If my childhood friends had been more cruel, I might have been nicknamed “Fraidycat.” Fortunately, my friends were not cruel and I had to live with being called “Ford.” Luckily for me, that also happened to be my last name. However, that didn’t change the fact that I was scared of practically everything I encountered. I’d like to say that I’ve grown out of most of those fears, but that’s just not true. I’m still scared of nearly everything.
My most easily identifiable fear is heights. Acrophobia is the formal term. Anything above three stories pretty much scares the crap out of me. In my old office building, we had a four-story rotunda in the entrance and the company would often have events on the first floor and the employees would gather on each of the floors. My desk was located on the third floor and whenever I had to watch one of those events, I would try to figure out ways to not be on the third floor when they started. Unfortunately, I would always forget when those events were starting and I would be stuck on the third floor when someone on my team would come to my cube to round me up for the event. Everyone else would casually stroll up to the railing that overlooked the lobby and lean down to watch the proceedings. I, however, would slowly inch my way up to the railing with my arm extended out as far as it would possibly go. Once I could reach the railing, I would grab ahold and inch up to it without looking down. All the while, I was trying to look as casual as possible while everyone else looked at me like I was crazy. Once I had convinced myself that the railing wouldn’t fail under my weight, I was even able to look down and watch whatever corporate silliness was happening in the lobby — terrified all the while.
My parents were always very good about teaching me proper manners for answering and talking on the phone. Any good parenting handbook will tell you that is a sure way to inspire confidence in your children on the phone. It didn’t work for me. I’ve never been comfortable talking on the phone to people I don’t know. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a trust thing. It’s so bad that my wife knows not to assign me to call places to make reservations because she knows I’ll put it off as long as I possibly can. Eventually, I’ll make the call and talk to the stranger on the other end and we’ll get our reservations, but it will usually be later than we want. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I’d probably never get anything done.
When I was about seven years old my dad decided that I needed to learn how to swim. He signed me up for swimming lessons at the high school. Little did he know that I was terrified of the water — especially the Deep End. I knew that the high school had an especially deep Deep End and wanted none of it. I complained to my dad and told him I didn’t want to go. He insisted. On the drive to the high school, I got myself so worked up that we had to stop twice so that I could get out and puke. It was a ten-minute drive. Once I got to the lesson, I made a beeline for the shallow end and spent most of my time there. Eventually, I was promoted (read: dragged) to the Deep End. I refused. I was then physically thrown into the Deep End. I sank. Someone jumped in and pulled me out. I puked.
At some point in my life, I learned how to swim. I’m not sure when it happened and I’m not sure where, but I now know that anytime I get into a body of water, I can swim like hell if I need to.
Does that really count? Aren’t all guys afraid of pretty women?
Many of you who know me may be surprised that I have the fears I listed above. I do a fairly good job of disguising those fears because my biggest fear is the fear of people finding out that I have fears. Every time I encounter one of my fears, I’m temporarily frozen until I remember that people are watching me or counting on me. I then remember that I would have to explain my fear to those people if I failed to overcome. That scares me more than anything else.
The only thing I have to fear is fear itself.