When we Overcome, we Become. The obstacles we encounter in life are opportunities to further this becoming, not the place where our fears tell the truth about who we are.

Life often feels like a race, with our birth the starting line, and our death the finish line. In a race, how you manage your mindset in between those two lines is what determines the quality of the race you are running. Likewise, in life, where you start and where you end are of little import, compared to how you manage the years in between.

overcoming fear

I ran my first obstacle course race last summer. It was miles of mud, vertical walls, and monkey bars. In the beginning it was thrilling, but somewhere near the end, it was just hard. My aching muscles and my anxious mind—including my uncertainty about how much further there was to go—tested my beliefs about who I am and what I am capable of when things get hard. Suddenly, Fear was running next to me, whispering, “Maybe it’s hard because you aren’t good at it.”

When I let fear decide what is true about who I am, namely, that if something is hard it means I must be failing, I stop trying. Better to fail with no effort than with every effort.

Fear is an emotion, designed to warn us of danger. Nevertheless, this internal alarm system is primitive, so it can’t distinguish between actual danger and potential danger. Therefore, when our heart rate is increasing and our legs feel like they might give out, fear will mistake these symptoms as impending failure rather than simply a sign of difficult circumstances.

What determines the quality of our miles from start to finish lies in the relationship we cultivate with the fear that runs alongside us.

As I neared the finish line, I stood in front of a pit full of water, delaying jumping in, and all I could feel was the exhaustion and the uncertainty. What if the fear was right? What if I’m not strong enough to make it past all the remaining obstacles?

In that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could let fear define me as my symptoms or I could choose something else and define myself by how I manage the symptoms.

As I stood staring into the pit, I realized I’d had another running partner with me all along. One I’d been ignoring. We all do. That partner is called Hope.

Fear highlights our symptoms in order to question our capacity. Hope puts our symptoms into perspective in order to encourage us forward. To overcome the self-doubt and failure that Fear inevitably evokes when an obstacle is looming before us, we must cling to Hope. Hope doesn’t require that we pretend life isn’t difficult or daunting at times. But hope reminds us we have made it through difficult and uncertain miles before and we can get through this mile too.

Hope told me to jump in and keep going. It told me to acknowledge this was hard, but that fear was confusing my symptoms for outcomes. Hope reminded me that my capacity to grow, adapt, and thrive had already been proven by the obstacles I’d already overcome. Hard didn’t mean I was failing. Hard meant I was growing.

So I jumped in.

And when I climbed up the other side of the water pit, that’s when I saw it: the finish line, only three more obstacles away.

Our mindset and what we choose to believe is true about ourselves in this race we call life is the real obstacle.

You don’t get to choose the obstacles you will face in this life. You only get to choose which running partner you’ll listen to, and thus your mindset while going through them. Will you see the obstacle hopefully, as an opportunity to step further into your strength and capability, or will you allow fear to hold you back?

Fear might tell me that hard means I am not enough, but I am choosing to listen to Hope, which is telling me that hard means I am growing.

Which running companion will you choose?

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