When I was in third grade, I was selected for the school reading committee. I absolutely loved this committee. I was friends with the other five members (all third graders), and we met once a week to talk about ways to promote reading. We always met in the music teacher’s room, and she was present, but it was her free period, so she was mostly there to ensure we didn’t burn the building down. She didn’t interfere with our discussions or try to guide us one way or the other. She never said no. In fact, I don’t think she ever even spoke except to greet us and remind us when it was time to get back to class.
In other words, we were six 8- and 9-year-olds who got along with each other and could do anything our imaginations came up with — and boy did we come up with a lot. I remember sewing flower leis to give away at the school carnival’s reading booth, creating a “reading robot” costume using tinfoil-covered boxes, and stuffing the school suggestion box with hundreds of calls for a school newspaper. (That last one was a little bittersweet as the school administrators reacted fairly quickly in instituting a school newspaper, but then they assigned it to the sixth graders, meaning we had to wait three whole years before we could participate in our idea — and by sixth grade I had moved to a new school 1500 miles away.) We also developed SQUIRT: Silent, Quiet, Uninterrupted, Individual Reading Time (to this day it amuses me that we felt the need to emphasize the lack of noise twice), which was instituted school-wide for a solid month.
My favorite memory is when we wrote and produced a play about the benefits of reading, which we performed for first, second, and third graders. The play was not something filled with “lessons” about reading. Instead we used events from our own lives to highlight how reading occurs all the time (not just in books). Somehow the ideas fit together organically to create a play that kept the other kids’ attention while impressing the teachers.
I should clarify: We weren’t the best and brightest students. We were six kids who gave up part of our recess one time a week to brainstorm ideas to promote reading (and two of the kids didn’t like reading!). We succeeded because no one ever told us no. No one questioned our logic or pointed out the challenges we would face. Nothing deterred us in any way — and that included our inner fears and doubts. See, we didn’t know that failing was a possibility. How could we fail when we were told to do whatever we wanted?
Today, more than three decades later, I still say that my third-grade experience was the best committee I’ve ever worked on. It helped me understand the power of people working together. As a I grew older and reflected on our success at such a young age, I also came to understand the power of fear. Whether you are dealing with a fear of creepy crawlies or a fear of change or a fear of failure (or even success!), fear can cause us to do crazy things — including nothing at all. When fear leads to inaction, we’ve defeated ourselves before we’ve even taken that first baby step.
Even more distressing is that we often explain our fears by focusing on something else without ever really taking a moment to understand that we are afraid of something. For example, people claim to be “resistant” to change when really what they mean is they “fear” change. They might criticize that change or question its validity, all to cover up their own fear. Why do we give our fears so much power? I can’t remember a single instance when I have faced a fear and then thought, “I should have listened to my fear and not done anything.” This doesn’t mean that facing a fear always resulted in happily-ever-after endings. Rather, more often than not, I discovered a third or fourth possible outcome that I never would have known about had I not faced my fears. And I have always, always walked away from a fear feeling a little smarter, a little more human, and and a little more comfortable in my own skin.
Take it from an eight-year-old living in a 40-something-year-old’s body: Letting fear rule your life takes all the fun out of living.