Facing the Fear

Wants turn to fears

My first solo backpacking trip is almost here, and the excitement has turned into fear. Things that I knew were possibilities have turned into probabilities, and that has left me questioning my decision to go to the Smoky Mountains. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to rain, and there is a good chance there will be snow. This morning I said to a friend, “If I didn’t tell so many people I was going, I probably wouldn’t go.” Some coworkers of mine are spending spring break in places like Germany, Japan, and Costa Rica. I’m strapping a bunch of gear on my back and walking around in the cold and rain. It’s really starting to make sense why people keep questioning my mental health.

The strange thing is, all of my fears are the same as the reasons I wanted to do this in the first place.

Reason 1: I wanted to get back to nature, breathe in the fresh air, and experience the elements.

Fear 1: It’s going to be cold and raining, and I will be wet and miserable.

Yes, it will most likely rain; yes, it will be cold; and yes, it might even snow. These are things that I knew were a strong possibility and I was OK with it, but now that it is becoming a reality it is really a turn off. All I can think about is how paths will be very muddy.

Reason 2: I want to physically challenge myself and use this as a path to becoming healthy.

Fear 2: I’m still not in good enough shape to do this.

For two months now, I have been consistently working out and watching what I eat, but I have trouble giving myself credit for the positives. All I can think about is the time when I didn’t work out for two days in a row or the pizza I ate the other day. I feel better, but I haven’t lost a lot of weight. My legs could give out and I won’t make it up any mountains.

Reason 3: This will give me some time to myself to process things and soul search.

Fear 3: I’m going to be alone and go crazy.

I’m not going to lie. One of the reasons backpacking was appealing to me is that it’s something you can do alone and it’s not considered sad or creepy. The reaction I receive when I tell people I’m backpacking solo is far different than when I tell people I ate dinner alone at a bar. Even the word “solo” sounds cool. “Alone” does not. Since I will be actually doing something and not just sitting around, I won’t feel so lonely.

Sag Trail

Where does this path go?

The root of fear

I’ve always had a fear of failure, or rejection if you will. The easiest way to not fail is to not try. If you do nothing, then you will not fail at anything. My drive for success is weaker than my fear of failure, so my fears consume me. My main goal appears to be that I don’t want to experience any discomfort whatsoever. This goal can only be achieved by doing nothing. Every time you attempt something, there is a chance there will be something about it that will be unpleasant.

For example, I enjoy going to live concerts, but I often find myself spending more time being annoyed by people in the crowd than enjoying the band performing. I find that I have to force myself to pay attention to the band on stage (you know, the thing I paid to see) instead of the people around me. It all comes back to me being so worried that I won’t enjoy something that I end up unintentionally looking for something to annoy me.

The reason my wants turn into fears is because I am looking at them from a pessimistic perspective. I am so worried about unpleasant things that it has become very difficult to think about the things I will enjoy. Even when people tell me how “cool” this trip will be, my reply is usually negative, like, “It’s going to rain a lot,” or “I wish it was warmer.” A better answer would simply be, “Yes, it will be cool.”

Rocks in the path

Finding my way

Changing perspectives

Clichés like “look on the bright side” or “the glass is half full” really are, at their core, words to live by. If I go on this trip expecting to have a bad time, I will. If I go expecting to struggle, I will. If I go expecting to be lonely, I will be. I have already turned these negatives into a reality, and I haven’t even left yet. The reason I feel like I don’t accomplish anything is that I convince myself I can’t do it before I start. If I never swing at a baseball, how will I know if I can hit one? Is striking out that big of an embarrassment that it is better to sit there with a bat on your shoulder?

A brief story. When I was 11 or 12, I went rappelling with my Boy Scout troop. We were at Wheaton College, and some military men trained us. Then we went up to the top of the football bleachers. My fear of heights overcame me, and, and no matter the amount of encouraging, I was not able to overcome my fear. That night when my dad asked me how it was, I told him I didn’t do it because I was too much of a chicken. I thought he would be disappointed, but he wasn’t. He told me not to call myself a chicken – I got up there and I just couldn’t do it, and that’s OK. I didn’t need to put myself down or beat myself up about it because I tried. The following year when we went rappelling, I went down a few times without hesitation. This time, my dad’s words were still with me. I need to remember those words more often.

Yes, it will rain, it will be muddy, it will be cold, and it will be physically challenging; but those factors are the reason the payoff will be more satisfying. There isn’t a reason for me to sit there with the bat on my shoulder anymore. When I am on top of a mountain, how will I feel? I don’t know. The only way to find out how I’ll feel is to climb it, and that is my goal. Instead of being afraid of failing, my goal is to climb. My goal is to try. My goal is to enjoy life. In the end I don’t want to think about all the things I could have done, but was too afraid. I want to remember the journey, and how it was worth more than the destination.


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Comments 2

  • Tim Gallagher : Apr 1st

    Matt, Really good blog, and I especially like this post. You’re on the path in many ways in your life, and I’m glad you’re staying conscious of that. Keep going, keep writing, and keep following your path!

  • Linda : Apr 5th

    Hey Matt!

    I am amazed at your courage, commitment and writing ability! Continue on your journey, both physically and figuratively! Now I understand why you couldn’t have your “fortune” told the other night… You are making your own future happen one “muddy step” at a time! Better you than me!!



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