The Canoe of Fear

In this episode JJ shares a story of how a canoe trip gave him one of the scariest moments of his life. Melissa and JJ discuss ways the body reacts to fear and how self awareness plays a role in conquering these feelings.

August 18, 2020
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Melissa Albers  00:00
Hey everyone, you are listening to the self awareness journey podcast. This little banter is about a car ride long and features your hosts JJ Parker. And Melissa Albert's JJ owns a tech company. And Melissa has been a coach working with influencers for the last 18 years. Hello.

JJ Parker  00:19
Good morning. So today, I wanted to share a story about the time I had the most fear. The biggest fear reaction in my life. I was like, oh, and a way to start a podcast, right?

Melissa Albers  00:34
Yeah, exactly. While you're still here, so it must have turned out okay. Yeah.

JJ Parker  00:40
So, a few years ago, my son and I went up to the Boundary Waters and the Boundary Waters canoe camping area in northern Minnesota. And it's giant right so for, for people listening, who never heard of the Boundary Waters, it's there's a whole Han of lakes, they're connected by little port edges, which is where you have to carry your canoe and your packs between the legs.

Melissa Albers  01:08
Yeah, it's very remote.

JJ Parker  01:11
very remote. Yep, you get up there and you are completely in the wilderness. And, you know, even if you wanted to get out, it would take you sometimes, you know, most of the day or a couple of days to even get out. Right. So Iseman sounds like that.

Melissa Albers  01:30
That's, that's a thing

JJ Parker  01:33
in the woods for a few days. So, my son and I went up there. And we, you know, we canoed in and we're pretty far in there, and we set up camp and smelly

Melissa Albers  01:49
old was your son at this time. He

JJ Parker  01:51
he was 13. Okay, so, so big enough to carry some packs.

Melissa Albers  01:59
I would bring My children. Okay.

JJ Parker  02:03
So we're we set up camp and we ate and. And that night he he said that he wanted, he wanted to see the stars because you know, we could see the stars, but at Camp it's through the trees, right? He's but he said, Hey, I really want to go see the stars. So we thought, hey, let's let's go see the stars from the canoe on the lake. right because in our view, we'll be unobstructed, right. Yeah. And it'll be beautiful. Well, so we set our alarm and we got up at 1am and we walked down to the shore. Wow. And we got in our canoe. And we pushed off into the absolutely still like, Yeah, right. Yeah, there's no wind. There's no noise. There's no light pollution, you know, just the black dead nil. Still in mess, right? Yeah. And they The thing about this night was the moon wasn't out. Oh, so right. So they're caught. You know, there's depending on the cycle of the moon and where everything is some times the moon's not out, and it was really dark. It was like absolute really dark, you know? And we pushed out and I looked up, and there was a million stars. It was striking how many stars I was, uh, you know, Pete, you don't realize in if you live anywhere near a city, it's night you see a couple of stars. Yeah, but out there. It's it's amazing how many stars there are. And I looked down, and there was a million stars. All reflecting off of that lake. Oh, right. Mm hmm. And I looked, you know, I guess horizontally. I look out. I look back from where we came. Yeah. attic. I couldn't See the shark? So I and I couldn't see the shark and right there, just the peak of fear. Yeah, just not anxious like, Oh no, where's the shark? This was the most visceral fear I've ever felt in my life. Like I can't see the shore. We are out in the middle of this giant lake. There is no light. I can't tell up and down. I was getting vertigo I thought and, and I and I couldn't see how that shoreline and I freaking out.

Melissa Albers  04:37
Yeah, because the mind takes over at that moment, doesn't it? Like, just started to tell the story? I was already picturing sea monsters.

JJ Parker  04:46
Right. Oh, right.

Melissa Albers  04:49
The mind takes over and in area.

JJ Parker  04:51
Oh, yeah. This this innocent attempt to look at stars. I just killed my son, my son I thought like I was going crazy.

Melissa Albers  05:01
Oh, that's so stem gear that is scary.

JJ Parker  05:05
Really scary. And then I don't know how long it was. Could have been two minutes. Could have been two seconds. Yeah. I remembered that we had a really high powered flashlight. So we brought our flashlight. And so I was able to take that flashlight and scan in a circle around the canoe until I could see the shore again. Wow. And as soon as I locked onto that shore, I just held the flashlight on that's on the shore and we paddled straight back for it because I could not handle. Yeah, you know, there without seeing that shoreline. Yeah, do it. That was a thing I needed to have when I was out in the canoe and I didn't realize it.

Melissa Albers  05:51
Yeah. I I really liked this story and and you know, for our listeners, JJ and I try to have sort of a Global idea of what we want to talk about, but we don't tell each other What we want to talk about in depth or tell each other the story. So, but I really appreciate the story. Because it's such a good metaphor for how we are with ourselves.

JJ Parker  06:19
Yeah, that's when, when I was reflecting on that, you know, not being able to see the shore, right. I like this idea that when we're learning about ourselves, whenever maybe exploring what triggers us, you know, often times that's things from our past. Mm hmm. Right. It kind of feels like we're out in that boat. Yeah, right away from shore. Yeah. Yeah. In the dark times we in the dark. Yeah. And it's scary. And of course, it's scary. It's gonna be scary.

