Questions and Topics for Discussion
Patty Chang Anker grew up eager to please and afraid to fail. But after thirty-nine years, she decided it was time to stop being a chicken. Motivated initially to become a better role model for her two young daughters, she vowed to face the fears that had taken root like weeds, choking the fun and spontaneity out of life. She learned to dive into a swimming pool, ride a bike, do a handstand, and surf. As she shared her experiences, she discovered that most people suffer from their own secret terrors-of driving, flying, heights, public speaking, and more. It became her mission to help others do what they thought they couldn’t, and to feel for themselves the powerful sense of being alive that is the true reward of becoming brave.
Inspired and inspiring, Some Nerve draws on Anker’s interviews with teachers, therapists, coaches, and clergy to impart both practical advice and profound wisdom. Through her own journey and the stories of dozens of others who have triumphed over common fears, she conveys with humor and infectious exhilaration the most vital lesson of all: Fear isn’t an end point, but the point of entry to a life of incomparable joy.
FEARS INCLUDE: Aging, Becoming Boring, Biking, Breaking bones, Bullies, Chaos, Clutter, Cold, Control (loss of), Crime, Death, Driving, Exercise, Failure, Flying, Heights, Letting go, Looking dumb, Math, Nature (esp. sharks), P.E., Pleasure, Public Speaking, Public toilets, Rejection, Roller coasters, Success, Surfing, Tubing, Unemployment, Unknown, Water, Writing. And Wedgies.ABOUT PATTY CHANG ANKER
Patty Chang Anker is the author of Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave (Riverhead 2013), a memoir about facing her fears and helping others to do the same. She is the blogger behind Facing Forty Upside Down, for which she was named a Good Housekeeping Blogger We Love and a Top 25 Funny Mom at Circle of Moms. She writes the “Some Nerve” blog at PsychologyToday.com and her work has also appeared in magazines and websites from Marie Claire to iVillage. When she’s not facing her fears she can be found teaching yoga, publicizing other people’s work, or chasing her daughters across Westchester County.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSAt the beginning of Some Nerve, Patty Chang Anker describes her “comfort zone” as “less a zone and more a skittish zigzag”. What does your comfort zone look like right now? How has its shape evolved over time, and how has fear played a role in its evolution?
Regardless of where their respective limits came from (genes, upbringing, fatigue, trauma), people profiled throughout Some Nerve are able to use different techniques to quiet their fears and expand their lives. What shape would you like your comfort zone to take in the future? How will you get there?Patty describes her imaginary “Greek Chorus of Perpetual Doubt” as the cautionary voices in her head (which sound remarkably like her Chinese mother) that warn her things will not turn out well. Where do the cautionary voices in your head come from? Are they helping you to live a full life? What would you say to these voices in order to cultivate courage instead of fear and doubt?
Inspiration: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” -Lucius Annaeus SenecaChapter 1, “The Unexpected: Boogie Boarding,” presents two kinds of unexpected events: (1), when people do unexpected things (Patty agrees to go to the beach with a new acquaintance), and (2), when unexpected things happen that we can’t control (a wave breaks her foot). When life has turned you (or you’ve turned yourself) upside down, how do you feel? What doors open or close as a result?
In Chapter 2, “Letting Go: Clutter,” Patty discovers her clutter problem is actually a fear of letting go: of sentimental attachments, of past accomplishments, of good intentions (“I’ll finish that/fix that one day”). Neatniks, on the other hand, may fear letting go of control, and put outsize efforts into organizing their environment as a way to feel in charge.
How are your emotional relationships to your belongings and surroundings helping you or hindering you? Do you have a fear of letting go? What do you think that fear protecting you from? What would happen if you let go?
“Love things that love you back.” -Mary Carlomagno, OrderIn Chapter 3, “In Too Deep: Water,” people of all ages try different ways to overcome their instinctive fear of swimming. These include everything from acclimating either slowly to water (Ruby practices blowing bubbles in a warm bathtub), or quickly (Robin goes to the pool with a friend and counts, “1-2-3. . . Put your face in the water!”) to learning techniques for reducing anxiety before even getting into the pool (Anjali learns to exhale slowly with her mouth closed). What do these examples say about our instinctive fears? What fears do you have that feel inherent and unchangeable but could possibly be overcome?
“If you say I can’t, then you won’t. Let’s say, I’ll try.” – Jennifer Paolicelli, Aquabilities with JenniferIn Chapter 4, “Being Heard: Public Speaking,” Patty ties the fear of public speaking to the fear of failure-for many high-achieving people the idea of failure is worse than death. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapist John Viterito suggests challenging this assumption with “Is it really the end of the world if I fail?” to reduce the fear, whereas Acceptance and Commitment Therapist Joseph Rhinewine says we would be better off accepting the uncomfortable sensations of fear and committing to do what matters to us, anyway. How do these two approaches resonate with you?
What suggestions given by Patty, Rick Frishman, and Toastmasters can you implement to calm your nerves and enjoy the next time you stand up to speak to a group?
“People know that you’re just human and that $%^ happens.” -Rick FrishmanIn Chapter 5, “Growing Up: Biking,” Patty takes an adult beginner bike lesson. What do the participants in the class gain by learning to bike as adults? In teaching her daughter, Gigi, to ride, Patty turns first to a bike instructor and then to her daughter’s occupational therapist for help. What techniques for motivating children work the best? Which ones could we apply in our own lives?
“Every wobble does not equal a crash. Think of a wobble as a chance to get balanced again.” -Megan, yoginiA recurring theme of Some Nerve is that people fall back on “old stories” when trying to explain their fears. For Carmen, in Chapter 6 “Control: Driving,” her old story was that she was once the driver in a terrible car accident, and therefore must be a bad driver and should no longer drive. Lynn, conversely, was also the driver in a previous car accident, but her story was that she should become a driving instructor and teach people to drive safely. What does Carmen learn from Lynn about the power of her own storytelling? What stories do you tell that could be rewritten?
“The old story saves you from facing the truth.” -Lynn Fuchs, A Woman’s Way Driving SchoolChapter 7, “Stoke and Pleasure: Surfing,” begins with Patty following Patrick in order to figure out what makes thrill-seekers tick. Are they fundamentally different from anxious people, or was there hope for Patty to become more of a thrill-seeker herself? What does Patty learn by doing something a little “loco in the coco”? How could your life expand by letting a little more spontaneity in, by keeping “your stoke up” as Patrick would say?
“In the space between waves. . . we have choices. To jump, to dive, to ride, to play. To face what’s coming without running away.” -Patty Chang AnkerIn Chapter 8, “The Unknown: Death,” we hear from survivors of several near-death experiences: Isabelle (illness), Josh (lost at sea), Barry (airplane emergency landing). How do their brushes with death affect their lives going forward? We also hear from a priest, a rabbi, and a swami, and although their belief systems differ, their counsel reflects similar themes. Which of their teachings resonate with you?
“Whether we fear pain and suffering or not, pain and suffering come to everyone. . . .Why not just keep our mind focused on where we want to go?” -Radhanath SwamiChapter 9, “Falling: Heights,” contrasts a class of eighth-graders and a group of adults on a high-ropes course. How are their experiences similar or different? The chapter quotes Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “The entire world is a very narrow bridge”. How are ropes courses a metaphor for life’s challenges? How do the lessons learned up high apply or become transformed when you’re back on the ground?
“You’re never going to find perfect balance. Just clap.” -“Joe,” Green Chimneys Clearpool campus ropes guide.