Like most people, I have experienced profound, life-threatening fear over the years – meeting a grizzly bear on a walking trail at Lake Louise, spinning out on ice on Highway 401, a bomb threat on a commercial airplane. So I get that fear – the “unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm” – is a warning signal to put your brain and body on hyperalert so that you can more effectively deal with the threat.
It’s a great system designed to keep us safe. But what if fear is taking over your life? What if you (and by you, I mean me) are so firmly rooted in your comfort zone that you are missing out on a larger life? How do you know if you are keeping yourself away from actual threats or if you are just playing it too safe?
These questions all came up for me during a soap making workshop. Yes, you read that right, a soap making workshop! Making soap is a combination of science and cooking – two areas in which I do not naturally excel. The instructor, Linda Boyle, explained the process and it sounded so complicated that I was ready to say forget it – too hard. Then she talked about how the lye* we would use is a caustic and poisonous chemical that can badly burn skin, and I was ready to leave – too scary.
All of a sudden lye was up there on my fear list with grizzly bears and bomb threats. Why did I sign myself up for a workshop that used materials so hazardous they could maim me? If I had known any of this beforehand, I would not have registered.
Fortunately, the instructor was a friend and it was a small class, so my fear of leaving and looking stupid overcame my fear of lye. As it turned out, the process wasn’t that complicated. It was a beginner workshop and Linda walked us through it step-by-step. The lye part was no problem as Linda had premixed it with water and we just had to stir it into the oils. The light went on for me when Linda likened working with lye to making French fries with hot oil – I know hot oil can be dangerous and can cause nasty burns so I am careful!
After I got home with my beautiful handmade soap I started wondering, how much of life am I missing out on because I think things may be too hard or too dangerous? This prompted me to take the advanced soap making workshop – the scarier one where you have to work with raw lye.
I know it sounds silly, but I really had to push myself to sign up for that second workshop. I’m glad I did because although I enjoyed the classes, I realized that while soap making was no longer scary, it really wasn’t something I want to take up as a hobby or creative outlet.
Now it’s a matter of figuring out when I am avoiding something due to fear or if it is something that is truly not of interest to me. I found a method I like from Dr. Valerie Young, author of Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “One way to tell the difference is to imagine yourself as the confident, fully capable person you would like to be. If the supremely competent you was faced with the exact same decision, how would she feel? If you’re still averse, then you know something other than confidence or lack thereof is at play, and you have an opportunity to explore what it is.”
So thanks to Soap Making 101, I am now more able to tell the difference between something I might enjoy, if only fear wasn’t holding me back, and something I just don’t want to do. In my mind that’s a key difference between living a small life and living an authentic life. I don’t want to do everything, but I don’t want to miss out on doing cool things just because I am afraid.
(*The lye or sodium hydroxide combines with the oils to make soap – there is no lye left once this chemical reaction takes place.)