Is This Fear Real?

Last summer, my then four-year old granddaughter, Hannah, was standing with me on the balcony of the condo where my parents live. The balcony was four stories high.  As she walked closer to the edge, the only thing separating her from the black asphalt below was a metal railing.  My stomach did flip-flops as I watched her get closer to the edge. In her child-like curiosity, she stuck her foot out between two rails - testing the concept of gravity, unknown to her yet.  Fear gripped me. An invisible cold hand on my shoulder sent a chill shuddering through me.  My stomach felt uneasy, almost sick, like the feeling I had looking down the Eiffel Tower. It was a feeling of free falling. It wasn’t real.  I wasn’t falling. Instead, I was just standing still. 

Me:  “Hannah, I don’t like when you get that close to the railing.”

H: “Why?”

Me: “Because it makes me feel a little jumpy.  I feel a little scared.”

H: “Why?”

Me: “Because I don’t want anything to ever happen to you, and we are so high up.”

H: “Nothing will happen. I’m okay.   See,” she said, as she stuck out her foot again between the railings.

Me: (my heart pounding in my throat):  “I know, but I still would like you to come away from the edge of the balcony.”

Hannah got still and silent, looking down as if contemplating something.  Then she went inside, moving through the sliding screen door that always caught, making it difficult to open or close.  She didn’t say a word.

Several minutes later she reappeared. She handed me a piece of paper with her four year-old’s attempt to write.  There were only six letters on the paper – but these six letters left a mark on my heart.

Me: “Thank you, Hannah.  What does this say?”

H: “It’s okay.”

Me: “No, Hannah, what does this note say?”

H: “It says: It’s okay!”

Me: “Oh, Hannah,” I said in wonderment, as I drew her close to me and hugged her for a very long time. I got her message in the moment that she interpreted her writing to me.

She didn’t need to say anymore. She was letting me know that it was all okay.  I didn’t need to worry - now or ever.  It hit me hard.  Her message wasn’t only about being too close to the edge of the balcony.  It was also about being too close to the edge of any fear – now or ever. 

How could a four-year old know that?  Or maybe the better question is how could an adult not know that? After all, I’ve lived many more years than Hannah. Maybe as adults, with messages of fear thrown at us on the news and all around us constantly: “do this or you won’t get that,” “don’t do that because then you will get…,” etc., we forget to put our foot out between the boundaries and to soar.

On that day, Hannah reminded me that you don’t have to give in to your fears. When faced with worrisome situations that make us anxious, it may be hard not to think that the fear is real. But what if Hannah is right? “It’s okay.”  It’s all okay.

Even though I study and coach others in human behavior, and how to transform our thoughts, Hannah was my teacher that day. She reminded me that feeling anxious, just plain old sucks (a technical term) and stops us from going for what we want and being who we want to be.  And that in fact, it may be appearing as if something bad will happen, but in actuality, that’s not true.

I had a client who was fearful of firing her partner in business.  She thought the business would take a terrible nose-dive and that she’d lose everything she had built.  She thought that people would think she wasn’t a nice person and that her partner would take all of the business away from her.  When she was able to separate her fear from reality, she was able to see things so much more clearly.  In the end, her partner thanked her for making the decision for her.  She was miserable and couldn’t make the decision to leave on her own. My client opened up the opportunity for her partner to leave with dignity, without bringing the whole business down.  And a few years later, she was even referring business to my client again.  Plus she was freed from a partner who didn’t want to be there anymore.  Had she lived in her fear and avoided taking action, she could have ruined her whole business.

So next time fear appears, use it as a guide instead of your master. Don’t follow it to the deep dark corners. You know the ones I mean.  We’ve all been there.  Instead, use it as a wake-up call.  A call that asks you this: is this fear stopping me from what I want?  Is it real, or am I imagining that this is real?  Sometimes the two are hard to tell apart. 

Being aware of fear when it shows itself is important. It gives us the opportunity to stop and look around. It gives us the ability to choose whether we want to give in to the fear or use it to help us grow.

Hannah helped me to grow that day. She helped me to see that in reality the railings were strong and she couldn’t possibly slip through them. She helped me to see that being worried wasn’t the path.  The path was trusting that it was all okay.

Keeping Hannah safe and away from danger is instinctual. And the next time she nears the edge of the balcony, I’ll probably have that same internal reaction.    But outwardly, I hope to react differently.  Maybe no words will need to be said.  Maybe we will just look at each other and smile.  And then she’ll move away. Or maybe I will move toward her and together we will stick our feet out through the railings and trust that all is well.  In the end, Hannah is teaching me to fly.

I take that thought with me throughout my days, no matter what I face.  I think of Hannah’s words to me. Her note has a sacred spot on my desk.   “It’s Okay.”


  1. Think of the last time you felt fearful about something. Was it because someone said something to you or you were in a difficult situation?
  2. Now think about what happened.  Did the fear serve you or just make you feel off center, more inward?
  3. The next time you feel anxious, worried, or fearful, use it as a wake-up call.  Check in with yourself and find out what these feelings are stopping you from doing. Being able to distinguish your fear, and then to question whether this is a real threat to you or not is invaluable.  If you are present to it, if you can notice it, you will have a choice in letting it run you, or rising above it to fly.

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