I’m Afraid of Sharks

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I’m very, very afraid of sharks. Each night as I go to sleep, I picture the ocean in my mind’s eye, just about a half mile away from my bedroom door. And each night, I wonder, “How close is a shark to me right now?”

Last summer, I started hitting the ocean on a regular basis. Reid and I grab our SUPs and go. He goes. I stay in the harbor. Then, when I get the courage, I paddle just a little way out into the ocean. Then, I panic, and I sit down, and I ride my board like a kayak. This was the pattern for most of the year. I would say to him, “Today is the day I conquer my fear!” But, without fail, 20 yards into open ocean, I panic, and I sit down.

I remember going snorkeling with my family as a child. We were on the island of Antigua, and a teeny-tiny catamaran piloted by a very tan ex-pat picked us up on the beach. On the way to the snorkeling spot, he told us stories of taking his catamaran open-ocean fishing. He told one story in particular where he had hooked a marlin, and his buddy was going to jump into the water to film the catch. Just as he was about to go overboard, a huge tiger shark exploded out of nowhere and took the marlin off the line!

Right as he was done with this story, he stopped the boat, handed us snorkel masks, and said, “Jump in!” My father did. My sister did. I did. And then, I really started regretting that decision. I kept feeling my mask fill with water, and a moment of panic would hit when I saw myself on a dive, mask full, eyes closed, tiger shark approaching. To this day, I don”t know if that damn mask was broken. My father swears it was the best snorkeling spot we’ve ever been to, my mask was fine, and my complaining caused him to end the trip early. I caught a lot of shit for that. He made fun of me the whole way home and the entire rest of vacation.

Now, my dad was great at a lot of things. But making fun of his kids? He was really great at that. He had a way of knowing our deepest insecurities, drawing them to the surface, and just drilling us about them. As I told Reid this story, I said, “It occurs to me now that wasn’t a great parenting technique.” We laughed. If I had come with a manual, I would’ve wanted it to say this:

ATTENTION PARENT OF THE “BETHANY” MODEL: When fear arises, please inform Bethany it is normal. Instruct her to listen to her fear, embrace her fear, and learn to do things anyway. Tell her she doesn”t have to conquer her fear in order to jump in the water. She just has to live with it.

One sunny day in crystal-clear water, I rode my board across the open-ocean, out past the furthest buoy, knowing those damn sharks were underneath me, and just kept paddling anyway. It was a great day. This lesson is one I need to learn over, and over, and over, and over. More than learn it, though, I need to practice it. Which brings me to today: we are opening a yoga studio on January 5.

I’ve spoken of this hypothetical studio for six years. I’ve toured locations, built brand models, played with fake schedules. I’ve attended conferences, wrote business plans, and created financial models. All along, one thing has stopped me: fear. Not the fear of failure. Not the fear of the work. Not the fear of falling and learning. The fear that has stopped me is the fear of giving up on another plan. As soon as I”m healthy enough to do so, I”d like to be a parent. I’ve said this every day since September 2012. I’ve never been healthy enough. I’ve harbored a fear that saying “YES” to my dream career will come in the way of saying “YES” to my other dreams. I’m doing it anyway. That fear is still very real and very present. But, fuck it. I’m putting on that leaky mask, and I’m jumping into those shark infested waters, because my dad says it’s the prettiest damn place he’s ever seen.