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This week, I started something pretty amazing.  I am honored to have been selected in
ENLP Cohort 7. We're a rowdy bunch!
the latest class of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program (ENLP) run by the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence here in Richmond.  This 9 month program allows me to go through leadership training with a cohort of 19 other nonprofit leaders serving a variety of organizations in the RVA.  Every month, I will take a day (or so) out of my work schedule to learn more about leadership, about my strengths and challenges as a leader, and about the Richmond nonprofit community as a whole.  

I couldn't do this without the blessing and support of my bosses at Commonwealth Autism Service.  I am the third employee from our organization to go through the program and I am grateful that they have allowed me both the time away from work and the funds to make this professional development possible. 

I'm 40 feet in the air (on the left)
ready to walk the cables. 
Just part of the course. I was on the top level.
On Tuesday, we started ENLP just by getting to know one another but by Wednesday, we dove in head-long with an experience at Challenge Discovery on the University of Richmond campus.  The day consisted of some on the ground team building exercises in the morning and then some "high ropes" in the afternoon.  I was swinging and climbing 40 feet in the air with half of my cohort.  It was amazing!  

Taking the first steps
Halfway across the first obstacle

The entire experience was "challenge by choice" meaning that we could push ourselves as far as we wanted.  Any activity was optional and some participants chose to stay firmly on the ground.  Others climbed to a certain point but then decided they needed to turn around.  The whole time, we were asked to watch one of our teammates (surreptitiously), observing their reactions and participation.  At the end of the day, we shared our observations, summed up in one word.  The person who watched me used the word fearless.  

I have thought a lot about that word since Wednesday.  At the top of the 40 foot structure, I was slightly nervous.  The ground looked very far away and the cables were thin.  I am not athletic by any means.  By all accounts, I should have been scared out of my mind.  Here's what helped:

I was secured to cables that can hold 1500 pounds with carabiners and ropes.  We practiced "falling" on low cables near the ground before our ascent.  I knew that this would keep me safe. Rational thought trumps fear. 

I had a team surrounding me and an "expert" guide who wasn't going to let us do anything unsafe.  I relied on others to assure me that danger was not imminent.  Trust trumps fear.

The crux of it all, though, is that very little scares me these days.  Sure, when a 9 foot tower in my shower crashes and jolts me out of a deep sleep at 2 am, my autonomic nervous system takes over.  At the top of a 40 foot wooden tower with no walls, I feel myself break into a sweat.  When I am lost in an unfamiliar place, I may get a little nervous.  But the fear doesn't disable me.  

If you search for the "Top 10 Fears of Humans" on the Internet, you get variations in the list but some common themes crop up.  I checked out one list to see if any of those fears resonated with me.

#10-Blood injections or needles: Nope. I give blood/platelets about once a month. Nothing to fear there.

#9-Social phobias: public speaking, crowds, etc.  I may be an introvert, but I will happily talk just about anyone's ear off.  Especially if I know the topic well.

#8-Rejection: Ok, I don't like to be shunned and I certainly want to be accepted but I don't have an irrational fear of rejection.  In fact, my viewpoint is that you can pretty much take me or leave me. You get what you get!

#7-Fear of Dirt and germs: Nope. Not a germophobe in the least and I truly believe it's part of what keeps me healthy.  Next!

#6-Fear of Strangers: The introvert in me may not want to start a conversation with every person on the street, but I have approached many a stranger for all kinds of reasons.  Cross that one off the list. 

#5-Neophobia (fear of something new): Part of my job involves bringing "the new" to others.  Change is the name of the game, baby!  

#4-Nudity or removal of privacy: First of all, you really don't WANT to see me naked but fear of it? Not so much.  People have seen me in my bathing suit and in my underwear.  There's not much further to go after that.  As for removing my privacy, I probably wouldn't be on Facebook or blogging if I had much of a fear of that.

#3-Embarrassment: Whenever someone asks during an ice breaker to share your "most embarrassing moment", I'm always at a loss.  I'm sure there have been times where, in the moment, I was mortified, but the memory must fade rather quickly. It takes a lot to shame me. 

#2-Uncertainty: Ok, now we are getting somewhere.  Uncertainty doesn't thrill me.  I like to make decisions. I like to move forward.  It might be one of the few things on this list that could "bother" me.  A paralyzing fear, though? Not really.

#1-Death: One of the first things Roger said to me after Charlotte died was, "It's amazing the things that don't scare me anymore."  I completely relate.  It doesn't change the grief.  It doesn't change the anger or the simple "wrongness" of watching your child (or even a parent or close friend) leave your life.  It doesn't scare me, though. 

As Roger and I move forward with our lives these days, there is an awful lot to fear.  We are in the final stages of approval as Resource Parents. We will bring children into our home who have experienced challenges that we can barely imagine.  These kids are going to rock our world.  By all accounts, I should be scared...anxious...uncertain.  I can admit that there is that tiny bit of anxiety about the unknown but here is what I know to be true: once we find our match, once that child (or children) is brought into our home and our hearts, we will love them as they are for who they are; the good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between.  

UMFS (the agency we have been working with to become Resource Parents) has a great tagline that they use in their marketing: Superman had foster parents.  Jonathan and Martha Kent weren't fearless and they weren't superheroes themselves.  They had love, acceptance, and courage.  Courage, not to conquer the world, but to keep going.  I think it's the perfect combination to vanquish almost any fear. 

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