Facing Fear

I returned from my journey to the village and am at a Starbucks in Manila, the only place open on a Good Friday in this mostly Christian country.  I fly to Cambodia tomorrow.  I have a whole series of posts coming up about the village, but in the meantime, here are some thoughts about overcoming fear.

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.

– Gandhi

“One, two, three, jump!”  I was scared, but I promised Raindel that I would jump with him, so I just did it.  As I sailed through the air towards the dark water below, I wasn’t scared anymore.  I was thinking that this was actually pretty fun.  Jumping next to Raindel made it feel much safer.  (I also might have been motivated by his charming personality!)

My jumping partner with the two women he was guiding to the falls.

We had returned to Tangadan Falls to celebrate McTery’s graduation.  On the long hike back to the road from the falls, I started thinking about how this year has been about overcoming fear as much as anything else.  I did not plan on confronting my fears during this year abroad, but so many opportunities and people have presented themselves which have steered me in that direction.

I did it!

One of my greatest fears is approaching people I don’t know, and traveling means I have to do a lot of that.  I met Eric Kim shortly after arriving in Hanoi last September.  He is an internationally recognized street photographer and blogger and ran the workshop I attended before leaving Vietnam.  One of Eric’s goals is to help people overcome their fear of taking photos of strangers.  It’s awkward to start taking pictures of strangers and then to interact with them.  Even Eric admits to having a fear of doing this, yet he pushes himself to do so and has built a career out of it.  I have had a lot of practice with him and have improved as a result.  The fear isn’t gone.  I still hesitate and sometimes choose not to take the shot simply out of fear.  But I’m getting better at recognizing this and not letting the fear stop me.

It’s easy (less fearful) for me to get shots of kids.
Why is it scarier to ask an adult?

Many other people and situations have appeared during this year, each one a chance to recognize and face my fears.  BJ and I talked a lot about this during our photo shoot.  We both share a fear of approaching strangers, and had I not approached him during our photo walk, we would never have met.  We each came to the walk alone and without knowing anyone there.  It wasn’t until about halfway through that I finally approached him to start a conversation.  We were both nervous but ended up spending the rest of the night talking.

They offered me a drink, so I took their picture. (I also received two marriage proposals.)
Even if it’s scary, people usually just smile and love seeing their picture.

As I reach the final months of this trip, I am remembering the fear involved in deciding to take a year off with no income.  There were plenty of reasons not to do this:  no income and losing a year towards retirement, the possibility of catching a tropical disease or worse, being lonely and away from family and friends, and more.  All of those fears seem so minor now.  It’s easy to make excuses (I had a thousand reasons for not jumping off that cliff), but each excuse is really just a result of fear.  

This time I had to confront my fear if I wanted to take a shower.

My biggest fear at the moment is not pursuing my dreams.

If it’s safe enough for the locals, then it’s safe enough for me.
Valerie at the falls

I wasn’t the only one facing my fears that day at the falls.  McTery, who is brave in so many ways but was terrified of the deep water the first time we went, eventually took the plunge and jumped off one of the lower rocks himself.  After that, he was fearless and I couldn’t keep up with him as he swam and jumped in every deep spot he could find.  On the hike back, he shouted, “I’m not afraid anymore!”  He is a much faster learner than me.

Thinking about going in.
We had a picnic at the falls.
McTery and I gathered river seaweed for the salad.
Fresh fish
Relaxing after a day of fear conquering.

Comments (21):

  1. Denise Zalaski

    April 14, 2017 at 06:59

    An experience of a lifetime and so much to soak in. So much admiration I have for you facing your fears. Yet there can be so much to gain when we do:-) All that you have shared thus far is simply priceless. I envy your courage, Timmy.
    Take good care and safe travels!
    Denise (Nisi)

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:01

      Thanks, Denise. I still draw on Jeannine’s courage and “talk” to her all the time. She was fearless!

  2. Diane Weisman

    April 14, 2017 at 08:26

    Tim, this may be embarrassing for you, but I have to say it, “I just love you”! I just read about some of your fears, and I want to share something with you and your other friends.
    When I was in high school, I read a book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” It’s a very short read, but it’s filled with wonderful and inspirational thoughts. One quote I used in part under my senior photo, I still remember it to this day.
    “All the people and events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” Even though there are times when I’m extremely shy, normally when I fear that I may harshly judged by someone this doesn’t alway ring true. For the most part, about 97% of the time, I think the way I make eye contact with someone and smile, or make a comment while waiting for something is because of the positive energy I feel from the other person. I use my gut instinct always. I met you in a chance encounter at SCSU. You were visiting, and I was dealing with a friend in crisis. Our first conversation was in the lobby of an all girls dorm, and I had just called for medical help for someone. Total chance encounter. It was helpful that I was friends with Kathy I have to admit. Within no time for following year when you started college, our friendship began.
    You have a very warm, sincere, and calming energy about you. I’ll bet that the most of the people you have forced yourself to go up and talk to, have thought about you more than once, especially, being a traveling American. I haven’t travelled alone abroad recently, but I did a lot in my early twenties. American’s, many times, carry with them a negative misconceived opinion from strangers. Many times I wish I could say I was Canadian when I travel. Though, I never have, the thought has crossed my mind many times due to a feeling of fear or being judged harshly. However, telling the truth when asked has always worked out, with the exception of returning an overdone steak in London in a restaurant. Or course, it didn’t help that I was with my Scottish friend was absolutely traumatized. The steak could have arrived in flames and she still would have accepted it graciously. The waitress said, ” You’re an American aren’t you.” I said yes, and politely said I wanted a steak I could eat. What was worse is I walked out with my friend bright red. However, to this day I still have the fake mustache I was given at the authentic fish and chips shop that we wound up at where they gave you a plastic mustache and had an hourly sing along. Best fish and chips ever, and one of my friends and my favorite memories.
    You have forced yourself to grow in so many ways, that you will be an even better teacher and friend than you were when you left for this great adventure, and you were already fantastic!!! Stay safe.

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:04

      Thank you, my friend! Not at all embarrassed (that’s one of the fears I’m giving up). I enjoy reading your memories – maybe you should start a blog.

  3. Shannon Atkinson

    April 14, 2017 at 08:51

    Tim, congratulations on facing your fears! Thank you for sharing this. It was pleasure meeting you and having the opportunity to photograph in Vietnam with you. Cheers!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:07

      Likewise, Shannon. I’ve definitely learned a lot from spending time with you and other photographers. Looking forward to the next time, whenever that may be.

  4. Valentin

    April 14, 2017 at 09:03

    Wonderful story! The fear of not pursuing your dreams- well put Tim!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:09

      Thanks, Val. It’s been quite a journey for both of us since Washington. Looks like you’ve been very busy in India.

  5. Lori

    April 14, 2017 at 09:40

    You are an inspiration, Tim!!!! We miss you!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:10

      Thank you, Lori. I’ll be home soon, but you might not recognize the new fearless Tim!

  6. Li nda A Wight

    April 14, 2017 at 11:25

    Great story and inspiration Tim. Sometimes I have fears about what others think of me, which is silly, and sometimes I have fears because others depend on me, which is silly;there is always someone to take our place, and then I put it in God’s hands- that doesn’t always mean, I still don’t have fears, but it’s a good feeling. As always- you’re a great teacher and I’ve enjoyed your journey and learning about the people and places you are visiting. Happy Easter Tim, stay well. Linda

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:12

      I have also realized how so many of us have the same fears. It does make it easier somehow. Happy Easter to you and your family, Linda!

  7. Don Dillon

    April 14, 2017 at 19:08

    Really enjoyed our time together during the Hanoi photo workshop. And, I remember the two women in red. Great image!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:12

      Thanks, Don. I still think the morning with you and Eric was a turning point. I’ll never forget it!

  8. Vicky Ann Deledda

    April 14, 2017 at 23:54

    Loved your friend,Diane’s comment and I also loved the Seagull book- read it to my 5th graders. Glad you’re back on “blog”!
    My only question is, “What ya hit the spider with? Xo

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:14

      I usually call McTery, but he was in bed so I used a broom. It took many attempts. You would have laughed at the sight.

  9. Paula Agins

    April 15, 2017 at 06:22

    You amaze me!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 07:15


  10. Kate Gluth Richie

    April 15, 2017 at 08:43

    Well hello Timmy Flanagan, my sweet friend from St. Mary’s! I loved reading your post! Oh the hours and experiences we’ve all lost by fearing one thing or another! Kudos on shedding your fears; you’ve inspired me to do some of the same!
    Safe travels and have a wonderful Easter!

    • Tim Flanagan

      April 15, 2017 at 22:28

      Hello Katie! So nice to hear from you. You’re so right – living in fear is just a waste of time. I think I spent most of my St. Mary’s days in fear (at least during class)! There are no marshmallow peeps here in Cambodia, so it doesn’t feel like Easter, but they did celebrate New Year’s yesterday. All my best to your family and have a great Easter!


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