My 12 New Things

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Thing #4- March 2010- Ditch the Fear

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my New Things project. But, this is something new for me, nonetheless and it definitely has me out of my comfort zone.

For some reason, I’ve also always operated in “worst case scenario mode.” While this can be a strength in the ambition department, it can also make me focus far too much on the negative possibilities of life. I usually end up robbing myself of the present by constantly setting myself up to avert future problems or disappointment.

For instance...

As a child, I would look for my birthday or Christmas gifts early so as to prepare myself just in case I didn’t like them. That way, if the gift was something I didn’t really want, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the moment of hype and excitement. I knew what was coming and I was prepared for it.

Worst case scenario: being disappointed that I didn't get the perfect gift.
Accomplished: cheating myself out of the surprises.

My senior year of high school, I was so afraid that I would never actually get to college (let alone graduate) that I thought if I didn't go immediately, I would never go. So, I moved to Manhattan, Kansas by myself two days after high school graduation to start summer session at Kansas State University.

Worst case scenario: potentially never leaving the small town I grew up in and dying poor and unhappy. (I may be a little dramatic).
Accomplished: cheating myself out of one last summer with all my friends and allegedly breaking my mom's heart to bits.

In college, I was so afraid that I wouldn't graduate that I went through it with tunnel vision (all except that first semester where I went a little crazy). I went to school, worked nearly full time and in hindsight realize I was FAR too serious about things. I finished in 3.5 years at 21 having logged very few hours in Aggieville. For those of you not familiar with K-State, Aggieville is an awesome business district (mainly bars) and probably one of the reasons why Manhattan is known as Manhappiness. Yes, I got my bachelor's degree but did I have any fun? A little... but, not nearly enough.

Worst case scenario: failing in school and having nothing to show for it except student loans I wouldn't be able to pay back because I'd not be qualified to work anywhere but McDonald's.
Accomplished: cheating myself out of a time in my life that only comes around once.

These stories could go on and on.

Here's where New Thing #4 comes in....

A couple of months after I started dating my husband, one of his friends died. A year later, another one of his friends died. Not long after that, one of my childhood friends was killed in a car accident. Between us, we had 6 friends die in the span of 8 years. There's just something about being young and realizing you're not invincible that alters your outlook.

Every time a friend would die, I would try to put myself in the position of the closest people they left behind, particularly the significant other/ spouse, so that I would be prepared if I ever had to deal with it. I would be prepared if it happened to me. (I wasn't afraid of death. I was afraid of being the one left behind).

Because this happened so early on in our relationship, it shaped how I viewed Aaron, who was my boyfriend at the time, and is now my husband. All these years without really realizing it, I've been preparing for him being gone and how I would take care of myself. I've not ever really let myself need him.

The problem with operating in this fashion is that you tend to push away the person that you love the most. When our daughter, Ella, was born, these feelings intensified. I knew I could always take care of myself, but taking care of someone else too was a different story. The intensity of my “preparing for the worst” heightened, as did my lack in ability of enjoying the present moment. I was getting through it instead of enjoying it.

Worst case scenario: my husband dies and I'm left to fend for myself and my daughter.
Accomplished: pushing away the person I love the most so that I don't "need" him.

Doesn't make much sense, does it?

On Sunday, March 21 2010 my worst fear very nearly came true. My husband and his friend were traveling to do a construction job on a highway in eastern Missouri. The roads were slushy with the 7 inches of wet snow that had come down the day before. As they were rounding a curve, Ben was telling Aaron about a girl that had just been killed in that exact location due to someone crossing the line in a head-on collision. Just then, a pickup truck sped around the curve, hydroplaned and was coming toward Aaron and Ben, head-on. Just in time, Ben was able to swerve and the other truck sideswiped the side of the truck and trailer they were pulling, narrowly averting an almost certain fatal head-on collision. There was damage to the trucks and trailer, but everyone was okay.

What’s strange is that I sensed something imminent all weekend. Have you ever had the experience that you note the date because you know something forever life-altering is about to happen? I didn't know about the accident until Aaron called me hours later.

I had taken our daughter to my hometown to attend a weekend wedding. Aaron would have come along, but I wanted to leave on Friday morning and he had to work all day. In my ever-present spirit of “I can do it on my own,” I packed us up and left. It wasn’t until I was on the road that I realized I hadn’t done the 12+ hour roundtrip by myself with our daughter before. Well, I thought to myself, now’s a good time to do it so I can be self sufficient. I can do it all on my own.

The drive was torture between the lost pacifiers, snacks that were demanded, sippy cups that were thrown and there was even motion sickness thrown in the mix. The short story is that it was a difficult drive. Could it have been easier if I’d just waited for Aaron to go with me? Yes. Would I have had more fun over the weekend with Aaron to hang out with? Yes. I deprived myself of the things I actually wanted or needed, just so I could operate as I always have with “I can do it myself.”

Worst case scenario: leave later in the day when Aaron's off work and miss the Friday evening festivities.
Accomplished: managing a terrible drive with an already sick and exhausted toddler.

I'll be forever grateful that Ben was paying attention and swerved when he did. Though I’ve spent the last 9 years preparing for not having Aaron anymore, I am incredibly glad that didn’t happen. I’m taking this as my cue to stop preparing for the worst, because it honestly hasn’t gotten me anywhere except cheating me out of the joys in life.

Before typing this, I'd never really put together why I always instantly go for the worst case scenario. I always assumed it was just the Type A personality, determination, or a million other positive things, because we tend to see only the best in ourselves, right? It was none of those things. It's just plain fear that I've been operating under. As a child, it was fear of disappointment. As an adult, it's fear of defeat and losing the people I love the most.

I'm coming to terms with the fact that there’s always a possibility to be disappointed or to have unexpected life events come at me, there's no way I can ever be prepared for it all, and I'll make myself and everyone around me crazy if I try.

I'm ditching the fear and my worst case scenario attitude. Look out, world.


  1. wow, Shanna, that was awesome. Makes us all stop and think, you know. Thanks for being so open

  2. thank you for sharing this shanna. living in the moment is something that many people look past...always smart to be prepared for the unknown, howver the unknown that often hits is the unknown we did't plan for. very insightful.

  3. That is very true, Liz. "The unknown that often hits is the unknown we didn't plan for..." which is all the more reason not to spend time worrying about things that you can't control and just live in the moment. That's definitely what I'm learning in this project.

  4. Paige (the girl standing to my left in the high school graduation picture above) would have been 29 today. She was killed March 6, 2005 by a drunk driver.