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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What Frightens You?

by Alton Gansky

Outside my office window, a mourning dove and her mate have set up housekeeping. We have a gate that leads to our front door. On each side of the metal gate are two four-foot high pony walls, each with a ledge ideal for the large pots we use for ornamental flowers. They look nice and provide a touch of color. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. Mourning Dove thought so to. They moved in. (No word on rent yet.) Each day I can look out my window and see a little, gray bird-head peeking over the edge of the large pot. The birds are dedicated and does the job she was created to do. Only when frighten does she fly off, but she always returns.

Just now the yard care team showed up. They do great work. We have a stellar lawn but it’s no thanks to me. Good as they are, they are a noisy lot. They run a gas weed whacker, a mower first used during the Kennedy administration, and a leaf-blower that could knock over a Volkswagen Beetle. The groundkeepers work fast and are so focused on what they’re doing they seldom notice anything else.
I worried for the mother-to-be bird in her new home of collected straw. I could do nothing but watch as the storm of noise surrounded her. She just watched. I was proud of her.

Then my wife came home with her niece. We thought it would be nice to show off our feathered-tenants. Quietly, slowly, we moved to the same area where the guy with the leaf-blower had been. 
The bird took one look at me and flew off.


There might be a reason for the sudden flight. Before I knew the birds had moved in, I watered the plants in the pot—and the bird, and the nest. Did you know a bird’s nest can float? Bird was fine. Nest was fine. I was a little worse for wear.

Often when I speak at writer’s conferences I tell the story of my greatest fear. A dream really. In my dream I am an old man, frail, thin, barely able to draw breath. A white sheet covers my body. I’m viewing my deathbed. Old me motions to come closer. I do and I listen as my dying self says, “I wish . . . I wish I had tried . . .” I die before I can finish.

Yes, that may indicate a sick mind, but it reminds me that fear can keep us from doing something worthwhile, maybe even something great. What did I wish I had tried? What kept me from trying it? What frightened me away? I’ll never know, but I got the message. Those who don’t try have a 100% chance of failure.

Mrs. Mourning Dove taught me to return to what I was meant to do, noisy mowers and a crazy, unaware man with a pitcher of water not withstanding.

One of my favorite historical characters is Teddy Roosevelt. While in Paris, France, He delivered a speech titled, “Citizenship in a Republic” (April 23, 1910):

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Getting in the arena is scary. Staying in the arena is even more frightening. We might fail. Our work might not measure up. Like weeds, critics pop up everywhere. Still there is something about being marred by dust and sweat and blood, to be valiant and to, if we fail, fail greatly.

So what frightens you from your nest? Do you know the way back to the nest?

Alton Gansky latest work, The Girl, is the number four novella in the Harbinger series and written with Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt. It releases in May 2015. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held each year in North Carolina, and the host of Writer's Talk.


  1. Excellent post, Alan. I'd say my biggest fear is wasting time when I could be doing something more productive. There are plenty of ways to earn money, plenty of ways to spend more time with my wife and kids, things that I'm missing because I'm glued to a keyboard every night. But my wife often points out that this is my dream. While I still have commitments, I should not abandon the thing I love the most, regardless of the time and possible loss of investment. I love Teddy's quote. And it's quite true. I'm surrounded by people who are happy to just live the quiet, normal life. I tried that. Bored me to death. I like it in the arena, blood and tears notwithstanding.

  2. Each time I start a new book, I experience some fear. Can I do it? I've stepped out into unknown areas, shaking with trepidation, but in the end, it's been a great experience. I say, "Go for it!"

  3. Alton, thanks so much for this encouraging post. God's perfect timing...I struggle with allowing fear to keep me from forward progression in my writing. The Roosevelt quote is one I'll keep going back to.

  4. Thanks so much for your excellent and encouraging words, Alton. I'm not sure why, but it's still surprising to me and refreshing to know that highly successful folks, like yourself, still deal with things like 'fear'. Thanks so much!

  5. Your post has convicted me. I have looked at my inability to get started through the lens of excuses, when in reality I need to take the glasses off, own up to my fears, face them, and boldly jump into the arena. I may still fail, but if I fail greatly, at least I will know I am in the arena and not on the outside wishing I was on the inside. I will post Teddy Roosevelt’s words over my computer as a reminder. Thank you, Alton, for your words of conviction and encouragement.


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