Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. And Do It Anyway.

By Lynn Ingram

It is January 2004. I am unemployed, single and clueless about what to do, where to go and how I’m going to live the rest of my life.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. And Do It Anyway.

Six months ago, I sold the stock, the shelving, the cash register, the doormat and everything else that would scrounge up a nickel, from a gourmet food and wine business I had started in 1999 and ran, more or less successfully and mostly alone, for three and a half years. I closed it because it was driving me crazy and I was turning into a first-class bitch and I didn’t like her very much. People asked me what I was going to do next and I had no answer, except this: I’m getting rid of things I know I don’t want anymore, like this business and a too-big showplace of a house that has never felt like home to me, and I’m hoping that clearing out some of what I don’t want will make it easier for me to see what I do want.

I am afraid.

And, not discounting a handful of friends more wonderful than I deserve (but who I have no intention of giving back despite that fact), I am alone. In my life, there is no husband, no children, no parents, no siblings, no somewhere or someone to run to who has to take me in and knit me back together in one piece. Robert Frost said that home is that place, where when you go there, they have to take you in. I’d go there if I knew where it was. I don’t. The best I can tell, home is where I make it, and right now, I figure I might as well try to make it where I sit in a house I bought five years ago, on a little island in southeastern North Carolina, with a house payment that I have no idea how I’m going to make for the next 25 years.

I think about some of the things that once interested me, things I thought I might one day want to be. At 18, freshly deposited at a good girls’ college, I declared no major but wrote down two paths I thought I might pursue – psychology and music. And then I did neither. I took the safe route, collected a degree in education and a teacher’s certificate, taught for a year, figured there had to be a better way, and have been looking for it ever since.

I’m still looking. And I still am interested in those same two things.

So I drive to Wilmington, figuring I can find the University of North Carolina campus there when I get that far, and that I can find both the psychology department and the music department and ask some questions and see if maybe I can pick up those nearly 30-year-old dreams now.

And, now I am past scared. I am terrified. I am 48 years old, I have not set foot on a college campus in 20 years, since I took some education recertification courses, and I have no idea where to go, who to see or what to ask.

But here’s the thing: I have to put one foot in front of the other and figure it out, and the only person who can do that for me, is me. And so I do it.

There’s no one in the music department for me to talk to, so I find the psychology building, where the chairman is a very wise man who talks to me as if he’s been sitting there all day long just waiting for me to show up. I tell him about my old dreams, and he tells me this: Choose one. And I do. I choose psychology. And he tells me I will need some undergraduate courses before I can get into graduate school, and I ask when registration is, and he tells me that’s done online. Online? You’ve got to be kidding. I know how to send e-mails, and that’s about the extent of my knowledge about what a person can do online. He takes me to a sweet secretary named Peggy and asks her to help me. She does. And I walk out of the building, registered for two psychology courses where I am fairly sure my classmates will be young enough to be my children, and I wonder, what in the hell have I done?

Fast forward now, four and a half years later. What I did was this: I took the 21 hours of psychology courses I needed to make me eligible for graduate school, and I loved what I was learning so much that I wanted some more, so I kept taking classes, and in July 2005, exactly 30 years after I earned my first bachelor’s degree, I earned a second one, cum laude, in psychology. And one month later, I entered graduate school, in pursuit of a master’s degree. And now, six semesters later, I have completed every single course required for that degree, and I made an A in every one of them. (OK, in the interest of total honesty, two of those grades were A minuses, but hey, they’re still A’s, aren’t they?)

I don’t have that master’s degree yet, but I’m going to get it. I’m doing a practicum right now, getting some on-the-job experience in what it’s like to be a practicing therapist. I have proposed a study that I still need to actually run, in essence, an experiment that I designed to try to answer a question about a small piece of human behavior, and I will carry that out, analyze the results, write a thesis and defend my findings before a committee of three people with Ph.D.s. And then I will do a six month internship, more practical experience, more intense than this practicum, and I will take comprehensive examinations, which everyone tells me are the hardest exams I will ever take in my life. And I will pass them, maybe not on the first try, but surely on the second.

And probably around December of 2009, I will walk across a stage at UNCW, and my mentor will drape a master’s hood over my shoulders, and I will frame a diploma that bears my name and attests to the fact that I have completed a program in clinical psychology.

And I will take state and national licensing examinations, and I will be a psychologist.

And I will be 54 years old when that happens.

And I will still be scared, and I will know that scared is not a good enough reason not to do anything.

Because I have learned a lot in the past four and a half years. I have learned that I have been scared all my life, and although sometimes it has been one step forward and two steps backward, I keep putting one foot in front of the other one while I am right in the middle of being scared. I have learned that most of us are scared, of one thing or another, and that we can own that fear, acknowledge and live with it, and keep sticking that foot out there, going forward, one step, one day at the time.

If I can do it, so can you. We all can. Be afraid. No problem. Just keep moving forward, toward your dreams, into your life.

About this writer

  • Lynn Ingram Lynn Ingram would rather dance than eat three times a day – unless it’s steamed oysters that are being served. Lynn works as a clinical psychologist and part-time instructor in the psychology department at UNCW. Either or both of those jobs might account for why she recently tried to change the TV channel with her cell phone instead of the remote.

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6 Responses to “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. And Do It Anyway.”

  1. Debbie Fox says:

    Thanks for sharing what so many of us fear–following our dreams. Visualization begins, courage slithers in, action takes over, and before you know it, you have achieved what you once dreamed. Congratulations. You go girl!

  2. Jerri Ward says:

    I am a little late in finding this, but glad that I did. I like what I have read of your writing. I see that you are now a Practicing Psychologist. Congratulations! I hope you will continue writing as well…

  3. Jerri Ward says:

    I just read “All I Need to Know of Heaven”. Tomato sandwiches are to die for. My dad gave me the first one he grew this summer. I can still smell it, white bread mayonnaise and all. I never knew anyone could love them as much as I do. Nina is blessed to have a friend who will share them with her…

  4. Pat Scimberg says:

    I read Lynn Ingram’s article – Be Afraid, Very Afraid..

    Lynn you have a gift for writing. You will do well in all things you attempt. Congratualtions! We love you.

  5. Melissa Cartun says:

    You need to write more Lynn. Maybe just something short and weekly.

  6. I found this essay ten years after it was written, I guess, but it’s wearing well. I love it. – B

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