On Saturday, a friend and I were paused on our skis at the top of a run on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late in the afternoon on a bluebird day, temperatures hovering around zero. The snow was perfect, and at the end of this run we’d be drinking beer in the rowdy lodge below. We were on vacation in every way, giddy with it.
“Let’s race,” he challenged me.
I’d done NASTAR races growing up (and ranked nationally in middle school); I’d been on my college ski team; heck, when I was a baby I’d been stuck in my dad’s backpack while he, a former downhill racer, cruised down the slopes. I was confident that I was—am—a good skier. I feel comfortable on skis.
But last week, at the top of that run, all I felt was fear. “I don’t know,” I said. “You’ll probably win.” He was bigger, faster, and more athletic. More importantly, he had taught himself to be fearless. He was afraid of heights, but had jumped out of planes dozens of times. He had left a good college to join the army. He was kind of a rebel, kind of a hero, didn’t care what anyone would think.
Not like me.
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said. But I shook my head. “No, let’s do it.” I didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t live a little on the edge. I was trying to prove I was cool, after all. Trying to prove I could keep up. Plus, he was cute.
The scary thing about going fast is that you lose precision; you lose control; you lose the ability to stop. You just have to let go.
For some people, this comes easily. My mom likes to tell the story of how my older brother and I learned to walk. Well, my brother didn’t walk—he just ran from the start, and would fall and get banged up and keep going, so they stuck a helmet on his head to keep him safe. I, on the other hand, started small: just a few steps at a time, hand always outstretched to a couch or table, slow and dainty and poised. So, yeah, you could say I’ve never been good at letting go or going fast or taking risk or any of that. It’s just not me.
But sometimes, I do it anyway. I’ve ski-raced. I’ve hang-glided. I’ve jumped off cliffs into rivers twenty feet below. I love rollercoasters and pushing past 90 on an empty freeway. I’ve gone to places that aren’t strictly safe. I’ve chosen paths that aren’t strictly smart. I’ve insisted on truths that aren’t strictly popular. Fear checks me, but it also goads me.
We raced. He won—barely. To me, though, it was a kind of victory.
For me, 2015 has been a year of trying—and, often, failing—to overcome fear. Fear of stasis; fear of vulnerability; fear of making the wrong choices; fear of losing something, or losing out on something; fear of things beyond my control; fear of that tick-tock of time. Adulthood, I’ve learned, is in fact just a process of confronting and minimizing these fears, the Sunday scaries that haunt us daily.
As I look back on my 2013 and 2014 year-end posts, the ironic truth is that, in many ways, little has changed for me. While our country (and our world) hopscotches from crisis to crisis, uprooting lives and upending paradigms of power all over the globe, I’ve been cocooned in a personal bubble of safe, privileged sameness. Here I am once again in Santa Barbara, uncertain of what the future holds, angsty and cautious and eager. I went to yoga much more often in 2015, but I’m still crap at handstands. I watched “In the Heart of the Sea” (hello Chris Hemsworth!), but my copy of Moby Dick lies dusty and unfinished since I started it in 2013. I’ve been trying to get to sleep earlier, but my bedtimes still careen between a somewhat respectable midnight and a really nonsensical 3am. And the list of little failures goes on.
In other words: three years on, and I haven’t accomplished much of what I set out to do. Why not? I fume at myself. What have I been doing, if not the important work of progress?
Then again. If, for me, 2013 and 2014 were about wild transition, then 2015 was about learning to stay put: one job, one apartment, two states, no big trips or big changes. In 2015, I overcame a fear of letting people down to overcome a different fear—that of missing out on pursuing the things I am compelled to pursue. In 2015, I overcame a fear of being overly opinionated by figuring out how to speak up more articulately. In 2015, I overcame (or started to overcome) a fear of being alone by doubling down on friendships and taking more chances with people. I may not be letting go. I may be clinging to control. I’m not my brother running before I can walk, or my friend in Idaho eager for a race. I can only look to their confidence to guide me, to give me something to compete with, to provoke me past my comfort zone.
Sometimes this year has felt like forward motion; other times, like when I decided to start again from square one in my career, it has felt like backtracking. (The job application process does nothing better than planting seeds of destructive self-doubt.) It’s hard to tell. Only time, as they say, has that kind of prescience.
And time is, thankfully, what’s on the calendar. So here’s to a New Year of health and joy, of teaching ourselves to turn fear into fuel. I’ll be trying!
Things I did in 2015: became friends with the guy at my local wash ‘n’ fold; put my dating apps to use; grew up; dealt with various household pests; devoured all four of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and all seven Harry Potters once more; shared my home with friends I’m lucky to have found; learned to love to sweat; discovered the pleasures of Spotify; drank martinis; became a Belieber (yeah, I said it).
Things I’m working on for 2016: finishing Moby Dick, once and for all; writing more (always); cooking more new recipes; arriving on time (work in progress, sorry guys); being there for my family in whatever ways I can be; saving up some money; not letting myself down.
Thank you for sticking around—and cheers! Pop your bottles, now.