Fear, Challenge and Growth. Oh, My!

Women approaching or over 50 can sometimes struggle with challenge. However, facing challenge and achieving growth are often the only ways we overcome the unavoidable transitions in our lives.

Challenge has been a prevailing theme in my life, not just during times of transition. So much so, in fact, that it's nearly a reflex for me to face challenge determined to conquer it. These days, though, I'm experiencing extreme life transitions in rapid fire succession and there's nothing to do but endure.

I know that it only takes a few seconds of courage to choose to face challenge. And it only takes facing challenge to achieve growth. It's that courage that I have to muster every day… often several times each day. It may be exhausting or overwhelming, but I never regret being brave.

It isn't like that for everyone. Many typically strong women of an assured age are blindsided by midlife challenges. Some are struck by how quickly things can change and are unable to react. Some have become indifferent to growth or habitually back down from these trials. Others may have become complacent or stuck in a mindset that invokes panic, withdrawing from challenge. They may dread failure, fear the unknown, or avoid criticism and setbacks. Or they may be so downtrodden that they simply think, "Why bother?" or "I just can't…"

Step Forward Into Growth
Many, many (MANY) years ago, I stumbled across a quote from Abraham Maslow who said, "In any given moment, we have two options: To step forward into growth or step back into safety." It's this quote that often helps me find my courage. Becoming more of the person we are meant to be and living our lives well happen only by stepping forward into growth.

If you're having trouble taking that step, you might want to begin with the following proven method and one that I have used many times over for most of my adult life:

1. Define the challenge - If you don’t clearly understand the problem, you can’t really solve it. Defining the challenge will help you to focus and ultimately discover the best way to overcome.

2. Identify resources and strengths - Personal talent, creativity, skills, motivation, materials, or money… whatever may be needed. Identifying resources is empowering. Think of it as knowing you have the right tools for the job.

3. Engage a support system - Having a support system in place makes facing challenges less terrifying. Reach out to friends and family for help and encouragement. (I'd be lost without my support system… even when I'm not facing a challenge!)

4. Make a plan - Start simple. What's the first thing that has to happen to begin facing down your challenge? What's the second thing? The third? And so forth. Tackling one thing at a time makes your challenge less daunting and more doable.

5. Put the plan into action - Start with that first thing and don't fret about anything else until you get through step one. If your challenge is particularly overwhelming, share your plan with your support system first. Get their input, ask for help and keep them looped in every step of the way. (That's what I did when I had a chasm to leap. And I'm still doing it!)

Each time you employ this method for overcoming challenge, it gets easier -- more automatic -- and challenges become less and less daunting. And in working through a challenge methodically, you may even find your own comfortable process for moving from problem to growth.

Not comfortable doing this on your own? Don't want to involve those closest to you? Consider tackling the steps above with a life coach or a counselor to support you. There is considerable accountability in doing so and the satisfaction in conquering your challenge is just as great.

Is Fear Holding You Back?
Sometimes the only reason a challenging transition may seem insurmountable is our own fear of facing it. In his Psychology Today article, Nine Secrets of Courage From 'Extreme Fear', Jeff Wise, a science writer, outdoor adventurer and pilot, tells us that "Fear is an emotion we all deal with... whether shackled by anxiety and dread, or empowered to conquer new challenges." Summarized here from his article are nine techniques that Wise shares for overcoming fear and moving forward.

1. Get fit - One of the many physical and psychological benefits of cardiovascular fitness is that it inures the individual against the effects of stress, including anxiety and fear.

2. Lean on your friends - Even with a challenge as common as a workplace crisis or a tough athletic competition, having friends by your side can make all the difference.

3. Expose yourself - One crucial tool for mastering fear is to develop a sense of confidence in your abilities. You can train yourself for this mindset by setting demanding but reachable goals that become progressively more difficult over time.

4. Think positive - Athletes who did the Stuart Smalley routine (Remember that SNL skit with Al Franken? "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.") were significantly more likely to survive the intense pressure of elite competition. Funny, but it works.

5. Change the frame - Instead of panicking in the face of a crisis, try to see the situation from another perspective. Consider the larger context and the good things that might come along with the bad. Focus on the good things.

6. Think small - A truly daunting task can drive even the toughest into discouragement. One trick is to just focus on the little piece in front of you.

7. Get mad - A powerful emotion like anger can trump fear. If you're tense before the big game, try thinking about how much you want to beat your opponents.

8. Do the nasty - (Seriously!) If you're terrified of public speaking, try tapping the soothing powers of oxytocin, the hormone of affection and bonding. One study found that subjects who had recently engaged in sexual intercourse were significantly calmer when asked to speak before a group of strangers. So, go on. Have a shag… safely.

9. Enjoy the ride - Intense fear causes our brain to release chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana and amphetamines. Time seems to slow down and pain vanishes; we can run faster and lift heavier weights.

What if nothing seems to help?
If you find that your transitions are utterly unbearable, or your fear is crippling, or your complacency is driven by depression, please seek professional help. You can begin by talking to your doctor, your religious or spiritual leader, or seek one of the many online counseling services like BetterHelp and 7cups. Help is at your fingertips. Please reach out.

You can help. Leaping the Chasm is asking women of an assured age to help us understand the unique struggles and needs of this age group by answering ten anonymous questions. It's fast, it's easy and it's the first step toward developing solutions.

If you have a tough life transition story and want to share your experience with others or are willing to be interviewed for a column, please contact us. If you are a solution or service provider and would like LTC to review your offering, contact us to discuss.

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About Leaping the Chasm
Leaping the Chasm™ (LTC) provides candid conversations and social media engagement for women in their 40's, 50's and beyond who are undergoing the personal, physical, financial, education and employment transitions that often accompany mid-life. LTC shares experiences, transfers knowledge, improves outlook, connects people, and helps identify opportunities for this powerful demographic.

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