As Victoria and I prepare for our next Gathering Gold episode on winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about contrast, risk, and paradox, and how the highly sensitive person, whose tendency is to stay within the safe bounds of a comfort zone, has to push themselves to take risks so that they continue to grow. What a challenge it is to be biologically risk-averse and yet realize that unless we push ourselves anxiety and intrusive thoughts and all of the ways that fear tries to keep us safe and small will amplify in the cesspool of familiarity!
This was brought home today because our older son, Everest, soloed in a power plane for the first time. He soloed in a glider at fourteen, and thus began his journey through the portal of being a highly sensitive person afraid of the world into someone who has the ecstatic experience of flying as high as he possibly can. And as I’ve written many times, his journey of flight has also been my journey, one that has required me to step outside my own motherhood comfort zone. If I had demanded that he keep his life safe and small, I would have dampened the fire that makes his life worth living. I chose, instead, to walk through the gauntlet of my fears, trusting that on the other side of the fear-walls I would find joy.
And I do.
The joy that follows the willingness to risk is unparalleled. It’s a joy that I experience in my own life, both in work and love, and now, by proxy, I experience it through being the mother of Everest.
The study in contrasts is this: when we live in the safe and narrow zone, we don’t experience too much fear but we also limit the threshold of joy. Today could have been a regular, calm Sunday, but when we received the text that Everest’s flight instructor was giving him permission to solo, a calm Sunday turned into life at its most alive.
“Let’s go surprise him and watch him land!” Asher suggested. He had had a rough morning with his older brother, but the love between them is stronger; he wanted to support Everest on this momentous day. As soon as he suggested it my husband and I gathered our things and we all drove down to the airport.
Was my heart in my throat as I watched his plane cross the highway right before our very eyes?
Yes. But it was also a miraculous site, one that I’ve envisioned countless times as we’ve driven on that highway into town and watched other pilots curving around to begin their descent into Boulder Airport.
Did anxious brain try to send me catastrophic images about the lake that stands just in front of the runway?
Yes. But I will say that after several years of walking through fear every time Everest flies, my faith in him and his path is stronger, and mostly I felt giddy with excitement.
Knowing that Everest has been dreaming about this moment since he was two years old…
Imagining his joy as he flew alone in the sky in his favorite place on earth…
Teeing off the happiness that ran through the shared nervous system of the four of us…
…it was hard to feel anything less than thoroughly thrilled.
We stood at the edge of the runway on this beautiful December day and watched Everest land beautifully, as we knew he would.
And later when we sat on his bed together he told me that he had never felt happier than being in that plane by himself, and that he didn’t want to land. He described the view of the Rocky Mountains, aglow in snow and sunset, and the bluest sky that we can only fully experience in the air. When he’s flying, he’s in his purpose, and that’s often when we feel closest to the divine.
Had he never pushed through the textbook fears that saddled his soul as a highly sensitive boy or had I not pushed through my own fears about letting my young son fly by himself, had we kept our lives safe and small within the comfort zone that anxiety tells us is the best place to be, we would be living a much more muted life.
Whether in love, work, or life in general, if we don’t take risks we will not grow, and when we stop growing we stop feeling fully alive.
You are capable of so much more than your anxiety would like you to believe.
You are capable of great love and great flight.
But you must do the very thing that scares you the most.
You must gather up the grit of hard work and “doing hard things”, as Glennon Doyle says, and step outside into the cold brisk night.
The full moon will be there to guide you.
The bright stars will illuminate the darkness.
You do not have to step into the scary places alone.
Fear is the messenger to guide you toward love.
Smallness is the invitation that leads you toward bigness.
The fear of loss and death and humiliation are the revolving doors that lead to a life fully lived.
What is the risk you would take if you were to hold hands with fear and walk through those doors?
Wow, Sheryl. I’m crying. This is so beautiful and powerful. What a moment to witness and be part of. I am so proud of you and your family for embarking on a flight journey. It’s also so powerful to me that Everest gets to literally ascend and descend, and take in all that raw beauty in the process. And as a highly sensitive person, I’m just truly in awe for his courage and sense of purpose.
Thank you so much for sharing this moment. I’m so glad you and your family went to the airport to surprise him and support him. And the description of the bluest blue, oh my heart.
I hope Everest knows that he’s inspiring and just so, so cool.
There’s this song I used to love growing up titled “No Estés Seguro” (“Don’t be sure”), and essentially it speaks of how staying sure means you’ll be safe, but also less alive. And if you want to remain sure/safe, you may never experience real love or see your dreams through. That, of course, it isn’t to say that safe is bad (for any fellow HSP that may experience RA like myself), but more that taking the risk to love, to pursue creative visions and new chapters will sometimes entail not feeling safe or sure. And yet the risk is so worth it because our lives deepen in the process.
Thank you, Mayi! I will share your very sweet and supportive words with Everest, what you shared about the song is very wise and beautiful ❤️.
Thank you Sheryl for this post and thank you Mayi for this response both have deeply touched me this morning. Feeling connected and inspired.
