Facing Fear

fear itselfHer name was Dorothy, Dorothy Parker. I recall she had long, brown hair and brown eyes. She sat immediately in front of me in my eighth-grade English class. To me, she was the prettiest girl ever to walk the earth. Each day, I struggled with my attempts to diagram sentences and differentiate between transitive and intransitive verbs while staring at the back of her head. Thoughts of her were always with me and I even followed her home on occasion after class—at a distance, of course. To my 13-year-old brain, this was surely love.

Now, our school administration sponsored chaperoned sock hops every Friday night in the gym to allow the students to dance and mingle. Although I had never attended, I dreamed of asking Dorothy to attend some night with me. On several afternoons after school, alone in my bedroom, I practiced dance steps while listening to pop songs on the radio. I wanted to be ready for the date. Taking her to the dance would be fun, lots of it.

That attraction began the first day of school in September and lasted until the last day of school in June. Nine months of sitting behind her in English class. Did she agree to go with me, you might ask? Were my feelings reciprocated?  I will never know, as I never asked her out.

That’s right. In those nine months of seeing her five days a week, sitting inches away from her, I never asked her out. More than that, I never even spoke to her, not a word. Fear. That was it: fear. Fear that she might laugh at me, fear that she would decline my invitation, fear that she would tell her friends that I would dare to invite her, the prettiest girl in the world, to the sock hop.

Yes, life moved on. The following year I was more socially adjusted, but there were lessons in that experience for me. My fear of rejection prevented me from possibly having several pleasant memories of that school year, memories that would have proved worth the risk of rejection. And would rejection in eighth-grade have been so catastrophic, when all of us were struggling with boy/girl interaction? Doubtful. And what she might have been thinking never occurred to me. Maybe she would have enjoyed being asked. I will never know.

Yet, the bigger lesson was how easily one accepts inaction in the face of fear when the opportunity continually presents itself. That is, when first I wanted to invite her, I would rationalize my inaction by telling myself that I would ‘ask her tomorrow.’ That strategy kept me stressed daily, anticipating that each day would be ‘the day’ to act. But, as time went on, I realize I began to accept that I wanted to ask her, but just needed more time. And, by the end of the school year, I had accepted that I was never going to ask her. All tallied, that was over 150 times I made the decision of ‘not now, but surely tomorrow.’

That one-sided love affair with Dorothy was a small part of my childhood, but the lesson remains: when there is something I do not want to do for fear of failure or embarrassment, I know that each time I postpone action, the postponement becomes easier each time, and eventually the action I wanted to do is never done. Life is short enough as it is, and procrastination always has a reason, usually fear, fear that something will go wrong, so the act is never done.

Reading this, you might infer that I no longer succumb to procrastination on life’s challenges—but you would be wrong. The good news, though, is that I now know why it is happening and I focus on the WHY. That moves me forward. I never saw Dorothy after that year, and she will never know the lesson I learned by not speaking to her. Would she have enjoyed the sock hop? Probably.