Beyond Fear

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We were 20 feet off the ground, suspended among the treetops in a dense forest in Western Massachusetts.

My little girl looked up. “Daddy,” she said, “I’m scared…”

She just turned 8, so I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me, though, was that 30-minutes and 6 stations into her first ever high-ropes course, this was the first time she voiced her fear. She’d pretty much flown through every challenge, scampering across wire bridges, floating block ladders and navigating itty bitty platforms wrapped around trees high above the earth without a hint of hesitation.

But, this was different. It was her first ever zip line.

For those not versed in the ways of the zip line, imagine a James Bond-ish wire cable strung between two trees at a downward angle. Then clip a small roller device from your body harness onto the rope, hang off the roller and go screaming down the line toward the tree at the end (just look at the image above).

As we sat on the platform, I checked her safety straps and carabiners and replied, “It’s okay to be nervous, I’m a little scared too. But, you can still do this. And once you hit the other side, I bet you’ll think it was one of the coolest things you’ve ever done.”

She looked at me nervously and asked me to go first, which I did. Moments later, she came hurtling my way, eyes wide open with a look that morphed from fear into a smile, then a scream, then a giggle and an outright laugh with each moment of acceleration.

I caught her at the end and pulled her into the safety of the platform while we unhooked the pulley and transferred her safety carabiners onto the wire anchors on the platform.

She looked up and, without skipping a beat, uttered, “let’s do that again!”

And, indeed, we did. Many times. There’s a proverb I’ve heard recounted in many different forms that goes something like this, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to take action in the face of fear.”

In that moment, high up in the trees, I think we both understood the power of this simple idea.

So, I’m curious, have you ever experienced anything like this?

Share your thoughts below…

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26 responses

26 responses to “Beyond Fear”

  1. Tracy says:

    Aww, she sounds like an adorable kid!

    That proverb you quoted reminds me, tangentially, of when I learned to drive. I was a very fearful driver while taking lessons and driving around with my permit. It seemed like such a huge, dangerous undertaking and I had no idea how I was ever supposed to do it alone. Finally (after failing the road test a couple of time because of nerves!) I got my license and thought, well okay, but I’m never driving alone because it’s too scary and dangerous.

    Until one day I had to go someplace and there was nobody around to take me and I had no choice but to drive myself. And to my surprise, it was so much easier to do it on my own! Instead of looking to the passengers to tell me what to do, I paid attention to my own judgment and trusted what it was telling me. I was still a little nervous but I realized “Hey, I can drive! It is something I can do!”

  2. Skydiving was that way for me. Taking that step out of the plane was the moment I felt like I was capable of ANYTHING.

    I wrote about it here…

  3. Jonathan…you captured a number of things here that hold true – courage, participation, action, enjoyment, apprehension, obstacles (and what metaphors you used), sharing and bonding.

    My daughter is coming for a visit this summer and during my time with her I’m going to practice the most valuable lesson you offer here – carpe diem!

  4. Jonathan,

    I was a paratrooper in the Army.

    We practiced jumping from a 30-foot tower. We learned if we could handle the fear of jumping from a 30 foot tower then we could jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

    Same applies in our personal and professional life.

    Matthew Ray Scott

  5. I did that exact thing when I was 10 and I peed in my pants.

    I never did it again. 🙂

    That is all.

  6. Dan says:

    I think it’s great that you ventured on getting your daughter involved in activity as challenging as canopy repelling.

    I have an eight and a five year old that I’d love to get involved in things like this sooner or later, but am a little fearful for them.

    Prior to having my kids, it seemed I was always taking risks of this nature, but now I often count the days when I’ll feel comfortable returning to some of those adventures…with them in tow.

    I’m glad you and your daughter were able to get so much out of the trip.

    BTW, what was the name of the canopy place in W. Mass. I’d love to visit.

  7. Susan says:

    Yes, I’m with Heather – skydiving was the most crazy-courageous thing I’ve done…next to having two kids and planning to get married again. 🙂

    Note, though, that unlike Heather, my first thought after stepping out of the plane was not courageous – it was more like “Holy &%^$!, What the f– was I thinking?!”

  8. Joe Jacobi says:

    Change your playing field under your feet, adjust, grow, repeat. For me, this is my favorite way to learn life’s key lesson – nicely done for letting adventure sports be a part of that!

    LOVE the multi-generational element to your story too. Fabulous. Glad you had fun and thanks for sharing.

  9. Kerry says:

    Oh how fun! I remember doing that as a kid … in Australia we call it a flying fox! Like your quote about courage too 🙂

  10. Pat McAnally says:

    I’ve had that excited anticipatory fear driving a car we built (so it was not dependable factory) – 24 degree banking at Charlotte Motor Speedway – drive straight up the track and turn left and keep the pedal down. it’s not a race car so you are not going killing fast but all the time you are on this slanted angle that your brain keeps saying “this is not right!”– you have to trust in centrifugal force or whatever. You have that cognitive dissonance between what should be and what is. and when you do it successfully your heart keeps laughing and saying do it again.

  11. Hey Jonathan, I think you gave your daughter much more than a thrilling experience! You showed her first hand that fears can be overcome, and that doing so can lead to good things. As a friend of mine likes to say: “First comes the fear, then the blessing.” Thanks for sharing this wonderful father, daughter experience with us.

  12. Jonathon,

    Great story… Kids are amazing at helping us see more clearly–to gain a more object view on life.

