Know Fear: Using Courage to Harness the Spirit of Adventure
By Liz Snyder, Assistant Camp Director
"I'm not going to do it. I'll just hike to the bottom." I began to loosen the figure 8 knot attached to the front of my harness. The day was warm and balmy, but my hands trembled as I tried to release myself from the rope binding me to the side of the cliff. My instructor stood by silently, his face painted with compassion. In a calm, soft voice, he beckoned me to sit beside him. There was no mention of rappelling or knots or ropes; no clinking of metal carabiners. There was, instead, only the touch of a gentle breeze and the sound of his words: "Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the ability to move forward in spite of it. I believe in you."
Minutes later, I stood on the cliff’s edge, confidence intact. My instructor was perched several feet in front of me, his words bounced through my mind as I hesitantly shifted my weight backward. "Courage. Fear. Courage." My boots inched over the edge and down the rocky wall as the rope slowly slid through the fist of my "brake" hand. I moved toward the safety of level ground 60 feet below, beginning to fully trust the system serving as my lifeline. I was in complete control. As my toes touched the ground, relief and pride overwhelmed me; my first rappel was complete.
When I was in elementary school, the action sports brand “No Fear” came into existence, and my classmates started coming to school with the “No Fear” slogan plastered on their clothes. As we rode our bikes around the neighborhood, jumping off curbs and splashing through mud puddles, my friends and I would shout, “No fear!" back and forth to each other. Suddenly, living without fear was cool. As the sun sank behind the tall pines on those long summer evenings, I pedaled home with impressive speed, nervous about getting lost in the impending darkness. Fear was always there, whether or not we realized it, and it was keeping us safe.
As I got older, I abandoned the desire to have no fear and realized that fear is real and inevitable; it is a natural response to dangerous situations. Instead of hiding from fear, I sought it out and attempted to “know it.” Fear led me to rappel off the edge of a cliff when I was 15 years old. It directed me toward my first day of college several years later. It pushed me down a class III river in an open boat. It helped me spark conversations with new friends. It gave me the desire to run a marathon.
Liz, in the mountains, on her next BIG adventure!
Fear is now a welcomed constant in my life, as it continuously pushes me toward growth and self-realization. Standing atop the cliff on that mid-July day presented me with two options. I could untie the knot and walk down to the bottom, choosing to deny myself the opportunity to embrace my fear. I would be safe but overwhelmed by great disappointment and the question of what might have been. Or, I could tighten my harness and slowly inch my way over the ledge, acknowledging the fear and mustering the courage to use it to my advantage. Thankfully, I chose the latter, and I think back on that moment with great pride.
The idea of stepping off a plane in another country to spend 4 weeks immersed in its culture and wilderness is daunting. The concept of scaling 13,500 foot peaks is frightening. Hiking a trail deep in the mountains of North Carolina will pull a person’s comfort zone right out from under them. Simply leaving the familiarity of home and choosing to participate in a Hante Adventure is scary. But without fear, adventure wouldn't exist. There would be no opportunity to try things for the very first time. The friendships and camaraderie born from shared challenge wouldn't happen. The words of a patient instructor wouldn't be heard, and there would be no memory to draw strength from before embarking on subsequent adventures. Opportunities for significant growth and learning would be missed. As it turns out, the scariest part of any adventure is choosing not to do it.