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  • Writer's pictureEve Bernfeld

If You're Not Scared...

“If I’m not scared, I’m not doing enough,” Mary told me. This was her attitude toward life. She was a jazz singer I took lessons with when I was a teenager. I was chatting with her about the uncertainty of the future, the looming prospect of college—my desire and terror about attending college in Manhattan after a childhood in Wyoming.

Sadly I lost track of Mary over the years, however I do remember her earthy voice and her suggestion that I sing softly to myself, like, all the time. And, of course, her thoughts on fear.

I find myself with what I’ve named a “vulnerability hangover” a lot these days. The aftermath of doing something scary. Presuming to help graduate students or preschool teachers to do their work better. Presuming to help excellent pianists and violinists and voice teachers to do their work better. Hell, even being asked unexpectedly to explain what I do in a room full of people I respect can trigger it.

And then I remember Mary’s adage: “If I’m not scared, I’m not doing enough.” It has helped me move across the country (multiple times), leave good jobs when I no longer enjoyed them, invite neighbors I barely know over for a potluck, start a business and keep plugging away at it for nearly a decade, climb a tree to talk to my son about why he is looking sad, and so much more.

F.M. Alexander described us as having an “unduly excited fear response.” We react to the chronic stresses of life as if they were a series of predators; we’re stuck in a cycle of jumping at shadows. He also talked of “bringing reason to bear on the act of living.” These are two ideas I wrestle with every day. Like most people I know, I find myself over-stressed. Reactive and crabby and rushing my children to school before the bell rings. But I hope that I’m able to use my tools—pausing, breathing, lightening up, taking a walk—to cope.

And when it comes to the really scary things, like putting on my teacher hat and walking into a roomful of lawyers or preschoolers or dentists, I hope I’m able to bring reason to bear. Pause, breathe, lighten up. I’m scared, but I’m not going to run away.

I guess I’m doing enough.


I've delved into fear and vulnerability before.

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