There is element of fear that is spread throughout our lives. We are all different, and process fear in many ways. My mission is to preach the benefits of how, in that exact moment, we have the ability to overcome the feeling that overwhelms us. The fear of how others will judge us, the fear of being in pain, the fear of ‘what if’.
When I began swimming in the ocean, I had a fear of sharks. It was natural. I grew up around rivers and lakes. The Atlantic Ocean was a place we visited every other summer when I was growing up. I was certainly not comfortable swimming out past my waist. My first marathon swim in Tampa Bay, Florida was in April 2010. I remember standing on the shore and staring out into the Bay. It would be the first time I left the safety of the sand. I swam knowing well the dark water had Bull Sharks that certainly were capable at any moment of coming into my personal space.
I began to learn how to block out that fear of ‘what if’, and began to train my mind to focus on the purpose for my swim – to assure myself that I could swim 20+ miles in the ocean. I completed the swim that day and set the wheels in motion to break that fear barrier.
There is nothing I am going to tell you that will cause you to remove fear in your life in the immediate future. In is a process to break down the walls, and take the necessary steps to break that fear. Whatever that fear might be – in your personal or professional life – you can, and you will break it.
I do remember the following summer – 2011 – I completed the Catalina Channel and the Molokai Channel – both of course had the chance for marine wildlife. I had purchased two ‘Shark Shield’ devices from Australia which claimed to repel the sharks from an electromagnet pulse off the end of a device which was to be dragged from the kayak next to the swimmer. One thing you will realize very quickly in this sport, is that trying to maintain a position within 5m of a swimmer, in the middle of the night, on a rough ocean, is next to impossible. I jumped off the back of the dive boat at midnight and began the swim. It was certainly a different environment than anything I had experienced before. By the end, I had given up on the device.
In the Hawaiian swim, I don’t think my kayak was able to be within 5m of me for the entire swim due to the large open ocean swells. It simply was not possible. Once again breaking the comfort blanket to believe this device was protecting me. In the end, both devices ended up at the bottom of the Baja of Mexico due to a flipped kayak after another swimmer who had borrowed them. I never again used any device, or any ‘security blanket’ to protect me again. The fear of open water – and what was swimming below – had left.
Living in fear will only prohibit your growth. It certainly fuels a life of always having that safety net. That is not the way to live. You will never know what you could have become. You will experience what I perceive as my ultimate fear – the day where we know it’s our last, and we have regrets. We might be old and gray, with a terminal diagnosis, and knowing we could have done more, but we were too afraid. At least in that scenario, you had the ability to live, and see what you could accomplish. But let me hit you with something harder. What is that day was tomorrow? Oh sure, who could ever imagine their perfect life could be cut short?
Summer. Jimmy. Kara. Emily. Jessica. Mark. Ben. Julia – should I keep going?
I know fear. I’ve had situations in my life where it could have ended in a split second. I’ve been in situations where the outcome of the day could have put me behind bars. I know what fear feels like, because it eats away at you – day in, day out – if you let it. In those moments of sheer terror, there is only choice. You keep moving forward. One step, one stroke, one minute, one hour, one day, one year at a time. I don’t fear pain, I don’t fear how anyone views me, and I certainly will not allow fear to alter the life I chose to live. I know life is precious because I’ve almost lost mine. I know life is precious because of the young lives that expired way too early. I know that life is precious and in return, to honor all of those who cannot be by my side today, I will continue to push on. I will live the mission of my faith, and my passion to inspire others to find that journey which takes you out of your comfort zone and repeatedly breaks you down. Only you won’t break. You’ll scream out in pain knowing your mind will overcome however much the body feels.
How do you overcome fear? By repeating the process of continuing to put yourself in situations where you learn to grow. It will never come from a book, it will never come from words, and it will certainly not come as you sit there wondering ‘what if’. I pray you will never see the day where you will have regrets in your life. I pray you will not leave this world knowing you could have done more. And I pray that you know we all are afraid at times – you are certainly not alone.