Have you ever had an Aha moment? A moment where time stands still, when an idea, a thought, a feeling hits you square in the gut or forehead. It’s enough to make you pay attention and listen. Little did I know it at the time, but this Aha moment was enough to change my life’s path at that exact moment, forever.
It was my first day at my first teaching job at an urban charter school in Philadelphia. The staff had gathered in the auditorium of Arcadia University to listen to a motivational speaker, Marlon Smith, to inspire us as we kicked off our weeklong professional development training. I arrived early to settle into the auditorium in order to calm my nerves, as I eagerly anticipated the day’s events. As the staff arrived I carefully watched as returning staff greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, sharing jokes and stories about their summers. I looked around, hoping to see a colleague I knew who had recommended me for this job. I sat for a minute or two, by myself just observing and taking in the atmosphere, when I saw my friend. He greeted his fellow 4th grade teachers as I came up to introduce myself.
As I introduced myself, our principal got up to speak and welcome everyone to the start of the school year, and invited everyone to take a seat. Marlon was introduced to the crowd and immediately I was engaged with his enthusiasm and excitement. I eagerly took notes on how to “live a life of purpose” thinking that I could apply his ideas to my life. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. As I took notes, Marlon spoke one phrase that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. I put the pencil down, I looked up and
Don’t live your life out of fear.
WHAM! Those words slapped me across the face. I felt my entire body tingle, as I wrote those words in bold letters across my notebook. It was as if the universe knew it was exactly what I needed to hear, yet I was uncertain as to why.
As Marlon continued on, the room came back to life, the fleeting Aha moment subsided, yet its impression on me lingered. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. I decided to revisit it at the end of the day when I returned home.
Those seven words were what inspired me to start living my Year of No Fear. It wasn’t until about five months after hearing those words that I started using the hashtag #yearofnofear and purposefully confronting my fear through my adventures. I took up white water kayaking, started backpacking solo, traveled solo, learned to sail, among other things that once scared me. Now it’s been about three years since hearing, don’t live your life out of fear, and I’ve continued to be inspired to confront my more psychological fears. That Aha moment has had a lasting impression on my life.
Have you ever had an Aha moment? How was it presented to you? Did you listen and make changes?
As 2015 winds down, it is only natural for people to reflect on the year that has been and gear up for the year that will be. Many of my friends who have been following my adventures have seen my Year of No Fear hash tag. What most people don’t realized that what started out as a simple hash tag, was actually first a mantra/promise I made to myself in early 2015.
During the Winter of 2014/2015, I was going through a depression that crippled me both mentally and physically. Although I was able to keep up an act at work, on the weekends my act crumbled around me, as I succumbed to the pain, sadness and emptiness that permeated through me. I secluded myself from friends and family who were worried about my wellbeing. My once adventurous and out-going attitude faded behind my ever-growing self-doubt. One day, at my worst, doing everything in my power to overcome a vicious urge to take my own life, I made a promise to myself. “Stop living a life of fear,” I told myself. Fighting back tears, I wrote those words on my mirror with crimson red lipstick. I strategically placed that mantra in a place where I could see it from my bed. I repeated it over and over, growing louder until I was screaming it at the top of my lungs, as if trying to expel the pain and sadness from my bones. It was in that moment that I promised myself that I would live without fear, or “Live Fearlessly”, my final edit to the mantra on my mirror.
It wasn’t until February 16th, 2015 that my #yearofnofear made it onto my social media page. I had used the hash tag as motivation to help me get over my fear of biking to work. Although I became a bike commuter in the winter out of necessity, not choice, I knew that this first triumph over one of my fears was just the beginning. While biking home that night I contemplated how my life would change if I forced myself to do everything that scared me.
Looking back, I can say that my life as I knew it changed that day. I made a conscious effort to change my attitude, which in turn changed the way I decided to live my life.