    Love Courage quote… it’s essentially the quote from the Forward to my latest book, Strength-for-LIFE, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s Strength in the presence of it.”

    Probably just ripped it off but either way, it’s a great reminder that within each of us is the power to choose… the Strength to be “at cause” in our lives / world.

    I too have jumped out of airplanes and over things and such… all thrilling and challenging but I think in some ways this concentrated challenge is easier than the challenge of change, for it is just that: Concentrated. It’s all to one single point of inflection.

    Most of the change challenge produces much more chronic fear and is not resolved as quick or clean.

    I know there are at least as many examples in my own life where I either didn’t “jump” or jumped too late… out of fear and resistance.


  13. hiedyanna says:

    In eight grade I did a course like that. I was the first girl up and through the course. Then came the 747… Climb up a 50′ pole, stand up at the top on a 1’/1′ platform, and then jump up 7ft and out 7ft to grab onto a handle that was suspended out in space. I watched several kids go before me and fall. When it was finally my turn the whole process was terrifying, climbing the pole, somehow getting to stand up, balancing on top of the pole, and then giving it everything you had to jump up and out grab ahold of that handle. I did it!! I got!! I hung there and didn’t want to let go. I was so proud to have pushed through all that fear and uncertanty. Since then I’ve been a Div. 1 basketball player, a firefighter, a business owner, and now I’m going to jump my own personal 747 and launch into acting! I’ll give it everything I’ve got!!

  14. Ann says:

    I learned a lesson many years ago that when working with children, and often with adults, never counter a concern with “it’s easy!” It may well NOT be easy and the child (or adult) will feel worse for not being able to master it. If it IS easy and they DO master it – what have they accomplished? Nothing much as it was “easy.” Better to say, “Yes, it is hard (or scary) but you can do hard things.” Then when they master the challenge the concept that they can do hard things is reinforced. If they can’t master it, their ego is protected.

    As an adult, I have to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone and do hard things. Not always easy, but always rewarding.

  15. I absolutely love the line:

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to take action in the face of fear.”

    When we keep moving forward in the face of fear that’s when true personal growth emerges. It’s the only way to get stronger, smarter and happier.

  16. I’m awful at heights so I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this because I would never allow myself to!

    I think you’re both exceptionally brave 🙂

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey guys! Catching up on all the comments, after my last post on the social media abyss, spending more time offline and batching my time blogging, even on my blog.

    great stories and suggestions. I actually “tried” to skydive years ago, but when we arrived, the plane was grounded due to high winds and I never got the guts up to do it again. Think I’ll stick to ropes courses and snowball fights for now. 🙂

  18. Wow. First, I have to say that your daughter is very valiently brave! How wonderful to be tackling such things at such a young age!

    Although I haven’t done a ropes course, per se, I have done a zip line. The one we did went down into the water from high above and it was quite a thrilling ride! My aunt and uncle used to have one of those in their backyard… I always wanted one. I thought it was so cool. We also used to swing off a big rope as teenagers into a river, but that’s a different story!

  19. Great story!! Your daughter is a real trooper!! Ropes courses can be tough and challenging even for adults. I am amazed at the number of people who went with the physical thrills for risky things they had done.

    Not sure I will ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane but I have overcome several fears.

    1) Public speaking – first time (age 15) I was so scared I have no clue what I spoke about. Second time 4 years later wasn’t much better because the young lady in front of me froze with stage fright. Patience and a good Dale Carnegie class has made it much easier.

    2) Flying- Anything less than 10 hours I would drive. My family took long driving but never flew. First flight on a small jet for work left me queasy. I took my son flying at an early age and he loves it. Overcoming our fears early can be key.

    3) Starting a business – Talk about fear!! Keep pushing the limits and you can overcome anything.

    We should only fear the unknown.. and realize that nothing can remain unknown if we are willing to take chances and explore.

    Keep up the great posts and involving your family.

  20. That looks like a lot of fun! I am jealous to be honest, but glad you guys got to do that and its great you are spending quality time with your family. All too often people don’t take time apart for those they love

  21. […] There will always be situations where it feels like you have no confidence, but following this 1, 2, 3 connects you with a confidence in yourself, even if you’re in uncharted territory and quietly shaking in your shoes. […]

  22. Meghan Porter says:

    That sounds like so much fun although I probably wouldn’t be doing that at the age of 8! But I’m glad your daughter was so courageous as to face her fear and ended up having a great time. 🙂 This experience fits the quote perfectly! You should consider creating a poll to get your reader’s opinions. And I love voting!

  23. Bob says:

    i bet that is scary ..

  24. Laura says:

    Awww bless her!! I totally agree with your last statement: “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to take action in the face of fear.” Very profound and very true! A Zipline is on my goals list for this year actually – there’s a place called ‘Go Ape’ in the UK with the Country’s biggest zip line and I plan on going there for my birthday and can’t wait! I recently went Bungee Jumping and was terrified, when I jumped I was so pleased with myself that i’d faced the fear and taken the plunge 🙂

  25. cheers says:

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to take action in the face of fear.” Right and true. Its the first step taken with courage that matters. Scaling heights and challenging ourselves each day with the same determination and attitude will definitely take us somewhere.

  26. Justin says:

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to take action in the face of fear.”

    Very true, experienced the same when went for Bungee jumping, the first step towards throwing yourself onto the challenge in front. Felt relieved and wanted to do it more, thanks for taking me down memory lane. Nice Post.