As a born and bred Wisconsinite, who was weaned with cheese curds and brandy old-fashioneds, the animal that is most likely the bane of my existence is the whitetail deer. For the entirety of the year, save 9 days in November, I fear that they are laying in wait in the ditches that line the highways, waiting for an opportunity to dart out in front of me hoping to inflict damage to the body of my vehicle. During my brief respite from that I dress up in blaze orange and carry a high-powered rifle into the woods, hoping to stock my freezer and, if I’m very lucky, put some antlers on the wall. During that time deer seem to become masters of concealment and evasion able to detect and avoid even the slightest change in their environment, and suddenly extremely desirous to make a pilgrimage to the most remote and inaccessible areas of our state.
Thankfully, these frustrating creatures have recently helped teach me a very important lesson: fear requires action, especially if I do not want to end up dead on the side of a highway.
It’s been just over a month since I went public with my list of 30 goals for my 30th year and fear keeps on popping up on my mental radar. It waits for me every time I open the journal that I use to track my endeavor: ready to dash my hopes, disable my efforts, dismiss my successes, and deride my failures, shortcomings, and lack of progress.
Fear, by definition, is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger”. While most of us probably couldn’t have recited that definition we could all describe how fear makes us feel. Fear is a universal experience that is highly unique and inherently private to each individual. For me, fear manifests itself in shaky hands as a pretty girl approaches, knots in my stomach as I feel the conversation beginning to require my vulnerability, and restless nights as my mind tries to work through all of the 1,000 + probable outcomes of any given situation that involves me, but is beyond my control.
Fear is the stimulus that produces the animalistic responses of fight or flight. Humanity isn’t too far removed from the animal kingdom in our response to fear: instead of using teeth to bite we use our words to hurt, raise our voices to intimidate, or slam cupboard doors to emphasize our point. Instead of using wings to fly away we cross our arms to protect, change the subject to be evasive, or make jokes hoping to disarm the thing that scares us.
I also believe that animals and humans share a third response to fear: freezing. It is the classic example of deer-in-the-headlights (luckily, I only have second-hand experience with this, knock on wood, I have yet to hit a deer while driving). This option, if not a brief layover to one of the others, almost always leads to the cessation of life instead of its preservation. The point being that trying to hide from things that cause us fear by remaining motionless (inaction) brings death.
During a recent breakdown at my men’s Bible study I came to admit that inaction had become my default response to fear (in particular the fear of failure and it’s financial cost and shameful implications on my character). I’ve spent a lot of time waiting to act, hoping the situation will change, eliminating my need to respond or nullifying the consequences of any decision I would have made. But, like the deer that rely on the SUV traveling at 70mph to alter its course, I can only get away with inaction for so long before it has some very serious consequences.
There’s an assumption made by hunters that trophy bucks are smart: that they’ve been around the block enough times to know a thing or two about a thing or two. Whether it’s entirely true doesn’t seem to matter, the basic fact is that maturity often brings wisdom along with it through experience. These bucks with tall tines and broad spreads have seen mysterious pairs of halogen lights approach them in the night, foraged through harsh winters, and eluded men dressed in orange who carried sticks that spit fire and speak thunder and have lived to tell about it. Their experience yields a physical manifestation of their cunning, perseverance, and luck. That’s probably why we hunters seek after them as prizes to be put above our mantles instead of simply sustenance to be put in our freezers.
Most of the things that cause us to fear as humans are not mortal dangers. Attractive people, spiders, and large crowds won’t kill us (in most cases). Choosing a college major or buying a home won’t tear the flesh from our bones. Luckily, we receive many of the same benefits from responding to fear with action: maturity & wisdom, experiences that are feathers in our caps and deposits into the bank of our experience that we can draw on later when similar scary situations arise for us or in the lives of those we care about.