Lorde was right. It does feel so scary getting old.

Fear is good. It’s like a little person living in your brain who warns you when you could be in danger.

Unfortunately for me, the person living in my brain is Millicent from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.

Millicent from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody trembles with fears.

The older I get, the more I realize a lot of my fears are unfounded. They’re fears I’ve had my whole life, fears I don’t know the source of and fears that—quite frankly—don’t make much sense.

I suspected these irrational fears were holding me back from living authentically and becoming the best version of myself. So, I made a list of the things I’m most afraid of and, for one week, I faced them head-on.

My top seven fears are:

  1. Speaking in public
  2. Taking time off
  3. Switching up my style
  4. Posting on social media
  5. Breaking my routine
  6. Meeting new people
  7. Saying no to favours

Here’s what I learned:

Day one: speaking in public

No, not public speaking. Surprisingly, I’ve never been reluctant to give presentations or stand up in front of a crowd. I’m scared of speaking in public—like, when you’re at a restaurant the waiter asks for your order and you suddenly forget what food is.

Math lady meme.

Although it’s unreasonable, I’m afraid other people will perceive me poorly in public. That I’ll trip over my words or say something mindless by accident and leave a bad impression.

I want to teach myself strangers aren’t out to get me. So, I challenged myself to strike up a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store while doing my weekly shopping. Turns out, they’re a college student just like me!

I’m currently studying remotely from my hometown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This conversation was a cool reminder that wherever I go, I’ll be able to find people I can relate to.

Day two: taking time off

I’ll be honest: I have a great work ethic and I’m proud of it. I’ll be even honest-er: my drive tends to get the best of me. I have a hard time knowing when I need to take breaks and an even harder time actually taking them.

Garfield says "Huh. I wonder who that's for."
Me seeing people talk about the importance of self-care.

My fear of resting stems from the idea that, if I take time for myself, I’ll miss all my deadlines and never be able to catch up with them. I think it’s a byproduct of our culture’s unhealthy emphasis on productivity—I’d argue most people are conditioned to believe that if they’re not working, they’re unworthy. I want to show myself rest is important too and find things I enjoy outside of work and school.

So, I took a full day off. No homework, no notes, no studying.

Spongebob Squarepants faces his fears of resting and says, "No work? What will I do all day?"

It was hard! I found myself getting really restless and feeling guilty for “wasting time”.

I did take a nap in the afternoon, though, which is unlike me. It was definitely a lesson that, when you don’t stop to rest, you may not even realize how tired you are.

Day three: switching up my style

Day three was a doozy. I challenged myself to switch up my normal style in three areas:

  1. Switching out my colourful eyeliner for a bright coral lipstick;
  2. Trading my loose locks for an updo; and
  3. Swapping my favourite denim jacket for a flowy dress.
Gabby feels like a cat wearing fairy wings while facing her fears.
Me, in full glam, in my bedroom on a Monday at 9 a.m.

This challenge was nerve-racking because the way I normally style myself is, for me, a means of self-expression. Changing it meant tackling the fear that, if I appear differently, people will perceive me differently.

I was super uncomfortable at first—especially in the lipstick—so I forced myself to pose for some photos to boost my confidence. Plus, my coworkers were quick to hype me up in our weekly meeting (shout out to the IGNITE writing team. Love you!)

In the end, I was grateful I took the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. I don’t know if I’ll reach for the lipstick again—but, hey, now I know I look great in dresses! (You know, even if I’m only wearing them to sit in a remote lecture).

Gabby faces her fears of wearing dresses.
Do I call Vogue or do they call me?

Day four: posting on social media

Specifically, Instagram. I’m not the only one who hits “post” and then immediately closes the app out of pure embarrassment—right?

I’m scared of posting on social media because I always assume other people will judge my photos as harshly as I judge them myself. And, this challenge was undoubtedly difficult because I decided to post the photos I took wearing yesterday’s look. I wasn’t jazzed about them to begin with—but the more I looked at them, the worse they seemed to get. (I don’t think I’ll ever be a lipstick person).

To my surprise, people did seem to be judging these pictures—positively, that is. I like to think I don’t care about metrics, but I did notice this set of photos received more likes and comments than I usually get. I even got a text from someone saying how much they liked the pictures.

