I Don’t Feel Safe

“I don’t feel safe!” “I don’t feel safe!” my daughter, Carrington kept screaming (emphatically!) after being placed on the saddle of a horse at a vacation tourist attraction.

I dare say we have all felt like that before. We wanted something, we begged for it, we prayed and prepared, but when the moment arrives, we are just plain terrified!

We want something like she did; yet once we have it, or the possibility of having it, we get nervous and wonder if we have what it takes to manage it, or ourselves. What if it succeeds and overwhelms me, or what if it fails? What will I do then?

Carrington had seen a billboard showing a girl riding a horse with her hair blowing in the wind. She was about eight years old and had never been on a horse, or as far as I can remember near one, except maybe one of those tethered ponies at the fair where three or four ponies blindly follow one another in a controlled circle, appearing to be bored and almost asleep. It’s a huge step up from one of those plastic coin ponies in front of the grocery store, or a fair pony, to the horse on the billboard which was at least 12 to 15 hands high, and completely on its own to roam about wherever it chooses.

Once we arrived at the stables, and after a few brief instructions, the handler placed Carrington on the horse she was to ride, while the rest of us stood by preparing to mount our steeds. While still tied to the rail, the horse she was on slightly shifted its weight from left to right, and that is when the screaming began.

You see, just a few weeks before in school, she was taught to say “I don’t feel safe” if, for some reason, an unfamiliar situation was presented to her. So, in fact, she was doing what she was taught to do. But she had asked to do this…no, that’s not right either — she had pestered me over and over for days, many times a day, to go to this riding stable so she could ride a horse because it seemed exciting and romantic.

As I said, the horse was just shifting its weight. But then, as it had done countless times before, it headed toward the corral which was only 30 feet away. There it would join the other horses who were already in formation prepared for the ultra-slow parade that was about to begin. So, just when I thought the screaming of “I don’t feel safe!” was at its peak, I was so wrong.

As ten or more people stood waiting to board their rides, hearing this commotion and watching this little girl with her little purse slung over her shoulder begin this endless repetitive rant, they broke into laughter. Carrington was completely unaware of what was going on because as far as she was concerned, she was in the throes of a life threatening situation. Of course the horse continued to slowly lumber toward the open gate of the corral to take its place in the line. All the while she was screaming “I don’t feel safe! I don’t feel safe! I don’t feel safe!”

She wanted off as soon as I rode to her side on my lumbering steed.

My perspective was this. This will prove to be one of those “life lessons” that doesn’t come along too often. So, I looked into her terrified face and firmly called her name “Carrington!” She looked at me, and I said “this is what you have been dreaming of all week, this is your idea. Stop screaming, hold on to the horn of the saddle, the horse will do the rest. You are safe. I will ride behind you, you will be fine.”

Fast forward to when she was a teenager and asked for riding lessons. Not only did she begin riding, she later began to help others learn to ride and overcome their fears.

An owner of thoroughbreds who knew her from the riding stable called and asked if she would provide daily exercise for his horses. This led to a situation where one of the horses brushed her off his back by running into the trees, expressing his presumed control. She walked across the field and back to the barn where the horse had returned. She mounted the horse and rode him thoroughly, until he knew who was in control.

Recently she was asked to return to her alma mater, Lee University, to be the keynote speaker at a leadership conference. I can’t help but think that one of the lessons that has permeated her leadership ability has to do with when you don’t feel safe, you muster courage and overcome the challenge. This response to fear will provide confidence for your current and future endeavors.

Where do you not feel safe? What is the challenge or situation that you are encountering where you want to scream “Get me out of here!” “Get me off this horse!”, “I don’t feel safe!!!”

Take stock of the moment and what you will learn from it. What confidence will come from the growth resulting from facing your fear?

I asked a fellow coach of top executives what he consistently considered as a challenge across the range of leaders he coached. He said, “Each one must overcome their fears, and they all have some level of fear”, no matter who they are.

Don’t believe in your fear more than you do in YOU. You were created to overcome.

Consider this:

1) What is at the root of my fear?
2) What good thing/s might come from this?
3) Who can offer insight and perspective?
4) What can I do to immediately confront this fear?

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