Patty Chang Anker grew up eager to please and afraid to fail. But after thirty nine years, she decided it was time to stop being a chicken. Motivated initially to become a better role model for her two young daughters, she vowed to master the fears that were choking the fun and spontaneity out of life.
Patty Chang Anker grew up eager to please and afraid to fail. But after 39 years, she decided it was time to stop being a chicken. She learned to dive into a swimming pool, ride a bike, do a handstand and surf. As she shared her experiences, she discovered that most people suffer from their own secret terrors. It became her mission to help others do what they thought they couldn't and to experience the joy and aliveness that is the true reward of becoming brave. Fear isn't the end point to life, but the point of entry.
"Downright inspiring." -Oprah.com
"Hilarious and instructive . . . sure to inspire the most faint of heart to venture forth and discover what it is to be truly alive." - American Way
I'm in a bathing suit, and people are laughing. Oh, this can't be good.
The sun was a spotlight on the diving board. It must be twenty degrees hotter up here, I thought. My forehead was sweaty, and, come to think of it, so was everything else. I bent over. The image of Tiffany Chin skating her 1987 U.S. Nationals long program with a wedgie in her blue Lycra costume flitted through my head. I dug my toes into the nubby wet board and tried to get a grip on my own situation.
Do I have a wedgie? I don't think so.
With my arms stretched overhead, I tucked my chin and swallowed at the same time, which made me want to cough. Don't cough! Don't fall in! The board was wobbling. Ergo, my thighs were wobbling. Great.
A line of teens jostled one another behind me.Were they watching me? I wasn't sure. The water below looked cold and deep. I closed my eyes.
I'm almost forty years old. Lord, help me. I don't know what I'm doing.
IN THE STORY of my life there are many times when I did not, literally or metaphorically, dive in. I was raised by Chinese immigrant parents who wanted my sister and me to excel in school, succeed in our careers. In my mind, that meant focusing on things I was good at (reading and writing, pioneer crafting) and avoiding areas where I might fall short (most everything else). I was not only afraid of failing, but I was afraid of the fear I would feel while trying not to fail. Afraid of feeling fear itself.
Diving into a swimming pool, with its associated risks of belly flops, drowning, and public humiliation, was something I had successfully avoided all my life. Until now.
My husband and I have two daughters, Gigi and Ruby. Gigi was eight years old and scared to jump off the diving board at camp. "Go ahead, try it, don't worry what everyone else thinks, you'll be fine!" I said, praying for her not to ask the obvious: "Mommy, do you dive?" Ruby, then three years old, was already asking why everyone in the family had a bike helmet but Mom. I wanted them to worry less and enjoy life more, to take risks and try new things. But I rarely sought to go out of my comfort zone myself.
In fact, given my nervous nature, my bookish upbringing, my midlife responsibilities, and my boundless propensity for tripping and falling and hurting myself, my comfort zone was less a zone and more a skittish zigzag from car to coffee shop to supermarket to office to sofa to fridge to bed, where I lay awake, worrying. The day I realized I wanted something more for my girls was the day I realized I had to do something more myself. And the day all our lives changed for the good.
I scheduled two diving lessons with my daughter's swim coach, Jenny Javer. Zoe, an old college friend, had always wanted to learn how to dive and asked to join in. Jenny is exactly who you'd want by your side if your ship was on fire and you had to jump off the deck to save yourself. "A belly flop is like stubbing your toe-it hurts, but you get over it, right?" she said, instantly dispelling a lifelong fear for both Zoe and me. We were diving (that is, falling with style) from the side of the pool within a half hour; and by the end of the first lesson, she'd deemed us ready to try the diving board the next time.
Yet at the beginning of the second lesson, Zoe and I had lingered in the shade, meticulously applying sunscreen, as if a layer of SPF would protect us from all pain. We watched the teens lined up for the diving board push and shove and dare each other into ever more dangerous stunts. Do we have to do this? our expressions must have said loud and clear, because Jenny broke in: "Don't think."
The two of us, Chinese-American straight-A students for life, stood blinking at her, uncomprehending.
"You know what to do," Jenny said, appealing to our knowledge base. "It's the same as what you've done before, just a little higher. Come on now."