merica is obsessed with “National __ Day” celebrations. When I first heard of one, National Ice Cream Day, I thought, “This is why America is falling apart, a dairy product gets a national holiday.” I later learned that no, banks do not close and parking is not free on it (thankfully, not through personal experience). It made it only infinitesimally better. The United States loves to celebrate things. I’m happy to go full out on certain occasions, like Christmas, but not everything needs to be celebrated. Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently found myself thinking, “Now why don’t we celebrate this more?” The “this” in question — overcoming fears.
So many children’s stories and inspirational quotes center around the idea of overcoming your fears. In children’s literature, vanquishing fear usually leads to the resolution of the story and incredible results, like saving kingdoms, redeeming adults, restoring balance to the world. As for the quotes, you usually don’t get to be quoted on fear unless you’ve overcome some great example of it, like Holocaust survivors, activists, great leaders, and so on.
Growing up, everyone tells you over and over not to let your fears limit you. They tell you to pretend you don’t have them, to crash through them, to reason through them, to ignore them and proceed. You never stop to think about the “after” because you’re so concentrated on the “before,” the fear part. You can’t imagine you’ll ever get through the fear or you think about what the confrontation will look like, usually in worst-case-scenario form. At most, you daydream about the “after,” but at least for me, my celebration scenarios are fantasy because they often involve the kind of party Disney cartoons have taught me to expect from non-descript medieval villages, including streamers and an odd goat.
Imagine my disappointment when, in young adulthood, I realized that I’ve been confronting my fears all along — but these moments of courage were so lackluster that I barely noticed how heroic I’d been. As if adulthood weren’t dreary enough.
For some reason, we don’t make a big fuss about defeating fears. If you achieve something remarkable in beating them, family and friends might celebrate the achievement, but never the abstract battle you fought and won. If you win a gold medal for the backstroke after shame about your body kept you from competing for years, the gold medal is celebrated, not the courage it took to step forward in the revealing suit. At most, that battle is relegated to interview filler or international-multi-conglomerate commercial ad copy. You might reach out to someone and ask for an introduction and be congratulated for the outcome of the meeting, rarely for reaching out in the first place.
I almost can’t believe I’m advocating celebrating something so private and not easily quantified. Recently I’ve been trying to overcome little hindrances I’ve let stand all my life. As satisfying as it is to realize it in hindsight, what I’d really love is to hear cheers and overwhelming enthusiasm when I send the networking email or when I am utterly lovely at a business lunch instead of letting all my fears melt me into a ball of stress (we will not consult the person I had lunch with to verify if I was in fact lovely, you’ll have to take my word for it).
Is this why adults get dragged into the mire of life? The things that matter are ignored or pushed aside? It’s almost heartbreaking to think of the version of myself from three years ago that so fervently wished I could let go of these fears and how nonplussed she’d be that I didn’t even notice I’d gotten over the thing that tormented her. It’s akin to not honoring your fellow soldiers with a proper burial.
How thoughtless are we that with no thoughts spared, we let go of things that defined a period of our life? In their death, we should recognize how formidable those opponents were even if defeating them now is easy. If we don’t do that, I cringe to think of how discounted it must make large parts of ourselves feel when they fought so furiously back then. And how are we supposed to realize we’ve grown and changed when we barely spare a glance for the things we can now step over easily?
I’m not scolding anyone. Maybe just myself. It simply seems that adults are careless enough, overcoming our fears isn’t something we should be so blasé about. It’s the one occurrence I believe we don’t celebrate enough. I suppose this is how I announce my presidential platform — enact a “National Day of Fears Overcome.” I hope you’ll agree with me; it’s necessary.