Lean Into The Fear

When I was a child, my mother broke both arms while skiing, and I spent a couple of months bathing her, since she couldn’t get her casts wet. So as much as I adore skiing, I’m always a wee bit hesitant.

When I was training to become a surgeon, my teachers warned me never to do anything that might jeopardize my hands. “Your hands are your life,” they would say. So I always heard their words whenever I was tempted to throw my hand into a closing elevator to catch it. And last week when the wind was blowing through my hair as I cruised down a ski slope, the same words echoed.

Now, I’m no longer doing surgery, but my hands are still my livelihood. I make my living largely from writing, and the memory of those two casts on Mom’s arms still haunts me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a lingering fear whispers evil nothings.

I used to ski at least once a year, but then I got pregnant. And the following ski season, I had a newborn. And every year since, my Mommy duties have overtaken my desire to rocket down a snowy hill. But this year my daughter is 5-years-old, and my birthday was yesterday (wahoo!). And I’ve been working my butt off and deserved a vacation, so last week we went to Lake Tahoe and I found myself on top of the mountain, looking down — a long way down from the summit.

What if something happens to me?

As I got off the lift and wobbled a bit after getting on skis for the first time in seven years, I felt a clenching in my chest. Not only am I seven years out of ski shape, but I’m now a mother, and being a mother threatens to change everything. My daughter is safely in ski school, cruising up the “magic carpet” lift so she can “pizza” (aka snowplow) her way down the hamster hill (it’s really too small to even call it a bunny slope).

But what if something happened to me? Now it’s not just my surgeon’s hands or my writing hands I worry about. What if I crash into a tree and die the way that guy I saw in Aspen did? What if I collide with some snowboarder and wind up brain damaged? What if my selfish desire for thrill-seeking deprives my daughter of a capable mother?

As I stood there, looking straight down the mountain, I thought, “What the hell am I thinking?” and was tempted to beg the lift operator to let me get back on and ride down.

But then I remembered what I teach — in my coaching, in my Get Out Of Your Own Way e-course, in my lectures.

Fear is the opposite of love, and we simply can’t let it rule our lives.

Standing on the edge of that steep downhill is not much different than thinking about quitting a job you hate. Or leaving a husband who doesn’t nurture your heart. Or deciding to quit a bad habit or achieve a health goal.

Taking a leap of faith can be scary, but we can’t let the fear rule our decision-making.

But what if the fear is valid?

What if I really might break both arms or hit a tree and croak? What if my fear is meant to protect me?

This is where listening to my intuition comes in. Am I really likely to break both arms? Am I likely to hit a tree and die if I’m skiing only blue slopes and avoiding trees? Is it worth skipping out on the thrill and joy of engaging in one of my favorite activities just to keep myself safe?

My intuition says no. My intuition says, “You’re safe.” My intuition says, “Tell that Gremlin of fear to take a hike.”

So standing at the summit, I tip my skis down, and off I go.

My heart races.

My thighs burn. And then I find myself leaning back, giving into the fear. If I lean back, I feel like I might be safer. It slows me down. But it also throws me off balance. If I lean into the fear, bend my knees, and allow myself to barrel down the mountain, I know I am safer. And so I do. I lean. And as I do, I take Gabrielle Bernstein’s –ING advice and repeat the mantra “It doesn’t have to be hard. Life can be easy.”

Then I’m swishing and zooming and I feel more alive than I have in a long time. The wind is whipping through my hair and my body remembers how to make this swaying motion. I’m filled with a zesty feeling.

Then the fear comes back.

And as I’m noticing the fear, I see a child — maybe 7 or 8 years old — and he is skiing twice as fast as me, cruising down the hill, all the while singing “WHEEE!!!! WOO HOO! YEEHAW!!”

The other skiers — myself included — stop to watch him. He is compelling and adorable. He is so fully present in this moment and unabashedly expressing his pure glee.

I decide to do the same thing. So I spend the rest of the run yipping and yahooing and squeeing, and by the time I get to the bottom of the hill, the fear is gone. Banished. Sent to time out.

I leaned into the fear. And I am still safe. Hallelujah!

A while later, my daughter has graduated to the bunny slope, and as we scoop her off the lift, she starts trembling as she looks down the much bigger hill. She says, “I’m scared,” and I say, “I feel you, sister.”

And then I tell her what I just learned. That if you lean into the fear and refuse to let it control your life, you get to WHEEE!!!! WOO HOO! YEEHAW!! your way through life, just like that little boy.

I teach her what I call “Mommy Mojo Tips,” and the one I taught her right there on that ski slope was, “You can’t let fear control your life. You have to lean into the fear, and when you do, it eases up and you can do anything you want to do.”

So we did it. Siena and I squealed and threw our hands in the air and decided to just go for it. And even when we both fell down, we brushed ourselves off, wiped away tears, and got back on the lift.

Am I a bad Mommy for putting myself at risk and teaching my child to choose glee over caution? Have you ever tried leaning into the fear? What helps you when fear starts holding you back?

Do you need help getting out of your own way and sending your Gremlin of fear to time out? Sign up for the free Get Out Of Your Own Way e-course.

Let’s do it, babe.


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Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun7 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Carol H.
Carol H7 years ago

This actually brought a few tears to my eyes. I've been "Leaning into the Fear" lately, by trying out and actually making it on my local Roller Derby team. I know that my fear is holding me back at times, but it's getting easier. I've been telling my friends who think I'm "crazy" that I can break a leg walking to the bus stop on a snowy day, or slip on water that I didn't know was on the floor as I have seen happen many times to friends and coworkers... but if I get hurt in Derby, at least it's a more interesting story.

Linda F.
Linda F.7 years ago

Fear is the opposite of love. There is no fear in perfect love. Fear is paralizing and crippling. It robs you of all joy. Yes, we have to be cautious and wise in our decisions. But, when you allow fear to take control and front row seat in making decisons, your decisions are not based on accurate facts.

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana7 years ago

Face directly and fear shall vanish!!

Carla Manning
Carla M7 years ago

Thanks for sharing this fun story :) I think its great you give your daughter "moma mojo tips" and I wouldn't stop if I were you (and btw i'm a mom too).

Ree O.
Ree O7 years ago

Thanks for this article, just what I need. I have been on an anxiety course before, which taught me to calm the mind if I start to feel anxious about anything. Now and again, I need reminders of these little things. It's hard to change a habit of a life, I am slowly starting to get out there and live my life :)

Cathy Meyer
Cathy Meyer7 years ago

As a ski instructor, I deal with easing fear all the time. I've also noticed the parallels between that kind of fear and fear in the rest of our lives. There is a difference between recklessness and heeding caution, but when you know you can do something and fear is holding you back, that's a problem. You must develop trust in yourself and your own abilities and find a way to squelch the voices of doubt that interfere with effective action. Dare to act when you know you can. Otherwise, your world will just get smaller and more stifling. Confidence comes from managing fear. Acknowledge the feeling and do it anyway.

Aparna A.
Aparna Amrita7 years ago

thank you.

John S.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thanks. Sometimes we fear the silliest things, I can't go on cable cars.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam7 years ago

thanks for sharing.