That made me kinda sad. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind how I look in those pictures, but I don’t think I look like me. The fact that these pictures were more positively received than my other photos told me maybe the people in my life would prefer if I, well, didn’t look like myself. Oof.

In any case, though, I’m confident enough in my style not to care. At least, I think (I hope?) I am.

Lisa Simpson laughs nervously.

Day five: breaking my routine

I thrive following a routine—maybe too much. Like, to the point that, when my routine gets derailed, I get super anxious. Similar to my fear of taking breaks, I worry I’ll completely fall behind if my schedule doesn’t play out as planned.

Since life is unpredictable, and schedules can’t always play out as planned, I want to make my routine more flexible. So, today, I threw a wrench in my afternoon regimen by heading out for a walk and making myself a nice lunch instead of working on assignments.

Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms angrily says, "We're all gonna have fun!"
Me forcing myself to close my laptop and go outside.

To my suprise, my midday break made me feel much more focused in the afternoon. And, I still managed to check off all the items on my to-do list.

While I was anxious in the moment, once I pushed through the fear, I learned variety is my friend.

Day six: meeting new people saying no to favours

I was riding high on day six. I planned to challenge myself to meet new people—but, as a great writer once said three paragraphs ago, life is unpredictable. In the spirit of day five’s challenge, I decided to switch up my schedule and seize an opportunity.

Homer Simpson, wearing a crown, says "It's my moment!"

I always say yes when people ask me for favours. I like that about myself. But, I don’t like how I sometimes sacrifice my own well-being for other people’s because of my fear that saying no will make people upset with me.

This morning, my roommate asked me to empty the dishwasher right before my online class started. If I’d said yes, I would’ve missed the beginning of my class and had to catch up later. So, I told him I couldn’t do it.

It was a small action but it left a big impact on me. My roommate wasn’t angry, I made it to class on time and I felt more empowered to vocalize my needs in the future.

Day seven: meeting new people

Yesterday’s schedule change meant I had to face my most prominent fear today. It worked out well though—who doesn’t love a grand finale?

A woman strikes a pose.

I’m scared of meeting new people because I constantly worry about how they’ll perceive me. I get so caught up in my own fears that I can’t truly get to know a potential friend. The only way out of this fear is through it—but socializing in person isn’t an option during a global pandemic. So, instead, I asked on Instagram if anyone I don’t know would be willing to FaceTime me.

Side note: I was petrified to post the Instagram story asking people to meet with me. I felt vulnerable and pathetic. I couldn’t actually put myself out there until I got some reinforcement from my coworkers (another shout out to the IGNITE writing team. Love you times two!)

Great moral support is paramount when facing your fears.

My request paid off, though—I got in touch with Sydel Charles! Like me, she’s a student at Humber and she’s a former IGNITE employee. She’s also a masterful digital content creator and an incredibly kind person I’m grateful I got to meet!

We talked about music, school, career goals and our favourite colours (mine’s yellow; she likes muted neutral tones and pastels).

Talking over FaceTime ended up being a really approachable way to tackle this fear. I challenged myself to meet someone new while feeling safe and comfortable in my living room. If I hadn’t pushed through the nervousness I felt before putting up my Instagram story, I would’ve missed out on a lovely conversation with an even lovelier person!

Potential friendship is absolutely worth temporary stress, if you ask me.

Final thoughts

I’ll be honest—going into this week, I was hoping I’d emerge like my fifth favourite Taylor Swift album: Fearless.

Taylor Swift dances in the You Belong With Me music video from her album Fearless.

In hindsight, though, I realized facing your fears isn’t about making them go away.

It’s about feeling afraid and doing it anyways.

There were several moments this week where I didn’t think I’d be able to complete the challenge at hand. I was too scared. But, I found a way to make it through—by sitting with the discomfort, faking confidence or reaching out to friends. And, I did it anyway.

I’m going forward from this week not like my fifth favourite Taylor Swift album, but like my sixth: Red.

Taylor Swift in her 22 music video off her album Red.

As in, red-y to continue facing my fears—despite the uneasiness it brings. Because now I know fear won’t hurt me, but holding myself back because of fear will.

I hope the next time you’re up against your own irrational fear, you find it in yourself to do it anyways.

It’s daunting, it’s unnerving—but it’s so worth it—on the other side.

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