This was beautiful, Sheryl. Makes me think of my own life, which has been very narrow and small. I wish it were bigger. It makes me sad, though from past experience, I don’t know if I can imagine myself feeling feeling so high and full of purpose. I’d feel far too responsible for my own mother’s anxiety. For example, I couldn’t possibly move away and live a big life…I couldn’t bear not seeing her and I’d feel guilty for abandoning family life. Though the life I’m currently living feels pretty unbearable. I wish my parents could feel excited for me, like you, instead of taken over by anxiety.
Thank you, Agnes. I hope that eventually you’ll be able to forge your own path and trust that you’re not responsible for your mother’s anxiety. Your path is yours and hers is hers, and my guess is that if you find the courage to follow your heart, your mother will be okay.
I absolutely love this post Sheryl. I just purchased your RA course and my inner critic went crazy as to why i spent that amount since I’m a student and I’m on a very tight budget. Also, almost every day, I ruminate about not needing to do the work or seeing a therapist because I already “know so much” about myself and about RA in general after reading your blog posts for almost a year! But I guess that’s just another way my resistance is manifesting. And by the way, somewhere in my heart, it feels like God lead me here. I just want to connect to the beauty within me, so that I can enjoy life fully & share that joy with people around me and especially my partner! I’m on a waiting list to start therapy in 2 months and I really hope I’ll be able to reap the benefits of this work tenfold by having a safe space to feel my emotions. Thank you for all that you do Sheryl, you’re amazing!
I’m glad you’re here, Vanessa, and I want to encourage you to trust that the course will be worth your investment, especially if you do the entire course, including all of the exercises, and listen to the stories/interviews at the end. Then do it again. And again. 😉.
Oh, Sheryl, thank you for taking the risk ob being big on your work. You’re a giant!!! ♥️
Beautiful and inspiring. I am wondering about your thoughts on taking risks that you didn’t enjoy or it never worked out?
Thank you, Sheryl! I’ve never heard it said in the way you put it before, and I strongly resonate — my high sensitivity / fear makes me desire to make my life smaller and smaller until I basically do nothing because doing things feels unsafe; and I have a gut instinct that says, “no, do things, because otherwise you will not live.” Having you put this into words — and share your and Everest’s story around it — is really helpful and validating. Thank you. 🤗
I’m curious what you would do if fear wasn’t in the way…❤️
How wonderful for your son to have parents that support, nurture, encourage and guide him in the ways you do. There is a saying that reads ”There are two lasting bequests we can give our children, one is roots and the other is wings.” Though my children are now in their thirties and live passion filled creative lives, I remember well how many times I had to face and investigate my own fears so I could “give them their wings.”
My husband always dreamed of flying and now owns his own small plane. It is in the sky that he finds joy and his anxious mind finds quiet.
This is so sweet to read, Mary. Big smile on my face 😊. Thank you.
Thank you so much for posting this. Today my best friend and I decided we would date again. Feeling so happy and so fearful today often within the span of an hour. Thank you for reminding me that I made a brave choice with a wonderful person, and not a mistake. <3
Congratulations on moving toward love!
Lovely. The pedantic part of me wants to add that the ‘hard things’ need to be (subjectively) worth doing in the first place, otherwise it’s just masochism. But as I said, the part of me that wants to say that is the part that doesn’t like ambiguity haha
I agree that the hard things need to be worthwhile, Joshua. I’m not a fan of pushing through hard things just for the sake of pushing yourself.
Your article is beautiful and really resonates to me ….but on the opposite end of the “Joy spectrum”. I will try to condense a pretty complicated story. I was adopted at birth. Through circumstances my parents were accidentally told my birth mother’s name. She lives in our town. At 18 I wrote her a letter and never heard back from her so I was never SURE she had received it. At the age of 45 – moving back to my hometown and circumstances led to us socializing. At that point I felt I needed to say something in case she “didn’t know” and she certainly had not said anything. Well, at the time I was reading Bene Brown’s “The gifts of imperfection” which as you know talks about having the courage to be vulnerable. So I had the conversation with her and she confirmed she was indeed my birth mother. She was married, a doctor and never had more children. I am a pretty guarded person who keeps my cards very close to my chest and my biggest desire was to be vulnerable, compassionate, and loving as I was reading about those things. . Well, it was about 2 weeks of adrenaline fueled “puppy love”. That is literally how it felt. Like a middle school crush and I was just looking at my phone waiting for a text. After the initial puppy love wore off, things slowly deteriorated and by 6 months in she ghosted me. Now, I will say I wish I had done research on adoption reunions….because what happened was pretty text book, but it was excruciating. I guess the “end” of my story is this….had I not been reading the book that encouraged me to “take a risk” I would have never pursued the reunion/relationship. After a year of counseling I’m able to at least talk about it without crying but never in a million years did I expect the wound that it left me with. So, back to holding cards very close to my chest…it served me well for 45 years and the opposite nearly destroyed me. 😞
That’s a very painful story, Wendy, and I’m so sorry it ended this way. The challenge with being vulnerable is doing so with safe people and in “safe enough” circumstances – to know when we need to hold our cards close and when it’s safe enough to take a risk. I hope you’ll take the chance of risking again at some point but only with someone who is ready to receive you.
