Rayna Abernethy

Since coming to China I have had to face many of my fears. Some more tangible: eating strange fish, riding an electric bike, trying to navigate a foreign hospital. Some more abstract: Will I be okay? What happens if something goes wrong? Will I be a good teacher? The last one was probably one of my biggest worries before coming to China. I had never taught in a classroom setting before, and besides babysitting and tutoring, I had never been around more than a couple kids at once. I obsessed over minor details like: Will the kids like me? How do I lesson plan? How will I understand the kids that only speak Chinese? Finally, after months of anxiety, I arrived in China, finished my training, and was shipped off to the classroom. And guess what…I was worrying for nothing. None of what I thought would be issues, turned out to actually be. I was given all the tools and help needed for the classroom. But more than that, like a cheesy message in an after school program, I found the answers were within me the entire time.

Recently, I just came back from a trip to Tibet where I spent a night at Everest basecamp. For a chronic worrier like me, the period leading up to this trip was difficult. There were many nights I couldn't sleep because I was too afraid. It was mostly about the altitude – I had heard horror stories of people turning blue after arriving and having to fly straight back home. I was convinced this, or something worse, would happen to me. Not to mention what would I pack? But, again, something strange happened – nothing! I got to Tibet and, yes, the first few days were pretty rough, but slowly I realized I was strong enough: I faced my fears and won.

In this way, the classroom and Everest were the same. I worried and worried and in the end I realized I was my greatest obstacle; I was my own biggest fear. As American president Franklin Roosevelt once said (and I'm paraphrasing): “Nothing to fear but fear itself”. Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I, more than anyone else, know that the paralyzing, gut wrenching, and gag-inducing fear that worms its way through your mind is, usually, irrational. And yet, knowing it's irrational doesn't help. In some ways, fear being irrational is more difficult to control because it means you have to fight yourself.

When I faced my fears, I did it in small steps. Something that helped me a lot was visualizing the worst case scenario, and then contrasting this against the most likely scenario. I also think that talking about your fears to other people can really help. A confidant who supports you, but also points out how irrational you and being, is a great resource. I also religiously chant the mantra “fake it till you make it”. Acting confident even when you're quavering in your boots might sound impossible, but do it long enough and the confidence will become real.

Finally, and most crucial, is to, unfortunately, just suck it up and do it. You have to tell yourself: “if I don't do this now, when will I?”. You have to take the leap: whether it's asking your boss for a raise, starting the guitar, or teaching English overseas. If you're waiting for the fear to abate, then you'll be waiting forever. If you feel strongly about something, then you'll always regret not doing it. Take it from someone who slept in the shadow of the tallest mountain in the world: the experience is worth it!

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