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Field Notes Blog

The Formation of Facing Fear

Have you ever stood at the edge of a high dive?

Fear can take on shapes and sizes and characters of all sorts inside of us. I’ve found though that most always, it asks us to reject life, to close the door, to shy away, to run.

I was afraid. I still am sometimes, but much less than I was back then. I’d been closing doors long enough in my life that I didn’t really wonder what was behind them anymore. I did not feel like I was missing out or being defeated or kept from any great glory.

In fact, there was comfort in keeping so many doors closed. I didn’t really want to know. And failure. I despised her. Why had she always followed me? It seemed that every turn I took she met me there. If I closed my eyes and picture the landmarks of my life, she was standing there behind me, her hand on my shoulder like we were close. But I hated her and she felt like a part of me that I couldn’t shake off. And so I embraced her. I grew accustomed to her hanging on my shoulder. I’d even say I grew to feel comfort with her, and in turn blind to how she claimed me and kept me from life. But my life was coming for me and fear was going to have to go.

I was just 18-years-old when I came to Noah’s. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eager beaver kid! When I got the call from Jordan Wrinkle telling me I’d gotten the job, I cried. Months later I pulled up to Noah’s housing with my parents and my sister and a trunk full of my things. The rest is history! Here I am now almost 7 years later typing all this in the same town, and in the same house. I’m not the same now as I was then. Like I said, I was afraid. I don’t think I knew that at the time, but I’d find out soon enough.

I spent my first summer working as a “kitch-kat” and with most of my free time I went rafting. Day after day I would get in the boat, tuck my feet, grab my paddle, perk my ears for any call my guide would give. By my second summer I had decided to shoot my shot and go for my biggest dream. I was going to become a river guide. This is the summer my fear surfaced.

Have you ever stood at the edge of a high dive? The first day of training I stood at the edge of Twin Lakes, same difference. Watching my friends swim out to conquer what we call “flip-boat-training,” I stood still. Fear sinking deep in me. I felt heavier and heavier as the time passed— like I would really sink if I tried to swim. There was no way out for me now though. There was no looking back. But hindsight, I’m so thankful– thankful there was no way out. I had to face it.

Here was my fear: Someone will think I am unworthy of being a raft guide and I’m going to believe them. Someone is going to watch me try to flip this boat and laugh. Someone is going to watch me fail to get back in the boat a few times and feel sorry for me. Someone is going to look at my attempt to row Zoom Flume and wonder why I even try.

They are right, you know? I do look ridiculous. I am not strong enough. I am not athletic enough. I am not cool enough. I am not adventurous enough. I am not enough. I quickly realized, I am not fearless.

I was the last to dive in and swim out to the boat. When I got to it I struggled. All of my fears were turning into reality. I heard my friends shouting at me from the edge of the lake and I tried pulling my cold, wet, heavy body onto the boat, but it felt impossible. Every muscle in my body was on fire, but the water was almost ice. Desperate defeat and dismay were washing, splashing, and soaking over me.

I’m sure I looked like a dying whale floundering out there. Or maybe just like a child throwing a tantrum in the kiddie pool. Either way, it’s what I feared.

I looked up at Rob, our river director and Noah’s CEO, who was calmly sitting in a boat next to mine, legs crossed. How was he so calm? How was he not laughing at me? He looked at me with so much patience and gently said, “You can do this Macyann, just breathe and pull yourself up.”

I realized through his gracious delivery that he really believed I could. He was speaking directly against my fear. Rob saw my potential and was asking me if I would believe it with him.

He did not think I was unworthy. He was not thinking I looked stupid. He did not think I was too weak. He believed I was enough, that I was strong, that I was worthy.

Suddenly I understood this was not about just flipping a boat. It was about the lies I believed about myself my whole life. It was about my friend failure, who stood behind me, hand on my shoulder, as if we were close. This moment was offering me a way to change this relationship. To shove failure off my shoulder. Who I really was and what was really true was waiting for me in the fire of sore muscles, the ice of Twin Lakes, and my first flipped boat. 

I pulled myself up, and I flipped that boat that day. When I did, some life flooded in. That was the first taste of freedom.

I have experienced at least 100 more days like this at Noah’s since that day at Twin Lakes. Days just wrestling with fear and failure. But becoming a river guide is the best thing I have ever done for myself. It has hurled me right at fear and failure at a million miles an hour. I have failed over and over again at so many things in this place, but I am safe to be afraid here because I am constantly reminded by the community of Noah’s that fear and failure is not what I am made of.

Fear has looked like water, rafts, anger, jealousy, weariness, and the first time I ever rowed a class IV rapid. It has looked like rocks, waves, anger, and my splash pants falling off after swimming through a rapid in training. However, this whole 5 year journey has not been about moments defined by fear, but rather moments of me facing it, moving past it, and growing from it. I still fail all the time. Ask my parents, my roommates, my best friends, Rob. But my life is not landmarked with them anymore. Failure is no longer a friend. She is not hanging onto my shoulder anymore.