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Overcoming the paralysis of fear

I've always hated trying new things.

For so long, I've been reluctant to branch out beyond what I'm comfortable doing, especially when others are watching me. Even with things I should know how to do, and don't, the fear of embarrassment has often been so paralyzing that I run away from these experiences altogether.

I got a taste of reality this weekend, though. Twice on the same day, I ended up having to venture into unfamiliar territory in highly uncomfortable fashion.

On the way home from work Friday, I had a flat tire. That wasn't the embarrassing part. Flat tires happen to everyone, and this was just my turn. What embarrassed me was having to get help changing the tire, because I, at age 32, had never done that before.

At first, I called my wife to let her know what had happened. I had managed to pull the car into a church parking lot, where I waited for her to meet me.

Although she would have been eminently capable at changing the tire herself, she had hurt herself the previous day and could barely move. It was dark, anyway, so rather than trying to walk me through the process of changing the tire then, she and I left the car there until the following day.

When we got home, she didn't feel like cooking because of her soreness, so it was up to me. Suddenly, I was thrust into unfamiliar territory again. I can't cook, and the thought of doing that without someone guiding me along scares me to death.

We ended up doing what many culinary novices before me have likely done when faced with the concept of preparing dinner - we had macaroni and cheese. I've fixed that dish before, but it's been so long, I wasn't sure I could remember everything, so I was clinging to the box of ingredients for dear life, as it had the cooking instructions on the back.

The process of cooking the food went well enough, and it was actually pretty good. Still, I was embarrassed because I should have known how to cook that.

There are so many things I've had to learn in the last few years, and my initial response has always been to run from those experiences. Once upon a time, the thought of going to my typing class, and computer class, in high school was something I dreaded daily.

But now, I can type pretty well without even having to think about it and, many times, without having to look at the computer screen. Using a computer doesn't scare me in the least now. In fact, it's something I look forward to whenever I get the chance.

Anyway, the day after my tire went flat and I cooked dinner for probably the third time in my marriage, my wife's uncle and I went to where the car was, so he could show me what I needed to do. Yes, I changed the tire, with only minimal assistance. But I was still mortified, because someone now knew how clueless I was when it came to a relatively basic and necessary skill.

But, as I sit here and think about it now, I'm trying to approach the whole episode from a different perspective. Over the weekend, I managed to do a few things I was uncomfortable doing - things I had made no secret about not wanting to do. The way I see it, I have a choice. I can either continue to allow my fear of embarrassment to keep me from trying new things, or I can get over myself and take the time to learn the things I don't know.

Yes, I'll probably screw up now and then. I might even burn the macaroni and cheese one day. But I don't want to be content to let my own fears dictate the things I do.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.