Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will. – James Stephens
FEAR. It is something we all have and anyone who tells you different is lying. Fear’s job is to keep us safe and to help us avoid situations that can harm us. Fear is vital to our survival but the way that we react to it determines the scope and depth of the role it plays in our lives. If left unchecked fear can keep us from living our best life. This means that the way that we deal with fear can keep us from trying something that we could be extremely passionate about, it could keep us from talking to a girl or guy who could bring an immense amount of joy and growth to our lives. Our reaction to fear can even keep us from taking risks that, if taken, would be rewarding, fun, or add some necessary challenge to our lives. Our fear responses developed when we needed to be aware of all of the things that could kill us in our environment. We lived in a world that was harsh and dangerous and we evolved to survive int hat environment. We have the same fear responses now that we had when we had to hunt and gather our food and run from large predators. Now we have to answer emails, pay bills, and interact with people online. Not to oversimplify our current environment but the threats we evolved to face just are not there for the majority of people today but the responses we honed over tens of thousands of years are still inside us and interpreting the world we live in. Fear was something that ran my life for a long time. The fear that I would never find something that would allow me to live the life I had always envisioned for myself, the fear that I would never find the things I am truly passionate about, the fear that I would die unfulfilled having lived a life that lacked adventure and vitality. The fear that I would simply drink, do drugs and die. All of these fears were simply my mind and my body telling me that something needed to change in my life. I need to become the captain of my own fate and set a new course. Fear needed to move from something that I dwelled on to something that when felt was used a catalyst for positive change and growth. In my experience the things that I have felt fear about have become the things that have given my life the most juice. It is the times that I have felt the fear and done it anyway that I have been rewarded with the richest experience and brief glimpses into what is truly possible in life when I adopt the right mindset.
I think I watched too much Shark Week.
An example of a fear that got away from me was my fear of the ocean. I know that I did not always have a deep fear of the ocean or of sharks but it seems my surroundings and too much Shark Week combined to keep me from deep blue. At some point in my teens I decided that I deeply feared sharks and the ocean in general. There was too much unknown there and way too much power. This is interesting because these feelings were always contrasted with a fascination for Scuba Diving , surfing, and deep-sea fishing. I had always wanted deep down to be a waterman but I was filled with fear about the ocean so I was never truly able to embrace the challenge. My Fear was keeping me stuck even though I grew up in inland San Diego and had access to the Pacific Ocean. When I met my wife she had a deep connection to the ocean and she even took up surfing when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that is a famous migratory path for Great White Sharks. I was not about to go in that water, I had become fascinated by sharks but I still feared them. Then we went to Key Largo and I put my feet in a warm ocean. My mind started to change. My interest was piqued, maybe the ocean needed to be explored. Then we moved to Puerto Rico and I began to enjoy swimming in the ocean with my snorkel and fins. I still felt fear but I was cool with swimming the inside reefs in the crystal clear water. Then we had a trip to Tahiti coming up and we decided to get Scuba certified. I am not going to lie, I had a lot of fear going into the first dive. I felt like I may panic when I had to go under water, I felt like there was too much unknown but I had committed so I would give it a shot. The day came and we went to Crashboat beach and met with our instructor. We went over the gear and did our dive plan. We got suited up and walked toward the water. My heart was pounding but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was going to do this and I was going to be good at it I kept telling myself. We floated out with our BCD’s filled up and did our pre-dive safety checks. The time had come, I made my signal and lifted the release valves on my BCD and started my descent. When my head went under water and I took a breath I was home. This was what I had been missing in my life. I felt totally at peace and knew that this would be something that I did for the rest of my life. If I would have given into the fear that was puling in my head I would have never found Scuba Diving and I definitely would not have fully explored and developed the passion and love I feel for the ocean. From the first day of our certification I set out to learn everything I could about diving and diving with sharks that I could. The next stop was Tahiti and swimming with the animals I had built into monsters in my head.
Preparation beats fear every time.
Tahiti is exceptionally sharky. There are literally sharks of almost every kind everywhere, almost every time we got in the water we saw small black tip reef sharks. As I said before, I had a deep fear of sharks and I knew that this was my moment to swim with them so before our trip I read all that I could about the sharks in Tahiti and what they were like. I researched the risks associated with swimming with them and what we could expect on our dives. I learned that A) sharks are everywhere in Tahiti and B) they don’t mess with people unless provoked. The crazy thing was that the more that I learned the less psyched out I was about swimming with them in Tahiti. I was actually really empowered by the research and preparation I had done and I was excited to dive with them. When it was time to jump off the boat in Bora Bora I was a little nervous but I felt that this was something that I needed to do and I interpreted the nerves less as fear and more as excitement about a new adventure I was embarking on. We descended from the stormy surface into 45 feet of crystal clear water and a group of 10 foot lemon sharks were at the bottom to greet us and a school of black tip reef sharks circled at the surface. Again, as soon as we went below the surface I was to scared of the sharks and I felt amazing. I was in awe of the sharks and the fish and the beautiful Tahitian water we were diving in. This experience stoked in me a deep desire to share my experiences in the ocean and to show that these creatures are a necessary part of our ecosystem and need to be respected. On our trip we even had the opportunity to be surrounded by 40-50 black tip reef sharks while snorkeling which was one of the coolest experiences I have had in the ocean thus far. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway had shown me something that I was passionate about and had empowered me to go further into my exploration of the ocean and empowered me to look at fear as a mentor and not a barrier.
