1 WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF . . . AND WHY? I am about to teach another fear class. The classroom is empty. I am waiting for my new group of students to appear. My nervousness about teaching these classes disappeared a long time ago. Not only have I taught it many times, but I also know my students before I meet them. They are like the rest of us: all trying to do the best they can and all uncertain about whether they're good enough. It never varies. As the students enter the room, I can feel the tension. They sit as far apart from one another as possible, until the seats between must be filled because of lack of space. They don't talk to one another, but sit nervously, expectantly. I love them for their courage to admit that their lives are not working the way they want them to work. And their presence in the class signifies that they are ready to do something about it. I begin by going around the room asking each student to tell the rest of us what he or she is having difficulty confronting in life. Their stories unfold: Don wants to change his career of fourteen years and follow his dreams of becoming an artist. Mary Alice is an actress who wants to discover why she finds all kinds of excuses for not attending auditions. Sarah wants to leave a marriage of fifteen years. Teddy wants to get over his fear of aging. He is all of thirty-two. Jean is a senior citizen who wants to confront her doctor; he treats her like a child and never gives her any straight answers. Patti wants to expand her business, but can't make the required leap to the next step. Rebecca wants to confront her husband with things that have been bothering her. Kevin wants to get over a fear of rejection that makes it very difficult to ask a woman for a date. Laurie wants to know why she is unhappy when she has everything one could possibly want in life. Richard is retired and feels useless. He fears his life is over. And so it goes until everyone's story is heard. I'm fascinated with what happens during the go-around. As each person shares from the heart, the entire atmosphere begins to change. The tension quickly fades and relief is expressed on everyone's face. First, my students begin to realize that they are not the only ones in the world feeling afraid. Second, they begin to see how attractive people become as they open up and share their feelings. Long before the last person has spoken, a feeling of warmth and camaraderie pervades the room. They are strangers no more. Although the backgrounds and situations of the class members vary greatly, it does not take long for the surface layers of their particular stories to disappear, opening the way for everyone to touch on a very human level. The common denominator is the fact that fear is keeping all of them from experiencing life the way they want to experience it. The scenario above repeats itself in each fear class I teach. At this point you might be wondering how one course can accommodate all the diverse fears reported by the class memberstheir needs seem to be so varied. It's true. They do seem varied until we dig a little deeper and look at the underlying cause of all their fearsand everyone else's. Fear can be broken down into three levels. The first level is the surface story, such as the ones described above. This level of fear can be divided into two types: those that "happen" and those that require action. Here is a partial list of Level 1 fears divided into these types: Level 1 Fears Those that "Happen"Those Requiring Action AgingGoing back to school Becoming disabledMaking decisions RetirementChanging a career Being aloneMaking friends Children leaving homeEnding or beginnJeffers, Susan is the author of 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway', published 2006 under ISBN 9780345487421 and ISBN 0345487427.
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