There are only 12 DAYS LEFT in the fundraising campaign for Rhodes Hall High School!! We are hoping to raise additional funds to purchase track spikes and shoes for competition and are closing in on $2,500! Click here to donate now, or read more about the kids and their incredible stories here. I am accepting new and gently used running apparel of all genders and sizes at: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616 until February 15, 2016! Don’t hesitate to email me at thetrexrunner(at)gmail.com!

So, the other day, I mentioned to a coworker that I have to have my gallbladder taken out in a couple weeks. It was part of a normal conversation, and I didn’t really think anything of it – I said it casually. The look on her face was priceless: “You have to get your gall bladder out? Aren’t you afraid?? I would be sitting at my desk crying hysterically if I knew I had to have surgery!” The look on my face was probably also priceless, because the thought of being afraid never really occurred to me (nor did the thought of crying hysterically at my desk. I’m more inclined towards maniacal laughter). I mean, it’s not my first rodeo – this is my 6th lifetime surgery and the 4th in the past 3 years. It just is what it is and at this point I more or less assume something on my body is going to fail me each year and need to be surgically repaired – no reason to dwell on it. The point of this story is not to bash my frequently rebellious internal structure. Her comments made me think, because I actually get comments like this quite often in all areas of my life:

  • “You’re running a marathon? I could never do that! Aren’t you scared?”
  • “I can’t believe you’re divorced. I would never have survived that.”
  • You’re going to the Middle East? What about terrorists? I would be way too afraid.”
  • “You’re traveling by yourself? Isn’t that terrifying?”
  • “OMG, you have to deal with snakes and bugs at work?! What if one bites you?!”
  • “Weren’t you scared to visit Colombia? Tons of people get kidnapped there!”
  • “You run in the dark/by yourself/ with headphones on?”
  • “How do you teach fitness classes in front of other people? That’s so scary!”
“You went to a local market in Ecuador?? Did anyone try to mug you?! You picked up a puppy? What if it had a disease?!”

Many people perceive me as fearless, and I think that’s funny. It’s a compliment, I guess (although some of those people might also be implying that I am insane, but I’ll take what I can get). But at the same time, it’s not true. I have a ridiculous number of irrational fears, and anyone who has known me for a long time, particularly pre-2011 (when my ex-husband and I separated) will tell you that my life used to be ruled by anxiety and fear. Chief among my fears:

  • The dark (I won’t walk through a dark room, even in my own house, even if I have just turned off the light and know the room is safe)
  • Birds (All birds that can fly and have beaks. Penguins are not included, but ostriches are)
  • Raw chicken (AJ handles all raw chicken in our house. I wouldn’t even cook chicken until about 2 years ago, and I still rarely cook it using anything other than a crock pot.)
  • Unknown numbers on my caller ID, and voicemails from those numbers (DID I FORGET TO PAY A BILL FIVE YEARS AGO OMG?!)
  • Being buried alive (I have an elaborate funeral plan in place to assure this does not happen – seriously)
  • Mosquitos
  • Outer space
  • Mice/rats/vermin
  • Giving birth/raising children/being responsible for children/having to interact with children/talking to children (I’m sure they’re lovely, I just am really, really awkward with kids)
Mosquito nets are a staple clothing item in Alaska in June. Fine, maybe just for me.

The list goes on and on. And yes, my fear of birds does frequently make traveling and my job difficult because hello, birds are everywhere. But you want to know the thing I am most afraid of? The thing that keeps me awake at night and the thing that forces me to confront many of the things that used to terrify me/still sometimes terrify me, like living alone, or being attacked, or eating dinner by myself or not knowing how to communicate in a foreign country?

It’s the fear of dying without really living. That’s what is spinning in my mind when I can’t sleep, or when I’m slogging through hours at work, the barre studio, and my freelance assignments. It’s why I devote every spare cent to travel and experiences and stepping outside my comfort zone. I’m not fearless. I have the same anxiety as everyone else when I’m in a strange place and someone pays me a little too much attention, or when I don’t know where I’m going and I feel like I’m entering a bad neighborhood. I worry about the plane going down, getting ripped off, looking like an idiot in front of clients at the studio, and my heart exploding during speed work. I worry about something going wrong in my operations.

But more than that, I worry about what my life would be like if I never had my stomach or back surgeries and lived with that pain forever, or if I had never taken the steps towards recovering from my eating disorder. I worry about not having enough money to travel and make my dreams come true. I worry about staying stagnant, never growing, and never building meaningful relationships with others because of hurt from the past. Those things are much more scary to me than the other fears will ever be, and they drive me to push myself out of my comfort zone constantly. Am I a little scared to be traveling to Nepal for two weeks by myself (it’s possible I will have a travel buddy, but it’s TBD right now, and I’m going either way)?  HELL YES. HELL YES, I am scared! But what is the alternative? Wait to go on my dream trip while I search for just the right person to come with me (it’s not everyone’s ideal trip), knowing that I might never find that person? Wait for the perfect time to go, or more money, or whatever? What if that chance never comes? The thought of that is terrifying, and it makes going alone seem not so bad at all. In fact, it makes it seem pretty awesome.

I’ll suck it up for those views (not the khaki shorts. The mountains. God, you guys.)

The beautiful part about having fears is pushing past them. Things that terrified me years ago are barely blips on my radar now; instead, new fears have taken their place – and that’s a good thing! The process of stepping outside my comfort zone and redefining it has changed how I look at myself and the world. While I still have plenty of fears, I know that they can all be overcome if I so choose to do so. My first tattoo (I have 9 or 10, I can never remember) was a seagull on my right hip. I got it right after breaking up with my high school/college boyfriend and right before transferring to the University of Maryland, where I knew no one. It’s symbolic of conquering my fears, and since then, I’ve added two more birds – each at a proverbial fork in the road in my life. I might still be afraid of birds (I believe my fear of them is a healthy form of self preservation), but I’m not afraid of living life anymore and most importantly, I’m not afraid of relying on myself to make it through tough situations.

So when you see people doing things you want to do, don’t assume that they aren’t afraid or that they have some bravery you don’t possess. They’re almost definitely not fearless – no one is! Don’t wait until you “get over” your fears before you go out and live your dreams. The only way we overcome our fears is by confronting them. The only way we face death is by living life. I promise not to let my fears hold me back, keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and keep writing about it if you promise to do it, too. Well, maybe not the writing part – that’s a lot of work, quite frankly. We’re in this, together, ok? Wimps of the world, UNITE!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela

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