Are your fears holding you back? Lessons in leadership, parenthood and facing your fears …
A few years ago, I took my children back to Spain during the summer break as I do every year. On this occasion, my husband Pete managed to come with us for a few days, and we took advantage and travelled to Alicante for a long weekend, to get some rest and quality time as a family.
We had heard that not far by boat, there was the beautiful island of Tabarca, so we decided to spend the day enjoying what the island had to offer. It was a great day, and we made the decision to head back to the mainland before the crowds did. And that’s when it happened …
As the boat left Tabarca, there was a sudden change of winds and before we knew it, we were caught in one of the worst storms the area had ever witnessed. In no time, our catamaran was no match for the angry sea and the big waves. Water started coming in and there were people being tossed from side to side of the boat. The captain decided that it was too dangerous to go back to the island, and our only way out was to continue towards the mainland, at painstakingly slow speed. The boat was eerily quiet; everyone was too scared to say anything. Soon, we started witnessing people getting very sick.
I was petrified, completely frozen by fear at the prospect that this could in fact be our last day alive. I looked at my children and my husband and I remember feeling so guilty for having insisted on visiting the island. And then, in that moment, I felt responsible for putting them in harm’s way.
If there was a peak moment in my life where I felt true, raw fear, that was it. There have been many occasions during my
life where I felt fear, but this one was different. We truly had no control of the outcome, and it was down to what mother nature decided to do with this little boat we travelled in. It was imminent, each minute worse than the other, with no end in sight, just waiting to see if we would make it out alive.
Then I looked at my son, who was 2 years old at the time; he was staring at me in silence, unable to express his feelings, yet understanding at a deeper level that our situation wasn’t a good one. And then it hit me, I had allowed fear to completely disempower my thoughts and my actions, and right there, a small window of opportunity opened up for me to be able to do something that was under my control.
I smiled at my son, gave him a big hug and told him all was well, and to go to sleep if his eyes felt tired. He took a big breath and then he closed his eyes and slept for the remainder of the ordeal.
My daughter, 5 years old back then, she was a different story. She was looking around terrified of what was happening, and was being shifted between myself and the end of the seat every time the boat moved. She had already watched me moments earlier and knew that I was terrified, so she wasn’t looking for comfort from me.
If I wanted to help her, I would need to let go of fear. I closed my eyes and for a moment, I allowed myself to visualise the absolute worse thing that could happen to us. I imagined a big wave tipping over the catamaran, the four of us being thrown into the angry sea, seeing my children drown unable to help them and, finally, drowning myself too.
And then, as I went through all that in my head, I realised that even if that was to happen, I still had some precious moments left with them, and all of a sudden I felt tremendous gratefulness for being so lucky to have enjoyed my life and my children for as long as I did. That time, I came to realise that whether I died imminently or not, it had no bearing on how I could choose to be right in that moment.
I looked at my daughter and smiled, and she felt straight away that my connection was genuine. I told her that rather than fighting the fear, we should just join in and go with it. She asked me how, and I told her to imagine that the boat was a big giant ride, similar to the one we had been in just a few months ago. I asked her to move with the ride, and not against it, so we wouldn’t bump ourselves.
So when the boat went up, we didn’t fight it; instead, we went up with it, and as it crushed against the waves, we sunk with it too. We held hands and for a moment we almost felt joy.
People all around us were being sick everywhere. You could see it in their faces, the exact moment when they allowed fear to creep in, and their body decided to let go.
It was the longest 90 minutes of my life. We finally made it safely to shore. By that point, every single person in the boat had been sick many times. We were the only family that managed to keep it together. The captain told us in the 12 years that he had owned that boat, that was his worst trip ever. It took us many hours afterwards to finally get a feeling of the stable ground underneath us.
We survived to tell the tale, and I am incredibly grateful to have been one of the lucky ones. I also learnt a very valuable lesson: in the face of fear, always ride with it, don’t resist it.
I have since become interested in the subject, and have come to understand that fear is truly just the precursor of change. If we feel the fear and run in the opposite direction, then we’ll never know what could have been. I have since been able to get more comfortable with the idea of fear, so much so that, whenever possible, I pursue those things that I am afraid of the most, as I now know that behind fear, lies incredible opportunities for us all to raise up, grow and evolve. So jump in and enjoy the ride!
Conquer the fear by facing it and going along with it. You will realise that confronting your fears is nowhere near as scary as continuing to be held back by it. If you are willing to explore the boundaries of your fears, you will find that it either holds no logic, or it is actually nowhere near as scary as you make it out to be. So have the courage to explore your fears, and free yourself from what holds you back.
Over to you now. What fear or fears are holding you down? What’s the nature of these fears? In the absence of fear, what would you do?
Here’s to your success!
Isabel Valle is an accredited ICF PCC Coach, Leadership Mentor and Facilitator currently based in Bangkok. Isabel has held senior positions within the hospitality industry in countries around the world, and facilitates a holistic approach to leadership, growth and success. She specialises in virtual coaching and online mentoring that inspires action and helps leaders from all walks of life around the globe bring their gifts to life to help them create professional excellence and personal fulfilment. More information available on www.isabelvalle.com.