Small Bites of Fear each Day

I have started wondering why I like to ski so much. Yes, it is the beauty of the mountains, the fresh air, the social component, but it’s also because I regularly push myself. Every time I drop in somewhere steep or carve early morning turns maybe a little too fast, I take nibbles of fear. I’m not being extreme, just challenging myself enough to enter an alert state, entirely in the present.

Why consume daily doses of fear like multi-vitamins? Maybe because, as a coach once told me, you practice how you play, and you play how you live. Practicing how to live alongside fear develops important muscles, the same ones you need to take any risk, to fall in love, to have a child. Traveling abroad and training for a marathon have been similar opportunities for me to flirt with fear. I credit facing those challenges with helping me write novels.

I have been so enjoying keeping up with the Story Club with George Saunders. One of the latest editions of this online master writing class was titled “Joy, not Fear. Unless fear is helpful.” He writes that a peril in writing being “the disappearance of joy in the face of fear,” defining fear as caution and joy as daring. And so as I think about that sensation to which I am addicted when I ski, the wind screaming over my helmet, it is a fine blend of fear and joy, and maybe it is my joy muscle that needs exercising.

Listening to a skiing podcast THE LAST CHAIR which featured Kristen Ulmer, the first and one of the greatest female extreme skiers in the world, I learned how she turned that experience into a career as a high-performance facilitator and a fear/anxiety expert. One of her pearls of wisdom was to rename fear, to be aware of a state of heightened excitement and awareness, and to not think of it as a negative, but rather to think of it as a superpower. Our relationships with fear, after all, define our lives and can stand in the way of happiness. She wrote a book called THE ART OF FEAR which is a deeper dive into the topic. And of course Lindsey Vonn’s RISE: MY STORY sounds like a great companion story, both on my TBR!

The winter Olympics have shown outstanding examples of athletes who consistently overcome fear — the fear of serious injury or death. The fear of wiping out or missing a gate. Nearly every winter Olympic sport is extremely dangerous. (I say nearly because, you know, Curling.) The flips in the air, the speed on skis, the blades, the ice, the vertical drops. We are drawn to the Winter Olympics for more than the sports. It’s because we can relate to the fear and we are inspired by what it must take to face it down on a grand stage.

All this winter-inspired obsession with fear, I’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Whatever bite-sized tastes of fear I take each day, whatever joy and daring I blend with the caution, the recipe isn’t complete with a good dose of gratitude and love.

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Jeanne Blasberg

Jeanne Blasberg

Jeanne is the award-winning & best-selling author of EDEN (SWP ’17) and THE NINE (SWP ‘19). A graduate of Smith College, she lives in Boston & Westerly, RI.