Grappling With Fear… the Making of Courage.

What is your greatest fear?

Today, we move onto the second question in the Proust Questionnaire, a tool many writers use to develop their character’s back story. Since I am the main character of the Book Project, I am going through the Proust Questionnaire myself and loving it.

While there are times most of us might struggle with even the concept of happiness (question 1), I’m sure most of us know fear. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, you could be well have your very own A-Z of fears, which you could could rattle off in a jiffy.

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

When I first started thinking about fear, I started revisiting those dreadful moments where I was completely paralyzed and clearly an emotional wreck. However, the more I worked through fear, I came to appreciate that fear is an inherent ingredient in its flip side…courage.

After all, without fear we can not be brave.

Consequently, instead of denigrating fear as an emotion and seeing it as purely negative, we can also re-brand it as a positive, uplifting emotion. That through embracing fear, challenge and overcoming hurdles, we find our inner strength and experience personal growth.

Getting back to answering the question at hand, of course, I could easily give you a simple one or two word response but where’s the fun in that? As much as I don’t really feel like exploring fear in all it’s goosepimpled glory, looking fear in the face and really feeling those emotions, that is the essence of writing.Immersing yourself into the character, the experience until you live and breathe through it’s heart, lungs and soul.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

After all, writing, good writing, is not about skating over the top of the iceberg. No, it’s about diving deep and dealing with the unexpressed, the hard to comprehend, those feelings which are so incredibly painful that any sane sole would stay well and truly away. Yet, we plow on. We can’t leave those pages unturned…despite the personal cost!

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

While I posted a wide range of photos to show my happiest moments, my most fearful moments haven’t really been photographed and even if they were, they wouldn’t necessarily show the inner mechanics of fear which are perhaps concealed behind a seemingly calm veneer, a nervous smile or talking a thousand miles an hour to somehow calm my nerves.

However, when I truly think of fear, utter panic and all those alarm bells going off at once, there’s no greater representation of that enormous fear than Munch’s: The Scream. I actually have it near my desk, waiting to be framed and stuck on the wall. You see, I know that scream, the freak out very, very well.

Yet, although fear is portrayed as a bad thing and something to be avoided, fear is also part of any new experience, especially one which really stretches and challenges us, taking us out of our comfort zones creating growth.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

One of my greatest personal triumphs was skiing down Perisher’s Front Valley with my ski instructor despite having a life-threatening, disabling auto-immune disease which attacks my muscles and lungs. I still remember standing at the top of the mountain gripping onto the edge by the skin of my toes, totally overwhelmed by a tsunami of fear. At the same time, I’d joined up with the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and my instructor was well-trained and experienced at enabling people like me to ski as independently as possible but with support. Probably the very worst part of it was looking over the edge and seeing how small the village was down below and how the car park was full of “ants” and I felt like I was about to fly off the edge of a cliff into abyss.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

TS. Eliot

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent Van Gogh

Eventually, after a few falls and needing to stop to catch my breath, we arrived at the bottom. It didn’t feel like the exuberant triumph I’d expected but I’d pulled off my dream. Fulfilled a goal. Moreover, as much as I was afraid, I didn’t let that fear stop me from truly living. From seizing the day with both hands and swinging from the chandelier, even if my joy was, at best, subdued.

At the same time, I must confess that I haven’t skied down Front Valley a second time. That view from the top and the steepness of the slope was too much but I’ve subsequently skied through Happy Valley a few times and this time decided not to look down. Plus, my instructors carried my skis and boots back while I could the chairlift. (So you don’t have to go through fearful situations alone!)

“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

I was also terrified when I was having my first session of chemo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s pretty scary having toxic stuff pumped into your veins…even if it is in a hospital. I half expected my veins to blow up, which naturally didn’t happen and I didn’t throw up or lose my hair either. I was suddenly somehow “lucky”.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

However, another important aspect of going through fear and surviving those nasty experiences is that we develop resilience and we start developing the skills and attitudes which enable us to overcomes adversity not just now and then but every day. After all, life is all about tackling ups and downs and standing only makes you stagnant.

“By adversity are wrought the greatest works of admiration, and all the fair examples of renown, out of distress and misery are grown.”

Samuel Daniel

So, even when fear is completely and utterly justifiable in a situation, the monstrous picture your imagination paints is often far worse than reality and you somehow manage not only to survive but feel a bit victorious…a real sense of achievement.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”


Phobias are a different story. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Phobias come in all shapes and sizes but spiders, snakes, mice, heights are a few classics. While it is good to have a healthy respect for deadly critters(trust me Australia has more than its share of these!!), being terrified of these things and letting them get in the way of living is a different story.

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them”.

Andre Gide

Jaws...even the theme music inspired dread.

Jaws…even the theme music inspired dread.

At the same time, fear can also be protective and what might be a phobia can also be a real and very life-threatening. It’s not something to simply shrug off and ignore. I’ve never been scared of sharks but lately there’s been a string of shark attacks on Australia’s East Coast. Indeed, there’s been 13 shark attacks in New South Wales in 2015*. We’ll be off to Byron Bay again soon, which is right near a few of these attacks and it really is questionable whether we should swim in these shark infested waters. Do we love swimming that much? I don’t think so but I will seek local advice when we get there. To me, this is just being sensible…the same way I would go swimming with croco9diles in the Northern Territory.

