In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on what happens when self-confidence can waiver. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of facing fears and conquering doubt with the advice and life lessons of Eleanor Roosevelt.
What Eleanor Knew
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do—Eleanor Roosevelt
I know when my self-confidence abandons me. I’m not always sure how self-doubt seeps in; but, I am sure of the result: Work that felt so natural and so easy overwhelms me. When self-doubt takes over, a simple twenty minute task festoons into a full-day’s labor.
Perhaps you know how this goes? Even a promising long-awaited adventure like a day at the lake collapses into a heavy burden.
As I made the two-hour drive to Vermont to swim at my favorite crystalline lake with the hidden access through the woods, little worries began shooting darts through my joy. By the time I had parked my car to begin my hike down and up the circuitous, pine-forested hillside path to the water’s edge, clouds had elbowed out the sun.
“My” lake had become a stranger. Its once welcoming water felt cold to the touch and precipitously deep. Chop edged out placidity as the concerns inside me spread outside. And so, I stood at water’s edge of the clear lake I have always loved, poised to dive but scared. How could I plunge into a possible choking panic attack or a disabling leg cramp?
Catching on that the Bully of Fear was stalking me from within, I breathed in, closed my eyes, breathed out and asked for help. At times like this, the kindest thing I can do for myself is to surrender my illusion of control, ask for help, and wait.
As I waited and as I breathed, I recalled an image of Eleanor Roosevelt’s smilingly bold and determined countenance from a Ken Burns’ documentary. And I remembered that Eleanor knew hard times. I recalled what Eleanor knew:
- She knew that when her heart ached, she needed to walk steadily toward and into the bathroom: To close the door securely behind her; to lock the door; and, to turn the sink’s hot and cold water spigots to full blast. Shielded by the gushing sound, Eleanor could allow herself to cry: “Every time you meet a situation you think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you were before.”
- Eleanor knew. She knew how it felt when her trusted personal secretary and the husband she adored betrayed her and became lovers. Eleanor knew that even with a broken heart, she could still claim personal dignity: “The giving of love is an education in itself.”
- Eleanor knew to comfort hospitalized war-ravaged soldiers, regardless of her terror as their careening minds veered off the edge of sanity and their wounds refused to heal: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”
- Eleanor knew that her looks would not open doors and that her world was not necessarily open to a bright and questioning woman. “As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along. A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
- Eleanor knew the risks as she steadfastly took action for civil rights, despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan: “Staying aloof is not a solution, but a cowardly evasion.”
Eleanor, knowing and experiencing all of these losses and threats, kept weaving tragedy into wisdom: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face….You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Eleanor knew what I am still learning:
- Confidence grows and confidence wanes.
- As often as you can, kick fear to the curb, no matter how terrifying the circumstances.
- Choose to love and to grow, regardless of having no guarantees.
- Choose to be true to your dream, against all the odds. In so doing, inspire others to trust in their dreams.
When you can, look fear in the face. Not every second chance to reclaim joy or hope or confidence comes easily. The choice, no matter how clouded over, is always there. What second chances await you even on low-confidence wearisome days?
Do you see my red sandals there at the water’s edge? That’s where I left them just before I said “what the hey” and dived into my lake in the sometimes sun.
Eleanor knew: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.