Sheryl, thank you for sharing your stories on your Conscious Transitions post. I’ve been following you since spring of 2015 when I was highly anxious about getting married for a second time. I took your Trust Yourself class about 5 years ago. I just wanted to share with you that I have twin sons that also learned to fly gliders and soloed at 14 and then went on to fly power planes at about 17 all at Boulder Community Airport. I did read your story when your son soloed in the glider awhile ago and wanted to reach out then. I was a single mom of three sons for many years without much support. It was quite a struggle and when they wanted to fly it was quite stressful for me but I knew I had to let them do it because it was who they were. It was amazing because they financially figured out how to make that all happen for themselves because I couldn’t help them at the time. They went on to become West Point graduates, then cross commissioned into the Air Force , are now Captains and have now served for six years. There were some amazing men at the airport at that time that helped to give them opportunities. Anyway, I just wanted to share that story with you and to congratulate you, your family and son on your dedication and achievement! P. S. I’m currently reading your book, The Wisdom of Anxiety and it’s very good.
What a wonderful story, Cheryl, and what a wonderful mother you are! Everest is also headed down the military path (much to our surprise), and the more I learn about it the more I see that it’s actually (strangely) a great fit. Oh, the surrender required as mothers… and also the great pride and joy that comes from supporting these amazing beings on their paths.
Why is my obnoxious brain interpreting this as “take the risk, just leave your husband. Just being together is too hard. Maybe a greater, fuller, bigger life lies on the other side of leaving.” I have this constant belief that I only stay because I don’t make enough money to support myself and my daughter, and I feel stuck, but how proud I would be of myself if I proved that I am capable of building my own career and standing on my own two feet. I wish my brain was simpler than it is and could just appreciate that I am married to a good human and a good dad and good provider.
What a beautifully written post about a very deep and profound truth! We must risk in order to be fully alive with joy! It feels divine that I happened to read this the night before my wedding. What a gift for my soul. THANK YOU! ❤️ Taking your RA course has been extremely helpful. Now I’m ready to take the risk and say YES to the amazing privilege of committing to loving another human being for a lifetime. I couldn’t have done this without your help. Thank you, deeply! ❤️❤️❤️
Thank you, Amber, and how beautiful that you read this the night before your wedding! Sending love ❤️❤️❤️😊😊😊
Hi Sheryl I wonder if you can shed some clarity on my anxiety. Can anxiety switch focus? My RA really started years ago after getting out of an abusive relationship. (Could that have been the trigger to all of this?)
But my anxiety use to be surrounding an OBSESSION with believing/convinced that my boyfriend at the time was a WAY better match with my bestfriend at the time. I was SO convinced of this I thought about it day and night with crippling anxiety, not knowing at the time that it was some sort of anxiety. It led to ruining that relationship ultimately. And AS SOON as him and I broke up (I ended things) I saw clearly and saw that he was clearly inlove with me and my obsession no longer made sense and the anxiety left me. Fast forward years later, I am now with my husband and have RA but that I’m not “inlove enough” “attracted enough” “am I even with the right person” “did I hear God correctly” “I would be happier with someone else” etc etc etc.. these thoughts consume me every day and it’s been 3 years now. Did the anxiety shift ? Sometimes I wonder if it’s anxiety at all or maybe I really am just not in love with my husband.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with my issues but I do have an other question in hopes you can analyze what’s going on with me 🙁
(I do feel like this is a safe space without judgment that’s why I’m bringing this here) I recently seen that one of my ex boyfriends has finally moved on, i was very much inlove with him once upon a time and would have married but left the relationship because of a lot of issues on his end (addictions, extreme jealousy and anger) I ultimately didn’t want to be with him anymore because he was so toxic. But for some reason seeing that he has moved on years later bothered me. Why? Even if I had the opportunity to be with him again which I did at any point in the last 6+ years because he would message me every now and then and was still very much inlove with me i didn’t and don’t want to be with him at all. Why is it that it bothered me so much to see him inlove with someone else?
And my mind convinces me “maybe you should have given him a second chance” “maybe you would be happier today” etc etc but he had ALOT of issues so I know this is a lie. Please help me I need clarity 🙁 is this another form of anxiety? And why is this happening ?
Unfortunately I’m not able to offer advice or guidance through my blog. I encourage you to read through my dozens of posts on relationship anxiety on this blog and, if possible, take the course, which will offer the support, guidance, and tools that you’re seeking.
Is it possible to have social anxiety with a partner? I suddenly started obsessing over my partner and I not talking the way we used to, with ease and comfort. I suddenly feel this emptiness and fear in my throat when we are together because I seem to be able to think of nothing to talk about and can only think of how silent I feel. I keep telling myself it must be because we aren’t suited