While living in North Carolina, I developed a very healthy (or not-so-healthy) fear of spiders. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, wolf spiders seemed to enjoy torturing me there. My first indication that something was wrong were these giant, itchy bites on my ankles one morning. I figured they were from the large “southern” mosquitoes and when I woke up the next morning with even more, I figured one of those giant southern mosquitos had found its way into my bed. I peeled the covers back and instead of finding an annoying mosquito, I found two… very large… very hairy wolf spiders. They looked at me – I looked at them. All three of us frozen. One of them, potentially making a peace offering, moved one of his long, gross legs and I screamed. A long, blood curdling type of scream. And that scream gave those two spiders permission to dart. They both ran in different directions and I ran out of the building.
After that morning I found them everywhere. They would scurry across my floor in the evening. I would find one perched in my cabinet when I attempted to grab a plate. Another would be waiting for me in the shower and sometimes I would find them in the corners. Of everything. A room, a box, a suitcase. Once I even took one to work in my purse.
I made the mistake of stepping on one… and I only made that mistake once. I was wearing a pair of old navy flip flops (the 2 for $5 kind that are so thin you feel every pebble as you walk). I returned to my apartment one evening, walked in, put my keys and phone down, turned on the lights… and there he was. Sitting in the middle of the floor just waiting for me. I panicked and quickly slammed my foot down on top of him. SQUISH. It was awful. He was larger then expected and had more of a body then I expected. I felt him wiggle under my foot – I wasn’t even strong enough to kill him! My phone was just out of reach and I was terrified to move – was he still a little bit alive? Do spiders bleed? I stood there for longer then I care to admit – frozen by the fear of making an innocent (while gross) creature suffer and terrified to clean up the crime scene I had just created.
I couldn’t kill any of them after that. I trapped them under bowls or Tupperware. In the morning I would find someone who was willing to remove my captures from the night before and dispose of them. Some of them would be returned to the woods – but not all their fates were that kind. I hated being a part of the pain for them but those fast and hairy little guys terrified me!
And space from them has not improved my ability to cope. Seeing a spider (mainly the large and hairy type) evokes a primal response that involves a high pitched noise (it is not always an actual scream) while I simultaneously flee from that space as quickly as possible.
“Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really, vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves… are we willing to show up and be seen?”
This response is truly a response. It is unconscious and dramatic. It does not matter the audience or location – the response is the same. It is un-adapted and off brand. It is me at at a very vulnerable moment – a moment where fear has over road my ability to make a conscious choice that aligns with my values. It hits against my value of self-respect and a little against my value of optimism (attitude is a choice). It hijacks my ability to focus and be present, which bumps up against my achievement value. But… at the base of all of it, a fear of spiders is a part of me. Something I choose not to hide (ok, ok, I can’t seem to figure out how to hide it). And sometimes it is valuable to let your true self, regardless of how “perfect” or “imperfect,” shine.
That vulnerability – of getting ok with a non perfect version of ourselves – enhances our ability to lead. Showing that compassion for ourselves increases our likelihood of demonstrating compassion for others. It shows we are human.
Fear of spiders is pretty tangible – what about the other fears that haunt us daily?
Fear of public speaking.
Fear of having direct reports.
Fear of failing.
Fear of speaking up in a meeting.
Fear of being spontaneous.
Fear of change.
Fear of making decisions.
Fear of not being prepared.
What if we were more comfortable sharing our fears with others? What if, opposed to trying to hide them, we let people know we are plagued by fear just like they are? How could teams rally together to support each other if we were vulnerable enough to just let others know what scared us.
In this month of Halloween, when our society embraces the idea of fear, can we embrace our fears that go beyond haunted houses and monsters? Can we think about our fears, regardless of which ones they are (aka my fear of spiders AND my fear of losing control), and recognize that our fear and our response is part of us… and that can be ok.
*Editors Note: I tried to pick a picture of a spider for this post… but I couldn’t.