My class at Georgetown, and one of our professors, Marc Busch

I’ve been thinking a lot about embracing my fears lately. I’m in a master’s program at Georgetown, studying International Business and Policy– a program run jointly by Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and McDonough School of Business— both of which are top ranked schools globally. And I’m struggling with something called Imposter Syndrome– that fear that at any moment people will discover that you are an imposter and don’t really belong there. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact, my grades are pretty good! But every time I pack my bags to head back to campus, or open a final exam, I have this moment of panic that someone will say, “Wait! What is she doing here? Who let her in?”

And so we come to embracing our fears. Reaching out and grabbing whatever it is we’re afraid of and saying, “Bring it on!”

Kingston Family Vineyard, where we were consulting

I mentioned this to my tour guide, Jerson, last week in Belize. On my way home from Santiago, Chile, where I was taking classes and consulting for a Chilean winery with Georgetown, I stopped in Belize for a few days. It was, in case you weren’t sure, incredibly beautiful and more laid back than anywhere I’ve ever been. Best snorkeling on earth, I’m pretty sure. But I digress. As Jerson and I were tramping through the jungle, I told him how I’m working on conquering my fears by embracing them.

The view from my hotel in Belize

As I child, I told him, I was terribly afraid of knives. I used to have horrible nightmares about people trying to stab me. So a few years ago I asked a friend to teach me to throw knives. And I’m pretty good at it! A while later I took on my fear of guns by walking into a shooting range and asking the enormous bearded guy behind the counter if I could rent a gun and have someone show me how to shoot it. Eventually I took private classes from members of the SWAT team. And it turns out I’m a pretty good shot!

Jerson asked what I’m still afraid of, and I said with a shudder, “Spiders. Ugh!” He just smiled. I am quite certain if I had known him better I would have been suspicious of that smile.

We rented inner tubes and carried them about a half mile further into the jungle to where we would tube through caves with Mayan artifacts. Suddenly Jerson stopped and picked a long piece of grass. I watched him straighten it out and asked what he was doing. He just smiled. He knelt down next to hole in the jungle floor and poked the grass into the hole. “Wait,” I said. “Does something live in there?” For an answer he said, “I hope it’s home.”

Jerson and the tarantula

I didn’t scream. You have to have air in your lungs to scream. Jerson told me today was the day for me to overcome my fear of spiders. “She tickles when she walks on you,” he said. “And she can bite, but her bite won’t kill you.” He held her out, looking genuinely pleased to be able to offer me such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to embrace my fears! I fought to stay conscious. Only when I told him I was so scared I was trying not to cry did he seem to grasp the depth of my terror and put “her” back in her hole.

I did not hold a wild tarantula in the jungles of Central America. But I took a couple of pictures of one. And I didn’t cry or pass out. So, progress was made! Even if Jerson was mildly disappointed in me.

How to relax after an intense week of classes

Tonight I came across this video and it made me laugh out loud, and smile to myself. Who doesn’t fear rejection? Here is one man who overcame that fear by embracing it. May we all do the same.

Except… not with tarantulas.