Why fear is good

Do you notice that the holidays make regular things feel different? A regular lunch date becomes a festive lunch date. Work slows down and you can make it to a 4:30 yoga class on a Friday afternoon. This week was power yoga. The class opened with a question:

Does everyone go upside down?

Well, does everyone?

Most people in the class nodded casually. I think I mumbled “I can but I usually don’t”. Whatever self-conscious not-exactly-the-truth that was. When it came time for the upside down part, it was fairly tame. Stand by the wall and kick your legs up to the wall so you’re standing on your hands, facing away from the wall. Looks extremely easy. But isn’t, once you factor in the fear.

Fear of being uspide down, falling on your face (literally), breaking your neck, dislocating a shoulder, elbow or wrist. Fear of looking stupid.

I know all the technical cues for a handstand against the wall – knit your ribs together and stay integrated through the core, don’t arch your back, power through the arms, shoulder blades low on your back, feet strong not floppy. I promise I could teach you how to do it.

And there I was, repeating the initial jump toward the wall, never allowing my feet to meet the wall, never allowing myself to go that far upside down. The pose should take one jump, maybe two, and then you’re in position and you explore being there. I was like a broken record, repeating that first step, the jump, poorly, again and again.

Exhausted and breathless.

Do people online even understand the broken record analogy anymore?

Right.

At my festive lunch my friend and former colleague caught me talking about sticking around in my job longer than I otherwise might, because I want to start a family and it makes sense not to double challenge myself.

“Lean in,” he said, knowingly.

Two small words. But thanks to Cheryl Sandberg, those words mean something to professional women.

If life is a series of habits, then developing a habit of leaning in will result in a richer life. And in yoga on Friday I decidedly leaned out. I was fearful and wasted energy in all the wrong places.

All I know about the question of balancing career and family, and leaning in to the workplace versus leaning in at home, is that everyone has a right answer that’s different. And the best way to figure out the right answer for you is to follow your gut. And you might not have a gut direction on the matter until you are faced with a board meeting and a doctor’s appointment, at the same time. Right now I don’t know where I stand. But maybe in that future moment, I will.

Every day we are making decisions that are shaping our lives. Making them all in advance would be like reading the last page of a book first. Or starting your career with your dream job. Or doing the perfect handstand before you had mastered the jump. Or the fear.

Sandberg’s point is that you should give yourself a chance to follow your gut when the time comes, rather than taking yourself out of the game too early.

My point is that you should make decisions that feel right everyday and see how things unfold, rather than committing to a rigid long term plan.

Every day yoga reminds me of what I’m working towards – openness, flexibility, strength, peace.

Fear is a tangible input. If it scares you in a good way, you should probably keep doing it. 

For now, it’s the holidays, which means it’s time for family and probably some yoga. And reflection on the year past. And desires for the year ahead, including more leaning in and maybe, finally, getting upside down on the mat. And then off the mat. By acknowledging the fear and using it as something to overcome.

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