What was I Really Afraid of?
A few years ago, my husband Bill and I went skydiving. Skydiving is something that I never had the urge to do. I am not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t like heights. So there didn’t seem to be any good reasons to do it. Except that I felt it needed to be part of my personal development journey. I thought, “if I can jump out of a plane, I can do anything.” We won a package at a silent auction. I remember thinking that this was something I needed to do. We jumped tandem with an instructor. I remember telling the instructor that the reason that we were doing this was because we had a fear of heights. He said something to me that day that shifted my beliefs about fear. He said, “You are not afraid of heights. You are afraid of falling.” WOW! That was a powerful shift in my beliefs. It made me think, “Is fear real?”
I have been struggling with a fear that began over 30 years ago, yet I have no idea how it got to this point… It is amazing to me how we can let one event in our life dictate how we show up for all future experiences. That is what happened to me. The logical part of my brain knew the fear was unfounded, but I couldn’t move forward. People would make fun of me, but what they didn’t know was that I was really paralyzed by fear. I would join in on the laughter when they made fun of me, because I couldn’t really explain what was really going on. I couldn’t explain to people why I couldn’t pump my own gas! Why for over 30 years I had to either go to a full-service gas station or my husband would have to pump gas for me. Lucky for me, I have the best husband in the world!
I got my first car right after I graduated high school in 1982. It was an electric blue Plymouth Valiant. I loved that car. At the time I would pump gas with no issue. After having my Valiant for a few years, it was time to get a new car. Although I don’t remember the exact specifics after all of these years, I do remember the first time I went to a gas station to pump gas in the new car. I remember that it was different than the Valiant and I could not figure out how to pump gas in the new car. I had to leave the gas station and find a full-service station to get my gas. From that point on, I never pumped my own gas again. Back then it wasn’t such a big deal because there were plenty of full-service gas stations, but over the years that has changed. It is not as easy to find a full-service station. In fact, I only know the location of one and it is not even in my town.
I am sure that when Bill and I first started dating and were first married, the chivalrous thing to do was to pump my gas. I don’t even think that I realized that it was a fear and just thought it was nice to have him take care of it. Every Sunday, I would ask him to take my car and get gas for the week. It was part of our weekly routine so it didn’t seem unusual to either of us. There were times that I would forget to ask or he would forget to take it. Most of the time it was ok, but when I really needed gas, I would either have to go the full-service station or I would have to meet him somewhere so he could pump my gas.
Over the last couple of years, this started to seem ridiculous to me. I am an independent, smart woman and should be able to do this, right? It is just gas. Friends and family would say that I was a princess who let her husband pump her gas. I would play along and just laugh, but the reality is I just couldn’t do it. Bill and I started having conversations regarding teaching me how to do it. This seemed reasonable.
Every time I needed gas, he would ask, “do you want me to show you?” My response would normally be, “not this time.” “it’s raining… It’s snowing… (fill in the blank with any excuse). He would just respond, “Ok. Whenever you are ready.”
I couldn’t believe what was happening inside of me when we would have those conversations. My inner critic would have a field day as my rational brain tried to make sense of what was going on.
“Seriously. What is the big deal?”
“I will be embarrassed to have someone show me how to pump gas. I am 52 years old and that will look ridiculous.”
“Who will be looking.”
“Everyone else at the gas station.”
“And do you know ‘everyone else’ at the gas station.”
“No… but….. They will think I am stupid and pathetic and (fill in the blank)”
“Really? Do you think they will even notice?”
This conversation or a version of it, went on every time we discussed “teaching” me how to pump my gas. My fear was taking over. A few weeks ago, I realized that I was really low on gas and had a lot of driving to do. Bill had to meet me at work so that he could take my car and get gas so that I wouldn’t run out. I thanked him profusely and he said it wasn’t a big deal. But it was. My fear was taking over.
Once we allow fear to take over we can’t move forward. The voice in our head creates a story that has no real truth to it. We make up more stories as time goes on and we believe them. As I learned when I went skydiving, fear isn’t real. What we think we are afraid of is usually a mask for what is truly happening. My fear wasn’t about pumping gas. It was about:
“What if I don’t know how?”
“What if I do it wrong?”
“What if I need to ask for help?”
Etc. etc. etc………
Recently, I was talking to someone about my skydiving experience and explained what I learned about fear that day. So it got me thinking about my fear around pumping gas. The next day, Bill and I were going out for the day and we had a lot of driving to do. Before we got in the car, I had made the decision “I am going to pump my gas today!” Well unless I change my mind before we arrived at the gas station 😊
After we left the house, I told Bill we needed gas. His response was “Ok”. I still had not told him that I had decided that today was “the day”.. I thought if I don’t say it, I can always change my mind… As we drove to the gas station, I kept telling myself that if I can’t get past this fear, how can I help my clients get past their fears? How can I get past any other fears that hold me back? I told myself that I know that the fear isn’t real. It is a story that I have been telling myself for over 30 years. I know that I have made this to be something so much bigger in my head than it actually is. It is time to let it go…
I blurted “Ok. I am going to pump my gas today.”
“Ok. Are you sure?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I know I have to do it. So tell me what I need to do because I don’t want you to do it with me. I want to do it myself. I just need to know the steps I need to do.” I said with a nervous laughter
Bill proceeded to tell me how to open then cover, which gas to choose, etc.
As we pulled into the gas station, I scouted he pumps to see which had the least amount of people near it. It was a busy Sunday morning so most of the pumps were full. I pulled up to a pump. The gas tank is on the passenger’s side so I rolled down Bill’s car window in case I needed help or coaching, I shut the car off, and then I started laughing hysterically. This is what I refer to as “crazy laugh”. No sound was coming out, I wasn’t really breathing. My body was shaking with no sound coming out. It was the anxiety of what I have built up inside of me. Bill asked if I was ok. I nodded that I was. I finished my crazy laugh and knew it was going to be ok.
I had my credit card in hand, I got out of my car and walked around to the pump.
I opened the door to the gas tank.
I swiped my credit card.
So far so good.
I took the pump off the handle.
“I got this!”
I put the nozzle in the car.
I chose the gas that I wanted.
And I squeezed the handle.
THE GAS WAS PUMPING!
Bill checked on me. I told him I was fine.
I watched the numbers keep moving up. I could hear the gas pumping.
Then the click.
It was done.
I took the nozzle out.
Put it back on the pump.
Closed the cap, shut the door and got back in the car.
“I did it!”
That was it?
Not even a little blip.
I don’t even smell like gas.
For many people this will seem like a silly story, but when you have a true fear you create a reality about it that only you can change. We tell ourselves the story so many times that we really believe it. Then the story changes and becomes bigger than it really is. What really was going on with me? It wasn’t about whether or not I could pump gas? I am a smart woman that has led teams in organizations. I can be taught to do anything. I teach others. What this was about was that inner critic that is inside all of us. It is the voice that tells you that “you are not good enough” or “you are not smart enough” etc.. it is important to not believe what that voice is telling you. Sometimes pushing past a fear is the greatest gift that you can give to yourself. Bill and I talked about it after. He will still pump my gas because he likes to do things for me, but I CAN pump it now if I need to. It will actually make it more special when he does it now, because it will be done because he wants to do it and not because he has to do it because I can’t do it due to fear.
Any fear can be overcome once you realize what it is really about. Typically fear is not about what we think. My fear of heights wasn’t about a tall building it was about falling from that building. My fear of pumping gas wasn’t about not knowing how it was about being perceived as stupid or incompetent.
Look at the fears in your life that hold you back.
What is the story that you are telling yourself?
What is the real truth?
What can you do today to shift that fear?