One thing that changed during my #yearofnofear was the amount of things I was able to accomplish. Whitewater kayaking. Sailing. Rock Climbing. Biking. Backpacking. Making new friends. Traveling with strangers. Traveling to Iceland. A month long road trip. Visiting Texas, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Utah. Visiting Shenandoah, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Reestablishing a relationship with my father. Online Dating. But the biggest reward wasn’t the amount of things I was able to check off on a list, it was the amount of confidence I gained while doing things I had otherwise thought was impossible.
Learning to roll my kayak. Punching through Cucumber Rapid on the Youghiogheny River. Ascending a 5.9 route with an overhang. Solo backpacking for a week. Traveling without plans in an unknown city. Traveling alone. Being homeless for a month. Living on a boat for a weekend. Biking to work for 4 months. Having a one night stand with no guilt. Making peace with my father. Solo Snowboarding. Applying for a new job. These were all examples of things that I considered impossible for me to accomplish. Yet, as I was able to overcome each one, an overwhelming feeling of confidence would come over me. Slowly, as my accomplishments added up, I began to own that confidence. Soon I felt more comfortable in social situations. I was able to hold more meaningful conversations and I noticed the type of person I was able to attract into my life. These were people who also had some ambitious plans, goals, or were just down for more spontaneous adventures. They were more genuine, wore their emotions on their sleeves, more willing to help you out with little to no expectation of having the favor returned. I was becoming the person I had always imagined, and that was the biggest accomplishment of all.
Along with the accomplishments and the confidence, #yearofnofear allowed my friends to follow my adventures, and to even keep me motivated. I had a lot of fun talking with you, answering questions, hearing your admiration, and even being heckled for some of my decisions. “Come on, Bigs, it’s your Year of No Fear,” as I was being called out by my roommate for not confessing my crush on a male friend, was one of the best heckles of the year!
Even though 2015 is coming to an end, my Years of No Fears just began. I’ve decided to continue conquering my fears as it’s become my way of life. My list of things to accomplish has grown. Singing in front of a crowd. Skydiving. Hang gliding. Ice climbing. Exploring my sexuality. Posing for pin-up photos. Dating. More sailing, backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking adventures. Hosting house parties. Connecting with friends on a more personal level. Allowing myself to become vulnerable. Overcoming my emotional ties to my parents’ divorce and my father’s abandonment. Living in a foreign country. Finding my sense of home. These are the things I hope to experience in 2016, and you will see it posted with #yearsofnofears.
So what’s next? In addition to #yearsofnofears, I have decided that this will be the Year of the Empress (#yearoftheempress). It’s not as catchy as Year of No Fear, but it has a deeper meaning. The Empress refers to a chakra archetype, one that relates to pleasure, well-being, abundance, sexuality and a strong emotional sense of life. These are concepts that, for the longest time, I felt unworthy of knowing or experiencing. With my increased self-confidence, I now feel that I can and should experience abundance, well-being and pleasure, and have it come easily.
What will the Year of the Empress look like? It will be deeper connections with friends and strangers. I will allow myself to enjoy life, unrestricted and uninhibited. It will be opening myself up to opportunities to experience abundance in material, financial and emotional forms. It will also be a time where I will focus on what I need most, quiet the distractions, refine my character and hone in on what I am meant to do in this life.
This is also the year where I will be telling my story. I will be divulging the unknown chapters of my Year of No Fear, I will be compiling my stories of the road and of my adventures both from 2015 and years previous. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I’m hoping that my friends, family and visitors to my page will concur.
As I begin to prepare for the new year and new adventures, I will leave you with this lesson that I have learned from my Year of No Fear in hopes that it would inspire you:
Fear is but a mindset. Fear is singlehandedly the thing that will hinder you the most in your lifetime. In trying to overcome it, you’ll learn so much about yourself, and when you do conquer it, it’ll lead to a feeling of ecstasy and self-confidence. Anything is possible, especially when you change your mindset. That is exactly what I did that day, in January 2015. When I wrote those words, “Stop living life out of fear,” I made a decision to change my mindset. And in changing my mindset, I changed the entire way in which I continue to live my life.
Happy trails and adventures to you, where ever they may lead you in 2016!