Everyone has a phobia, and most of us have quite a few. I hate to break it to you, but even Chuck Norris is afraid of something. When we come face to face with our fears, our response can be anywhere from mild discomfort to all-out panic. But what would happen if we decided to take just one fear, and attempt to conquer it by intentionally exposing ourselves to it? Crazy? Maybe. But I’ll tell you from experience, the payoff can be huge.
When my wife and I were dating in college, she asked me to participate with her in a campus blood drive. For someone with a lifelong fear of needles, the choice between looking tough and get poked or looking like a pansy and bowing out was a tough one. In the end, I thought that impressing this girl was more important than avoiding 30 minutes of discomfort.
Even though I thought I was pretty brave to even agree to give blood, Heidi still challenged my manliness by asking me if I was going to watch them stick the needle in my arm.
“Are you crazy?” I replied. “Not a chance!”
Then I turned my head away, clenched my sweaty palms, and winced as the United Blood Service employee stuck the needle in my arm. As you can imagine, Heidi ribbed me pretty ruthlessly for that. My first thought was that I may want to reconsider whether I really wanted to be dating a textbook sadist, but the more she ribbed, the more silly it sounded that I wouldn’t watch them stick me. After a good amount of personal ridicule, I made her a promise that, at the next blood drive, we would go together and I would force myself to watch the needle go in.
And I did. And it was both creepy and exhilarating at the same time.
Since that day, I have tried to be very intentional about exposing myself to things that make me uncomfortable, because facing fears is a rush and gives me a unique sense of accomplishment.
Now I respond to my fear of heights by doing things like riding a the glass elevator of the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco to the top floor, and then putting my head to the glass as it zips back down to the lobby. Freaky. I also leaned my head against the glass of the observation deck of the Sears Tower. I had a mild heart attack, but it was still a rush.
My fear of needles, heights, and spiders is still there, and I still get uncomfortable facing these things, but I will continue to push myself because — to me — overcoming fears is fun.
And it keeps my wife from making fun of me like she did back in college.