“Well, imagine an ice cream cone with two scoops on top. You know the double headed cones where the scoops sit side by side?” the doctor looked up from his fist he was using as a prop to make sure I was following along.
I nod indicating that I am with him.
“Well, now imagine if one of those scoops sloughs off the side and separates from the other. Maybe it breaks free and maybe it just sits there. On the verge of slipping off,” He was now using his other fist as an example of the scoop slipping free yet hanging on.
If only it were an ice cream cone that he was describing and not the ball of my shoulder bone. I listened, not really comprehending exactly the seriousness of my situation. There was talk about a main artery and nerve that ran along the top of the humerus. It all sounded like a teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons.
“Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah,” says the unseen authority figure.
I guess the cocktail of pain medications did not help my comprehension or attention abilities. Thank goodness they sent me home with well-written instructions on what to do and who to contact next.
I stumbled out of the emergency center into the bright sunlight and stood for a moment gathering my wits – or at the least the ones I could catch. Looking around the parking lot, I spotted our grey Sienna and my husband sitting inside. Due to the new COVID restrictions, he was not able to come in with me and had to wait in the car. I walked over and reached for the door handle. He had already hopped out of the driver side and sprang around the front to meet me at the door and help me in. Gently guiding me into the seat, he carefully closed the door. His silence spoke volumes.
Now inside the care, I fumbled for the seat belt. He reached across and pulled it gently around me, being extra careful not to bump my left arm, and snapped the lock into place. I felt the tears pressing behind my eyes, begging to be released. Swallowing hard, I asked for a drink of water. The nausea settled and the tears held as I drank deeply from my hydro flask.
I had already texted him letting him know the prognosis that I had fractured my shoulder. I was now looking at physical therapy and possibly surgery. We drove home and I went straight to the restroom where I proceeded to writhe in pain trying to get my pants down one-handed. Trying to stand up I nearly passed out in pain. Not from my shoulder, but from my left knee. How had I missed that? Why was my knee so painful and how am I going to get off the toilet without calling for help? I was determined to get my ass off that toilet and so I forced my right leg to do all the heavy lifting as I pulled with my right arm on the ledge of the counter.
“Are you ok in there?” my husband called to me.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I groaned between my firmly gritted teeth as I hauled and pushed with all my might to get myself off the toilet.
Standing, sweating, and breathing heavily, I still had to get my pants up. I stood and took several long deep breaths trying to calm my shaking body. I was clearly still in shock from the trauma of the morning. However, there was no way I was going to allow my husband in to help me pull my pants up. Slowly, carefully, gently, I eased up the waistband of my leggings and managed to make myself presentable. Opening the door, I found him sitting on the bedside waiting for me.
“You know, after 20+ years together, I think I can help you pull your pants up,” he said with a wry smile.
He stood up and gave me a very careful hug and I felt the tears pushing into my eyes once again.
Stepping back, I gave him a kiss on the cheek and thanked him for being such an amazing husband, but there was no way I was going to let him ‘help’ me in the bathroom.
Sitting at my desk, my arm hanging limply in the sling, I felt the pressure of the tears return as I pecked out my first one-handed email, very, very slowly.
How will I shower and dress myself?
How long will it take to recover?
Will I be able to fully use my arm again?
How am I going to finish my books if I can’t type properly?
Who’s going to take care of the chickens?
How am I going to plant my seeds for my spring garden?
How am I going to go to the bathroom?
Unable to care for myself
I sat there staring at my keyboard. My right hand resting on the edge of the desk and my left arm resting in the sling. I took several long, deep breaths and tried to calm my racing mind.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” the voice in my head chastised. “Bryce and Lionel will do anything you need them to do to help.”
“But I can’t expect them to do everything for me. I’m not even capable of dressing myself.”
“Yet,” the more positive voice in my head added.
“There is no way I’m going to let them help me in the bathroom or shower. That’s not an option,” I cried into the blackness that was descending across my mind.
“Do they love you?”
“Do you love them?”
“What if this were one of them instead of you who had fallen and fractured their shoulder? What would you do?” That damn rational voice asked.
“I would do whatever I need to do to help them heal and recover,” I answered after a brief pause, now seeing where this discussion was heading.
“Then why would you rob them of the opportunity to help you? You are always giving and doing for everyone else. Allow them to do for you what you would happily do for them.”
The message was clear and the tears streamed freely down my cheeks as I realized, I had called this into existence in my resistance to letting others help me. My fear of being incapacitated in some way, being helpless, drives me to do and be everything for everyone but me. It’s my turn to take care of myself and allow others to help me in anyway they can.
My husband and son have assumed the responsibilities for cooking, laundry, chickens, dogs, plants, etc. I have released my attachment to how the towels are folded, what and how they are preparing food (except regarding WildFit guidelines), feeding the dogs and chickens. They are doing great and I’m enjoying letting them care for me – mostly.
I released my fear of being incapacitated and allowed myself to be cared for by those who love me in the same way I would happily care for them.
I can still feel the butterflies beating rapidly in my belly…
Fear is a basic human survival instinct. Without fear we would surely all be dead. Fear drives us to think about what the worst possible outcome might be. Unfortunately, this can cause us to fixate on that outcome and by doing that we can actually call it into being. This way we can prove ourselves right and reinforce why we should continue to be afraid.
I use fear differently. I use fear as a tool to drive myself, to transform my beliefs and to continue growing and evolving. If I lived in fear, then I would still be living in Cedar Rapids, IA, working as a manager or by now, possibly a Senior Manager. Instead, I used my fear to propel me on a life long journey of exploring new places, meeting interesting people and generally pushing my boundaries of comfort and familiarity.
