Being a man doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means learning to master your fear and become a better person because of it.
The ground shook beneath my feet, rattling my nerves and jarring my body. The thought that a beast could move with enough power to shake the ground terrified me. I waited to run, standing there, scared for my life. I was wearing a sangria stained white t-shirt and pants in the traditional running of the bulls style. But, I felt like no bull fighter.
I was afraid, and as I saw the crowd in front of me turn my direction and screw their faces into masks of fear I knew that I wasn’t the only one. This wall of fear hit me, and as the bulls trampled through, bodies parted like Moses spreading the Red Sea, and I took off running for my life.
I turned, my face now a mask of fear; I ran as fast as I could. Suddenly, I was on the ground. Someone had my ankle. He pleaded for me to help him, but what could I do? Behind, the thundering of hooves grew louder. Yanking free, I took off again. The beasts were close now. I didn’t turn around and look back. I couldn’t.
My heart was in my throat. Adrenaline pumped through my body. Then the bulls passed me, and entered the ring. I followed them into the arena, preparing for part two, the releasing of six, five-hundred-pound, “baby” bulls who kick, thrash and crash their way through the arena. I’m not sure who was more nervous, me or the baby bulls. No experience was more scary to date. No experience was more memorable.
Every time I travel I am scared for my life. It isn’t that I’m a wiener or a wimp. I do things because they scare me, and fear is nothing but an obstacle that needs conquering. In many ways this attitude of conquering fear reflects the 1950’s type male who walks around in blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. Think guys from Grease. They are tough, hard and unwilling to admit weakness. They are too tough to feel pain, cry or experience fear. They are all that is man and testosterone.
The first time in my adult life I remember being scared was when I looked back at my parents from beyond airport security and waved goodbye. I shouldered my backpack and turned away, telling myself not to turn around again. I knew that if I looked back I wouldn’t board the plane for Italy. I fought off the urge and spent six months in Rome having the time of my life. I came back a new man.
Several years later I pulled the same move, this time leaving everything I had previously known behind for an undetermined period of time. I left the country again, this time not returning for several years. At a going away party, the night before a dreadfully early AM flight, I drank with friends into the early hours of the morning.
One friend, in particular, was excited I was going. He said, “Man, I wish I could do what you are doing. You’ve got balls. I just don’t have the cajones to do something like what you’re about to do.” That’s the thing isn’t it? Conquering your fears takes “balls,” like the sort of men in the 1950’s.
But, it also takes much more than cajones because those men were limited to a certain degree. They were incapable of feeling and communicating. Their relationships suffered because of this. They couldn’t talk about their feelings.
In response, the soft male was born; a man out of the 70’s with all the feminine qualities needed, but lacking many male qualities. He was nurturing and “in touch” with his feelings, but was incapable of making decisions or being the backbone of a family.
Society went from one extreme to the other. Now we are left trying to find a balance, a way to embrace our masculine energy, but also be nurturing, loving and feeling human beings. This is where adventure has shown me the way.
For a long time I would undergo adventures that would scare the shit out of me. Did this make me weak or strong? I knew I liked it more than the day to day monotony of emails and paperwork, but I wondered if there was more to it.
The rush of adrenaline, the shaking hands, the pounding heart, and the flirting of the line between danger and safety is exhilarating. But, on the other side, what kind of a man is afraid of things? The struggle was between being a 50’s strong male or the 70’s soft male. Where did that leave me if I wanted to embrace parts of both?
So I pushed forward, knowing that only more adventures, more fear would bring an answer. And it did. Eventually I discovered that I am afraid of many things, but the one thing I am not afraid of is being afraid.
Each time I encountered something new and unknown I came out the other side of the experience forged a new man. Whether I learned something about myself, my limitations, my humility, or about the world, I was always learning something.
I discovered that every time I’m afraid for my life, for the future, for what lies around the next curve of the river of life, I know that I’m on to something good. Fear is a catalyst for growth. Without pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, I can’t become a better person.
Conquering fear has given me something very important: a better life. This also led to one of my most important revelations in the past year. I will always be afraid of something.
Being a man doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means learning to master your fear and become a better person because of it. You must integrate the fear into your body, experiencing it fully and then overcoming it. With this in mind I could be a tough “white t-shirt guy” from the 50’s plus a groomed “sensitive man” from the 70’s at the same time. I could have humility through the things in life that had scared me, and pride in the fears I had overcome. Fear is a tool, after all, a weapon you can wield or be cut by.
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