When I was eight years old I loved the water, but I wasn’t the best swimmer. To remedy this, my father enrolled my older brother and I in swimming lessons. From the beginning, I was a star pupil. When she told us to kick, I kicked. When she told us to practice holding our breath, I practiced swimming for long stretches without taking a breath. And when she told us to swim the length of the pool, I tired my hardest to beat all the kids in my class to the other side. I felt cool, confident, and damn near unstoppable in the water, until it came to one small hurdle: the diving board.

At the end of each class my swim teacher would take us all up to the small diving board on the deep end of the pool and have us jump in the water. Although she’d be in the water ready to spot us, I just couldn’t bear jumping off the board. I’d walk to the end of the diving board, typically hyped up and knowing I would jump, only to stand there for what seemed like an eternity, too afraid to jump.

No matter how good of a swimmer I’d become, I was scared shitless whenever I was standing on the diving plank. Even though I would have been perfectly fine jumping off of the board, and swimming to the side…I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t overcome the fear.

The New Year is still young, and most of us are still keeping to our list of resolutions to make 2011 a better year than the last. As we continue working toward our life’s goals, be careful that you’re not missing out on realizing your goals because, like me, you’re standing on the sideline paralyzed by fear.

Being afraid is normal. However, fear can be absolutely detrimental to your success if you allow it to stop you from taking the steps necessary to reach your goals.

A few weeks ago I wrote about feeling completely stuck.   On the cusp of 2010 my life just wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go. Instead of continuing to wallow in my feelings, I decided to take action. I stepped out on a leap of faith a created a vision board for the upcoming year. I carefully set goals based on the changes I wanted to see in my life and I set out to reach them.

Although I charged toward my list of intentions for 2010 full of energy, I inevitably ran out of steam.  I began doubting myself and wondering if I was on the right track at all. When some successes would come, I would look at them suspiciously and be hesitant to continue searching for new ways to accomplish my goals.

In the summer of 2010, I decided to take the plunge and see a therapist. I again felt stuck and needed to gain some clarity in my life. Seeing a therapist was one of the scariest, and turns out, bravest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. Instead of being trapped by the stereotype that black women don’t do therapy, I jumped full force into the pool of my emotions.

In one of our first few sessions my therapist told me I was brave. At first I brushed off his assessment because I felt bravery involved things like racing into a burning building to help others or savings someone’s life. But when I stopped to think about it, he was right. Instead of letting the fear of what my friends or family would think of my decision to see a therapist, I did it anyway, and ended up saving my own life.

Our fear of the unknown can be completely paralyzing, but why? How many times have you put off doing something you’ve always wanted to do simply because you’re afraid?

To help me wrap my mind around why we sometimes let fear stop us, I turned to life coach and professional matchmaker Paul Carrick Brunson. Brunson, who is one of the only Black male matchmakers in the country, said that our biggest fear is failure.

“Fear or the thought of failure is daunting to many,” Brunson told me. But according to him, there is hope. “That said, it’s important to understand that failure is a component of everyone’s journey. Something does not have to end well for it to be the most valuable experience of your lifetime.”

The idea that failing is a possible (and viable) option was somewhat revolutionary for me. I’d thought back over all the things in my life that I did not try simply because I was afraid, and realized that I’d missed opportunities that could have possibly been a positive experience simply because I was too scared to try them in the first place.

I asked Brunson to share some tips for those of us looking to overcome our fears to live a fuller and happier lives and, according to him, there’s only one: just do it.

“The single best tip is to face your fear! I know this is very easily said but it can also be very easily done,” Brunson said. “If you take on fear directly, no matter the result, you will see that you have SURVIVED it! The result is that many things you may have previously feared will seem to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear.”

Fear can be a mind killer. It can eat at you and stop you from reaching your goals, but it doesn’t have to. If we face our fears head on, and plow through them, we may just find out that the life we want is well within out grasp.

What are you afraid of? What’s stopping you from reaching your goals?

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