Fear: a word that has been floating around various social media outlets in blog posts and articles. In the algorithmic manner of my Facebook and Instagram feeds, this means that for me they all seem to appear under the focused lens of the outdoor industry. As I’m writing this, I am one month into a five-month stay in a small town in Alaska. It is here where I’ve had the time and focus to think about my own fear, with its various formats and if I might be able to overcome it.
Let me take you through a few:
For two years now I’ve been working towards something that has always been a sore spot for me, and the subject of many self-deprecating jokes. “I’m not good at anything really. I like to live simply anyways!” I might say to someone who asks what I liked to do in my free time. I could say I enjoyed reading books, or hiking up a trail, but that I really had no talent. Here lies fear number one: living aimlessly. Having no skill outside of my job. I have amazing friends back home with an assortment of skills: music, painting, photography, metalwork, and much more. This is astounding to me and at the same time it can be extremely intimidating to someone who has no talent but holds a distain for ‘sitting around.’
Part of surpassing this fear was finding my “thing.” I was preparing for my first trip to Alaska in the spring of 2016 and was learning some basic kayaking skills on flat water to ensure I would have the minimum skills required for the areas we would be paddling (out of Seward and into Resurrection Bay). This is where I found a certain form of determination that I have not felt with any other activities or sports I’ve attempted to dive into. I’ve put forth effort in Kayaking on days where I had no desire to put my butt into a boat and paddle out into ice-cold water and winds, but still headed out without complaint or second thought. There have been days on skills weekends where I’ve been so grumpy that I hardly say two words to anyone and as soon as I’m pushed into a new area that requires focus and awareness, I lose all sense of anguish and become my usual self.
Embracing sea kayaking has been both easy and difficult for me. I’m extremely lucky to have a father who has been invested in the sport for most of my life. He shares his knowledge (and gear!) as an ACA certified coach, but with the patience that I can only assume comes largely from the love and understanding of a father. This has made pursuing kayaking extremely accessible, despite being fresh out of college with little funds to allocate to a new activity. I also cant imagine anyone else standing in cold water for 20 minutes while I simply build the courage to overcome one fear within the sport- capsizing. This is where the difficult parts of embracing kayaking come into play.
As much as I would love to be portrayed as one of many daring and fearless women in the outdoor industry, I have come to accept myself as a naturally cautious person with many small fears to overcome as well. A few of these include being upside down in my boat, being in breaking waves, being in current, and pretty much any time I paddle in a new and unfamiliar environment. Often times I feel frustrated and held back whenever a new skill being learned brings a new fear into play. Other times I get off of the water feeling defeated and embarrassed that I’m the only one of a group that seems to feel uncomfortable with or unable to grasp a certain skill because I’m afraid. I worry about how not having grasped certain skills doesn’t seem to line up with my own mental timeline of when I feel like I should be moving on to something bigger. These are the feelings that seem to make kayaking feel more difficult for me than I expect it should be.
I would love to say that this process has left me with a special insight into the steps of overcoming or surpassing fear to achieve what I’ve set out for, but that is not the case. I still wish I could be the fearless women that I see surfing big waves or paddling off waterfalls in what seems like an effortless manner. I could also tell you the same blurb you’ll see in many other articles about how everyone is different and works at their own pace, and that no timeline of skill exists. However, these are ideas that I am still learning to accept myself. Half of me even feels as if I’m not experienced enough to be writing about this, or that I have no real insight to give in the first place. What I can say is that experiencing this process of fear and defeat has led me to better understand myself and my own boundaries. I now know what needs to happen for learning and improving to begin, and know that despite how often I feel held back by my fears I still hold a desire and the determination to move forward and accomplish what I have set out to do. I can share this information with those who are teaching me to help them help me, creating a more defined learning environment.
I still might not be “good” at much, in kayaking or otherwise, but it’s comforting to know that I’ve reached toward something that has channeled a larger general fear of feeling lost into a smaller set of focused goals (and still fears!). It should also be said that you don’t necessarily have to have a talent or be great at anything, but finding something that drives you straight into your fear and keeps you invested despite that is an overwhelmingly satisfying feeling. Through this process of considering my fears I’ve come to realize that it isn’t always about how I need to overcome them, but also how they can help and move me forward. I may now be comfortable enough upside-down to set up for a roll, or paddle into the surf, but I also have a more conscious understanding of how much time and effort it will take to keep pushing into utilizing and refining those skills.
Here is less-analyzed list of fears I’m working on: