She Overcame Her Phobia Of Sharks By Simply Setting A Goal And Sticking To It

"I started listening to story after story about growth only happening in my discomfort zone."

As long as I can remember, I have had a deeply rooted phobia about sharks. I'm not sure where it came from, but it has put a damper on my activities for years. Growing up in Southern California was quite a challenge. I would go to parties on the beach and spend the entire time fearing that a tidal wave would toss me into the ocean with the sharks. I woke up countless nights from nightmares where I was lost at sea and the shadows were lurking just below the surface, or a huge wave was coming and I was trying and failing to outrun it.

My fear was so crippling that I would completely stop breathing if I saw even a cartoon shark flash across the television screen. There was no way I could tolerate a commercial for Shark Week. I even had an accident in the hallway at my grandmother's house because I could not bring myself to go into her bathroom, where she had a copy of National Geographic on the counter featuring an article about great whites.

I spent many years of my life fluctuating between trying to avoid the ocean altogether and trying to convince myself that I was over the fear and it was a silly thing from my childhood. Counseling didn't work. Berating myself with countless verses from the Bible about not being afraid didn't work. Finally, I just decided it was something I was going to have to live with forever.

Then I met my mentors. I started listening to story after story about growth only happening in my discomfort zone. I heard over and over that the only limitations I had in my life were those I was putting on myself, and that if I didn't face my fear I would always be smaller than it. I couldn't let that happen. Something had to change, even if it meant getting very uncomfortable.

I started small. When I saw a picture of a shark on a billboard or a magazine cover, I made myself count to ten before looking away. Eventually, I was able to breathe while counting, so it was time to move on. Next I watched videos about sharks—not the dramatized Hollywood versions where sharks were attacking people, but actual videos of sharks existing in the wild and not bothering anyone. I started searching out articles about people surviving shark encounters and going back in the water even after being bitten. I went to Sea World and petted the nurse sharks. It was not exactly a great white or bull shark encounter, but it was still a big step for me.

The biggest step, though, came in September last year. My husband and I took a vacation in Nuevo Vallarta in Mexico. We booked a catamaran excursion that included snorkeling in the open ocean. It seemed like it took me forever to jump off the boat into the water… but I did it! And once I was in the water, I actually enjoyed myself. The fish were beautiful. We didn't end up seeing any sharks, but knowing we could have and jumping in anyway was such an empowering feeling! What's more, it has changed my life in other areas. Every time I face a challenge now, be it in business, family life, or anything else, I just think, If I can snorkel in the open ocean, I can do anything!

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: 101 Stories about Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World © 2017 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via  Miles Astray I Shutterstock

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