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

Rabindranath Tagore

The more I considered fear, the more I came to realise that fear was also coupled with courage, especially when we face our fears, instead of fleeing to the hills. Being prepared, having some training, tools etc obviously increases the likelihood of victory and a good outcome.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

What are your thoughts about fear and the interplay between fear and courage?

xx Rowena


14 thoughts on “Grappling With Fear… the Making of Courage.

  1. vanbytheriver

    Wow, Rowena, that is a fabulous collection of quotes about fear and the courage to overcome. You could spin off a dozen posts from this one, hard to pick a favorite. I had so many fears in childhood, mostly spurred by tragic family circumstances, but I moved on, boldly, and took on a lot of challenges. I’m a true believer in many of the concepts above. Great post. Thanks.❤️

  2. merrildsmith

    Great quotes here, Rowena! I think you are right that there can be a relationship between fear and courage–as Eleanor Roosevelt said in your quote above. Also, that as you write, fear can be a mechanism that saves us and animals, too– the fight or flight instincts that still make our hair raise, hearts beat faster, etc.

    “The Scream” is probably one of the most widely recognized works around. Did you Munch did four versions, and it was originally called “The Scream of Nature?” I always feel like I can hear and feel that scream!

  3. roweeee Post author

    Thanks. It took quite a lot of thought and reading to get there. I’m starting to work on the start of my book which is looking like being that scene of me perched on the edge of the “mountain” on my skis. I’m wanting to really beef up the fear factor and make it sound like I’m about to ski down the edge of Mt Everest…NOT some poor Australian excuse for a mountain. Our “mountains” are more like pancakes on steroids. That said, I was still terrified looking down over the edge and I’m not usually scared of heights xx Ro

  4. Norah

    Thanks for sharing your fears and courage at facing them. You have included many great quotes. I think ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ tends to sum it all up doesn’t it? Your skiing experience demonstrates that. When I visited China ten years ago and took a chairlift up to the Great Wall and then a flume ride back to the base I thought I’d be able to do anything. (I like neither heights nor enclosed spaces.) It hasn’t really worked that way but after suffering panic attacks about twenty years ago and learning to quiet my anxieties I have definitely improved. There are still many things I would choose to not do and hope that I am not allowing fear to stop me from doing things I would otherwise like to do. Only one I can think of at the moment is hot air ballooning. If I could be brave enough to try it I think I would love it. One day … I’ll just do it! Maybe.

  5. Pingback: #Weekend Coffee Share | beyondtheflow

  6. roweeee Post author

    Thanks Norah for your extensive reply. Much appreciated. I don’t know if you have ever tried parasailing but that could be a good stepping stone towards trying hot air ballooning. I’ve done it twice and it was fabulous. I felt as free as a bird. Highly recommend it. I did it at Nelson Bay.
    It’s hard to negotiate that whole space about how far to push/extend yourself, taking on the challenge versus simply having fun and lying on a beach soaking up the sun. I decided not to go skiing this year because I’d felt that I’d done the steep curve holiday and I just wanted to chill out a bit. We’ll be going to Byron Bay soon and off to Tasmania in January. My husband is from Tasmania and we haven’t been back since our son was 1. I thought that was an important holiday where the kids can connect with their Dad and family history. They even have a convict who was at Port Arthur.

  7. Norah

    Thanks Rowena. Interesting suggestion about parasailing. I think if I had to choose, I’d choose ballooning – it’s more enclosed. I did go gliding (in a glider) once. It was the most amazing experience.
    Your holidays sound wonderful, and great for your children to visit the home of their ancestors. What a great time exploring and discovering you will all have.

  8. roweeee Post author

    Going gliding is very brave, especially with a fear of heights. My grandmother was a very anxious person and she never learned to drive and had a severe fear of flying and she always said she’d never get on a plane unless one of her children was sick. My mum’s sister died when she was 36 and when my grandparents heard she was severely ill and had been flown to Sydney, my grandmother boarded that plane and went. A small thing isn the overall scheme of things but I am proud of her.
    By the way, there’s a funny story about my grandmother and her sister going shopping in David Jones. My grandmother was afraid of lifts and her sister was afraid of escalators and so they’re each go up their own way and meet up again.
    As you can see, I didn’t stand a chance! xx Rowena

  9. Minuscule Moments

    When I moved to the countryside I had a crippling fear of spiders. Out here we have funnel webs and I see them every now and again in my home. This fear knocked me for awhile, the fear that one of the children might step on one. So I tried to learn more about this spider. They are not as aggressive as the blue mountain version, I have met two people bitten and they did not release their venom. I did my first aid and learned that remaining calm is my best asset. Over time I am learning to keep a look out for them but not worry about something that may never happen. Phobias are a cruel thing, my husband loves spiders and does not understand what happens to my body when I see one. I don’t think I will conquer this fear but I am less panicky now when I see one. Spring brings all the creepy crawlies out of the wood work Rowena and we have had two snakes who snuck through the screen door trapped between the doors. Its not a nice surprise when you open the door to one inside the door. Happy spring to you.

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