I once delivered a presentation on public-private-partnerships. I was asked to present it to the French national Assembly. Being fairly new to life in Europe, I had no idea what I was signing up for or to who I was delivering the presentation. I had been living in England for a little over a year and wasn’t very familiar with European politics or the government structures. After I created my presentation and learned enough French to open my speech in their native language (albeit horribly butchered), I was practicing my presentation when my fiancé said to me with such pride in his eyes, “Wow, I think it’s so great that you’re presenting to the French National Assembly. What a great achievement.”
Innocently, I asked him why he thought it was such a big deal. When he then told me that it was the equivalent to presenting to the House of Congress or something similar, I can tell you the bottom dropped out of my stomach and that liquid cold feeling ran through my veins. The fear began to set in and my mind raced to think about how I could possibly get out of this mess. How had I let myself be so naïve in thinking this was something I could do? I was nearly paralyzed into withdrawing from the event. I phoned my dear friend, Nicole, who lived in Paris at the time and asked her what she thought I should do. She confirmed that the Assembly is the policy arm of the French government and went on to tell me how fantastic she thought it was that I was actually presenting to them. She offered to help me with my French as she speaks several languages fluently. Together we recrafted my opening and polished my presentation to reflect a more French appeal.
I stayed with her for a few days prior to the event and she helped me navigate the Parisian transportation network so I could easily find my way on the day of the presentation. She even escorted me to the Assembly House and encouraged me all the way. Then I was on my own sitting on the stage while the attendees filed into the hall. There were representatives from the main industry operators and Assembly officials all sitting in the front row. I was certain they were ready to pounce on me and make me into fois gras to be served as a snack after the event.
I can still feel the butterflies beating rapidly in my belly and the sweat slicking my palms almost smearing the ink on my presentation notes gripped so tightly in my hands. I was one of several presenters / industry experts that day. We all sat on chairs aligned on the stage with a moderator to facilitate the order and the questions. The moderator welcomed the audience, queued up the first presenter and my mind drifted listening to him and thinking about my own presentation. How his was so much better and mine was so juvenile and lacked so much depth. His graphics were so incredibly good and mine looked like my son had drawn them. Then the moment came and my name was called as the next to present. I swallowed….hard….stood up…wobbled a little as I took my place behind the podium. Gripping the sides of the stand, I looked out at the audience and said, “Bonjour, je suis es …….”. The rest was a bit of a blur. I remember getting a chuckle during my opening at the expected moment and then I relaxed a bit. I released the death grip of the podium and sailed through the rest of the presentation with grace.
Following my delivery there was period of questions and answers. I artfully responded either directly or through the moderator who also acted as the translator for those who were not adept in English. I noticed there were headsets, much like the ones in Geneva when I had presented there, and a booth of translators located at the back of the room. I was able to answer the questions with ease and many of the participants came up to me following the presentation sessions to congratulate me and tell me how brave I was to open in French. They appreciated my attempt at their language although they also told me I needed to keep practicing.
It was an amazing experience. One that I never would have had if I had allowed fear to rule me. I had to dig deep and reach out to my friend to help me through it. When the realization of what I had taken on had first hit me, I had two choices:
- Withdraw: people do it all the time. Some family or business emergency comes up and the presenter has to withdraw. I was certain I could come up with a plausible reason to NOT present. The excuses ran the gambit of my son is ill, my company needs me on a major project with critical deadlines, I’m ill with some mysterious disease, my dog sat on my laptop and broke it (oh, wait, I didn’t have a dog at that time).
- Go through with it: push my boundaries, learn from the experience it would look great on my resume.
I asked myself “What’s the worst that could happen”? They might not like me. They won’t laugh at my joke. They won’t like me butchering their language. My presentation will be laughed at. I could have played it safe and withdrawn from presenting. I didn’t. I decided I would not let fear rule me and even if they didn’t laugh at my joke or like me – so what? As long as I don’t start a riot, then what does it matter that I’m presenting to politicians and industry leaders. I chose to use my fear to spur me into digging deep, asking for assistance and expanding my comfort zone.
I was at a gathering of friends recently when I said to a friend who was telling me about something she was debating about doing. I asked her “What’s the worst that could happen?” Over hearing my comment, another guest interjected with “Oh no, never say that. If you ask that question, then it will happen.” I looked at her for a minute, a little taken aback by her adamant response. I realized in that moment that she was coming from a place of fear. I diplomatically let her know that I didn’t agree with this view because unless we understand what the parameters are we will not be able to make a rational decision. I explained that I believe we can chose to focus on the negative (ie. The worst possible outcome) or we can acknowledge it, then decide how we feel about it and make an informed decision. She listened intently and told me she had never thought about in those terms.
When making a decision that can have potentially major consequences, I ask myself two questions:
- What’s the best possible outcome?
- What’s the worst possible outcome?
This gives me a spectrum within which I can then operate. I’m sure my years of project management and risk mitigation have a lot to do with how I handle fear. Instead of letting it rule me, I use it to drive me towards the best possible outcome. And I put mitigation strategies in place to address any potential detours that may come up along the way. I also ask myself if the worst possible outcome is something I could live with. If not, then I know that I need to do something differently. What I don’t do is allow it to paralyze me.
I encourage you to use fear to explore new and exciting opportunities. Work with it to drive yourself forward. Learn how to harness the energy and channel it to enable you to live an extraordinary life full of wonder.