Waterman Survival Extended: Rincon, Puerto Rico
When we got home from Tahiti I became obsessed with Freediving. Diving deep with only one breath, experiencing the ocean and all that is in it without the invasiveness of supplemental oxygen. That is when I found the Waterman Survival Extended Course and the instructor Joe Sheridan who led classes right near my home in Rincon, Puerto Rico. This is something that seemed cool to me but diving to 20 meters, 66 ft., on one breath and holding my breath for 3 minutes seemed like a crazy dream to me and to be honest, it scared the shit out of me and roused in me the old feelings of insecurity in the ocean. I have come to believe that all great improvements, discoveries, and developments of our character comes through challenge. We find out who we are and what we are capable of by pushing ourselves past our perceived limits and into unknown territory. We also figure out what we are made of and what is important to us by challenging the beliefs we have about who we are and what is possible. For my 35 birthday I signed up for the Waterman Survival Extended class so I was on the books for 4 days of Waterman safety and breath hold training. For the training we spent one whole day in the “classroom”, which was a local outdoor bar that was not open during the day, covering basic technique and finding our partners for the next 4 days. I want to say that the Universe always has my back (and yours too I bet) when it comes to picking partners or going into the unknown. Whenever I have gone into any situation that has an element of the unknown I am always confident that the right person or opportunity will present itself and it will all workout. My partner for the class was great as was the group I had the pleasure of working with. We pushed each other and motivated each other through the whole thing and it was an amazing course. Following the day in the classroom we spent the entire next day in the pool doing drills and learning technique and holding our breath for over 2 minutes. The goal was to make a 3 minute static breath hold. I made it to 2:28 which was a personal best, and with my training I have since hit the 3 minute mark.
The next day we set out from the sunken boat ramp that serves as the marina in Rincon, Puerto Rico in the boat The Kathmandu from Taino Divers. There was not a cloud in the sky and we were met with glassy conditions as we pulled to our dive spot for the day. To pass the class we not only had to dive to 66 feet but had to pull ourselves down the guide rope, slowly hand over hand, to 66 feet then back up. I have only been in the ocean for about a year and a half and I used to be petrified of sharks so hanging out on a float in a thousand feet of water was not something I was used to or really prepared for. We had a great instructor, Joe Sheridan was absolutely amazing and a professional and seriously prepared us for what we were going to do once we got in the water. He broke everything down for us and dove to the depth with everyone on every dive. I felt my anticipation and a little bit of nerves and jumped in the water. We started with the warm ups and then we all started pulling down to 5 meters, 10 meters, then 15 and the big 2-0. It was an incredible feeling being under there and hanging out in the deep blue like that. I had never felt anything like it and once again, I was home. It was what I am supposed to be doing. When it came time for my dive I hit it no problem and felt amazing. I had switched my mindset from this is scary what if I black out, blah blah blah to I am going to hit this depth no matter what. When it was my turn there was no doubt in my mind and I just went for it. I had replaced the fear that I had with belief in myself and a faith that everything was going to workout because I had done the training.
At the end of the day we headed back to the pool and worked on the Waterman Survival portion of the training which focuses on safety and staying calm when out in the ocean surfing, SUPping, or swimming around in the surf. During the Waterman Survival part of the class we held our breath longer than I thought was possible for me and swam longer distances while holding our breath than I thought was possible. I kept showing myself that I was capable of more than I had thought that I was. When we hit the ocean the next day the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the variable drop. This is when you take off you fins and weights and are blindfolded. Then you grab hold of a 25 lb weight that is attached to 66 feet of rope that someone else is holding. Then you begin to breathe through your snorkel. At some point the guy holding the weight is signaled to drop it by the instructor and you are pulled to the end of the line, blindfolded and equalizing the whole time on however much breath you had in your lungs when the weight was let go. This was a panic scenario for me: no sight and being pulled to the depths, there are so many what if’s that went through my head but I knew that I had to do it. When it was my turn I just put everything out of my head and went for it. When the weight dropped I remembered my training and made it to almost 40 feet before I missed an equalization and had to let go. Then I calmly breast stroked to the surface, it was one of the most euphoric experiences of my life and I cannot come up with the words to adequately describe it. The 4 days of the Waterman Survival Training gave me the tools to prove to myself that there is a lot out there to experience and that much of what makes life worth living is on the other side of fear. Amy and I Freedive as much as we can now, generally a couple of times a week and we scuba as much as we can too. The next step for me is spear fishing. It combines a lot of the things that I used to be afraid of, holding my breath under water and potential run ins with sharks while being attached to their food source. The challenge and the training never stop, in my opinion it is what makes life worth living.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Through the last few years I have learned that what I fear is generally what will set me free and that fear is not a barrier but an internal signal for me to look at what is going on and look rationally at it and see what it really means. I have realized that my happiness and success in life is largely determined by my ability to seek out and overcome the things that I fear or that make me uncomfortable. I used to think that I should not feel fear, that having fear made me a coward or challenged my manhood somehow. Now I would say that at that point I did not understand manhood or fear. Fear is a catalyst to leading a more vibrant life full of challenge and new experiences so make friends with it and cultivate your responses to it. Fear can be something to be scared of or it can be something to be excited about, it can be a crippling emotion that brings on profuse sweating and mental sluggishness or a state of anticipation and clarity. The choice is yours, it is all mindset, perseverance, confidence, and training. It is all up to us to decide.