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Commentary: Being scared means you get to be brave

Some people just aren't scared of anything. They go into every situation perfectly calm and collected because, like James Bond or a Clint Eastwood character, they simply don't get nervous. As one friend of mine succinctly put it: "I don't do stress."

I don't count myself among those people. On the contrary, I get scared a lot, of almost everything.

When I was younger, I was even more scared of things than I am now and extremely nervous around people, new situations - you name it.

So this column is aimed at everyone out there who is worried, afraid, perturbed, what have you, more often than not.

Being scared of everything might seem like a handicap, but I actually think it's great because (to quote another friend) it means you get to be brave all the time.

If you're fearless, that's obviously great, too, but you don't get the benefits of being brave if you simply weren't scared to begin with.

I get the opportunity virtually every day to challenge myself or do something that's not necessarily easy or comfortable.

Some fears are more serious or harder to address, of course, but many are just ridiculous or silly.

Case in point: the octopus. I have always been extremely disturbed by octopi (that's octopus plural). It's not a fear of them actually attacking me; it's more like I am just completely disgusted by them and have a genuine panic attack if I see one unexpectedly.

My friends liked to make fun of this by doing things like sending me pictures of octopi on Facebook. It was all well and good, as I know plenty of people have random animal fears and I can appreciate the jokes.

(I met one girl who was so afraid of snakes that she wouldn't even wear anything snakeskin because she said she would be irrationally worried that the snake might somehow come back to life and attack her.)

Anyway, as I grew older, I got more annoyed about my octopus phobia. One day, when I was at a wedding in Monterey, Calif., I decided to do something about it.

I was at the Monterey aquarium and purposely walked up to the octopus tank, something I normally wouldn't get near with a 10-foot pole.

I fully expected the octopus to be pressed up against the tank in all its glory, armed and ready to disgust me, but it wasn't.

It was evening, and the Monterey octopus had scrunched itself up into the darkest corner of the tank, asleep and camouflaged with the glass.

Instead of being scared, I suddenly felt I could relate to the sleeping octopus. It wasn't trying to scare or disgust anybody. It looked shy and peaceful, and just wanted to be away from the glare of the aquarium and be left alone.

This made me realize an important truth: Most fears are totally self-centered. They're not actually about the object of the fear; they're just about you.

As soon as I put myself in the octopus' "shoes" (all eight of them, haha), I couldn't justify being afraid of it. I had to see the world from the octopus' point of view, which was: it had no thoughts of me at all and was just trying to live its octopus life in peace.

Like the octopus confrontation, I can honestly say that most things I've done in my life were things I was originally afraid of. They weren't easy to do, and I had to get used to being scared over and over and over again until I got better at doing them.

It takes a lot of faith to face your fears, but faith, like most things, is just a matter of practice. You have to keep practicing if you expect to get anywhere worth going.

So to anyone out there who is, at this very moment, avoiding something that just terrifies them, I will say: Even if you have panic attacks and feel like the world will fall apart, it will eventually be OK. And nothing beats the feeling of knowing you're becoming a better and stronger person. Just keep trying, because you really can do it!

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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