Facing My Fears (And Finding My Inner Student Again)


In my last post, I talked about the importance of being vulnerable and showing your authentic self.  In addition to supporting my clients as they do this, I’m working on learning to be more vulnerable in my own life.  So in the spirit of vulnerability, I want to share how I’m facing one of my fears.

My clients are some of my best teachers.  Sometimes, I think I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  And I am always grateful when clients trust me with their personal and challenging issues.  It’s an honor to help people live healthier and happier lives.

I work with many injured workers who, due to physical limitations from their injuries, cannot return to their profession.  They usually end up going back to school to be retrained in another profession, and I provide ergonomic recommendations to accommodate their physical restrictions so they can participate in their chosen program and/or profession.  For some of them, this is the first time they’ve ever been to college.  Many of them tell me that they weren’t good students when they were in school the first time around.  And most of them are nervous about being in classes with 20-year-olds and having homework again.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the courage my clients show in returning to school because it’s definitely daunting to put yourself in a new environment.  Until recently, I know that I was too intimidated by the idea of going back to school to try it myself.  After years of giving these clients a pep talk about the benefits of facing their fears and the high likelihood that they would thrive as a student later in life due to their focus and goals, I realized that I needed to start taking my own advice!

I can still remember the feeling of relief I experienced when I finished college.  I enjoyed my therapy school experience, but it was intensive and rigorous, and I was ready to be finished with exams and constant studying.  I wanted to start treating patients (which is a different kind of challenge - and probably harder than school in some ways).

However, even as I was finishing my degree, I knew that I would eventually go back to school.  I wasn’t sure what I would study, but I knew I would go back because I love learning new things.  And when it comes to the human mind and body, I don’t think I’ll ever know enough.  I’ve been taking continuing education classes for professional development ever since I graduated, but that is different than committing to a long-term course or program. 

The longer I was out of a traditional college setting, the more fearful I became of returning to being a student and the less confident I was in my ability to be successful. Even though I was always a good student when I was in school, I just found the experience to be stressful and anxiety provoking.  I didn’t like being tested and critiqued.  Some people may thrive on this, but I’m not one of those people.

My path to becoming a student again happened over the course of several years.  At one point, I met with an advisor for a graduate program that I was interested in.  She was honest with me about what the program I was interested in would require, and it would mean closing my business, being in school full time for 2-3 years, and taking out a significant amount in school loans.  All for a change in career that I wasn’t sure was even right for me.  I like being a therapist – I just wanted to expand my knowledge.  Every time I seriously considered going back to school, I had a very school-specific nightmare.  The fear was keeping me stuck.

I truly believe that opportunities present themselves when you’re ready for them.  When I look back now, I see that a series of events in my life led me to the place where I was ready to face my fear.  Once I was ready, the first step was determining what I was actually interested in learning more about.  I knew I would be more motivated to take classes if I was truly enthusiastic about the subject.  The topic of nutrition was obvious to me (I’m interested in it in both my personal and professional life), but I had to narrow it down more to really set my goals.

With encouragement from my close friends and family, I started the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate program through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell.  On-line learning was completely new to me (when I was in college, email was just starting to catch on, and the internet barely existed), and it took me a little time to get used to the structure of it.  There are definitely benefits to this type of learning (the convenience factor being the biggest), and I can see why it’s become so popular. 

I had several great instructors during that program, and their positive feedback on my assignments really encouraged me and helped my confidence level.  I started to doubt my abilities a little less each time I completed an assignment.  And I was enjoying the classes because I had chosen a topic that I really enjoyed and wanted to learn more about.

I’ve taken quite a few classes on professional topics that interest me since then.  When I took my Health Coach Certification exam, it brought back some fear (what if I don’t pass?), but I kept telling myself that if I’d passed rigorous exams in the past, I could do it now too.  And I did – because I had studied until I was ready and had solid test-taking skills from all of my previous school experiences.

All of this has reignited my love of learning, and it’s less anxiety provoking this time because I am choosing what classes to take and am taking them when they fit in to my life.  I may or may not end up in graduate school at some point, but for now, I’m enjoying fitting classes in around my client caseload and personal life.

So I want to thank the clients who have set a good example for me over the years by being willing to face their own fears about returning to school.  You’ve inspired me!  Every time I face a fear and accomplish something that I wasn’t sure I could do, I feel less afraid and more confident.

Last month, I made the decision to start a 6-month course that I’ve had my eye on for a while but wasn’t sure I was experienced enough for.  When the opportunity to take it came up, I decided to face my fear (yet again) and commit to the challenge to further my professional and personal knowledge.  I’m going to share more information about the course and what I’m learning in my next post.  So make sure to subscribe to the blog so that it is delivered right to your inbox! 

What fears have you faced?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if you need support and help facing a fear – whether it’s exercising for the first time, learning to eat healthier meals or new foods, or addressing chronic pain – I’m here to help with ergonomic assessments, health coaching, and cooking classes!