time. I really wanted to help save lives, learn my blood type, and participate in the blood drive along with my friends. I even helped volunteer at the sign-up table.

When I was waiting in line to donate blood, I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded from nervousness. I fainted briefly, but since I was sitting in a chair, only a few people around me noticed. I assured them that I was okay and tried to calm myself and go through it. When my turn came to be interviewed by the Bloodsource staff member, I started to feel lightheaded again. After my finger was pricked to test my iron levels, I really started to feel faint, and the worker asked me if I needed to go lie down. Eventually, I told the worker I wasn't going to be able to donate, and she led me to a corner of the room and made me lie down.

I felt extremely embarrassed as my friends donated blood without me. I was also panicking and began to cry uncontrollably. Because I had lunchtime after the donation appointment, I went to the bathroom and continued to cry until my next class started. I was so disappointed in myself that I had failed in such a simple thing. 

Two years later, this summer, I decided to try again to donate blood. I watched videos of the process and signed up to go to the Bloodsource center rather than have the peer pressure of donating blood at the school blood drive. I even listened to calming music beforehand, and prayed to God that I would be able to help use my blood donation to help people. Once again, I got through the registration process and was fine, but when it came time for the finger poke, something inside me panicked again. I said "I can't do this" and began to cry again. This time, the Bloodsource worker was my hero. She talked calmly and reassured me, saying that she hadn't donated blood until later in life, and that I could always come back whenever I felt ready, even if it was just to volunteer at the center or sit and watch people donate blood for a bit. Once again, I was so angry at myself for letting such a simple and irrational fear hold me back.

To this day, I still have never had blood drawn, but I recently got some vaccinations without too much of a problem, so I'm hoping that someday soon I can overcome this fear. I'm going to have to have a blood test for NYU Abu Dhabi, and I'm going to be cautiously optimistic. It's okay to still be afraid and it's okay to fail, as long as we continue to improve ourselves and wait for the right opportunity to come.

It's okay to say "I can't do this right now, but I'm going to continue to prepare myself so that I can when the time is right." I might not be ready to donate blood yet, but someday I will. I have faith that I will.

God's power enables us to do things that we wouldn't be able to do on our own. When we approach life with faith over fear, new opportunities open themselves to us. It's okay to be afraid, but we have to hold onto hope despite our fear. Whether it's jumping from a plane or moving to a new country, dealing with life's adventures requires faith. Learning to love ourselves requires faith.

I've never put much stock in the whole "positive thinking" philosophy, because to me it always seems like a way of deluding oneself and burying negative feelings to put on an outward persona of happiness. Too often, it seems to be twisted around as a way of blaming the victim for their circumstances. (i.e. "You should smile more; then people would like you better." or "No one likes to be around someone with such a negative attitude.")

I think instead of always pasting on a smile and trying to force ourselves to be happy, it's better to acknowledge our shortcomings and difficulties for what they are, but to change our perspective to an attitude of faith.

I really love this passage from the Book of Mormon in Ether 12: 27

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Hope you're all well,