Melissa Albers  06:53
Yeah. Well, well, well, I have sort of a contract. idea to that, like, in the self awareness journey, I've been with a multitude of people now who have started the journey and are quite a bit through it. And there seems to be this real strong expectation like for everybody that going deep or going into the dark places, ourselves is going to be terrifying. We that's what everybody seems to think at the beginning of this journey. And that terrifying is exactly as you described, it's straight up confusion. I can't tell which end is up. I'm afraid I don't, I can't see it feels so dark and scary. And I have all these memories or I have all of these feelings that I have been pushing away because it's too scary. And it may not even be from past traumas. It may just be Be self expectation that has not gone as planned. And when we set ourselves up with an expectation, we're setting ourselves up also for a resentment of it not working. And then that feels yucky. So we just put that feeling away because who wants to feel like a failure? Who wants to feel bad? And so we get in this cycle we get in this cycle of don't leave the shore, because it's dark, and Inky, black. Yeah, and little bits of light might shine through. But there's no guiding post, right? And the guiding post, yeah. Traditionally has been therapy. If you've repressed your feelings, or if you've made yourself feel so bad, or if you feel so bad in your life that you don't want to address why. You know, typically what what would your friends or your family say, Oh, you should go see somebody.

JJ Parker  08:58
You gotta go talk to somebody. Buddy, right? We'll

Melissa Albers  09:00
talk to somebody you got to go talk. But the truth of the matter is, is that sometimes that just doesn't work. It makes you feel worse. And so somehow we have lost our own GPS to feeling safe in ourselves to enter into the experiment of, well, if we got to know ourselves a little more, what? What would that look like? I was, I was in a coaching session yesterday. And it's a person I've been working with for about just under six months, they began the self awareness journey, from a place of really extreme on happiness, constant self evaluation, and this person is a rock star, but just never trusted themselves to be that like everybody else saw this great leader. young leader. And this person did not see that they felt that they were not good enough that they had the this person's particular issue was they felt they always had to be whatever the other person wanted them to be. If they constantly modified themselves, oh, this person wants me to be like this. So I'm going to be that.

JJ Parker  10:21
And then that's a really hard way to live. Oh, man, and then our way to be,

Melissa Albers  10:26
yeah, and years and years of experience. So when we start talking about this, doing the self awareness journey, it was like, Oh, no, nope. I'm already in a state of being really nervous and uncomfortable. I don't want to go in the canoe. Because there's gonna be a Loch Ness Monster in a way. And the reason I tell this story is because yesterday in the conversation they said Just a passing comment. Well, I've been feeling so good for the last two weeks. I can't even remember a day in the last two weeks where I felt like I used to feel. And now I only want to make decisions that keep me feeling like this. And they just glossed over that, as though that wasn't a major breakthrough. But to hear a person say, I was afraid of who I was, I couldn't be myself. And a few short months later, I now have gone into that canoe. It wasn't scary. As a matter of fact, the moon came out, and it was so bright, I saw everything. And the stuff that I saw was really cool. And I'm really deeply satisfied with who I am.

JJ Parker  11:46
That's awesome.

Melissa Albers  11:47
It's shocking. It's shocking how fast that happened. Mm hmm. With just a little different focus point. Yeah, you know, and just a plus. Want to and then I'll stop talking for a couple minutes. But the other thing that was super interesting is this person had also been going to therapy. And midway through this process made the decision that they didn't need the therapy. And I'm always I am not a professional in that way. I am not advocating if someone should have therapy, not have therapy, be on medication, not be on medication. But I simply say this example, this person said that therapy was actually making it harder for me.

JJ Parker  12:29
Hmm. Why do you think that is? Because that maybe that method for her at least, was just ramping up the fear and the anxiety? Yeah, revisiting these things? Yeah, no, I think we all I think we've all heard, you know, you know, this idea that like, hey, if you've got past trauma, you know, you need to confront it. You need to dive into it. You need to, you know, and I don't know I don't know, you know, again, you and I are aren't professionals. And in that way, so we're not gonna Yeah, advocate one

Melissa Albers  13:07
way but yeah, exactly.

JJ Parker  13:09
But really the question is as, as we think, as each individual thinks about themselves and what those past memories are, you know, does diving into that stuff actually serve them? Yeah. Right. Yeah. You know, and no, don't don't feel like external pressure like, Hey, no, yo, you've had past trauma. You should and have to go attack it and dive into it and confront it head on, like, not that you need to be part of who you are. But yeah, you know, maybe you don't need to. Yeah, maybe there's a different way. Right.

Melissa Albers  13:47
Right. And I I was just gonna say that exact thing. I think there's a different way. I think there's a different way and I've seen this way work many many many times over the last few years and it worked for me. Like if it worked for me, there were times in my life where I felt so insignificant and not good enough. And, like, deeply felt that way. And what what showed up on the outside was that anytime anyone would even try to give me feedback or be, you know, even if they were trying to be helpful for me, I took it as a, an attack. Mm hmm. And I would, I would feel so defensive. Like I just almost wanted to, like, cover my head up with my arms, like, because I was so raw, are so sensitive because of my own feelings, that any, any pressure on the outside would just be like enough to make me just want to, you know, like, I can't I can't do this. I can't I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to talk about it. Like that used to be my famous line. I don't I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it. I would push it away. I would push my feelings away. Because I was so uncomfortable with them and for the first time In my life when I started doing this, it was scary. Like it was very scary because I thought everything was going to change. I thought if I'm not the way I am now, none of my if I change, nothing's going to work. Like, I'll change but then everybody that I love right now won't love me back or it won't work anymore. Like, none of this will work, my relationships will be compromised. What if people see me differently? What if I mean I just want people to really like me, I want people to love me and and this is this is what I realized. I realized that my need to make other people like me was because there were parts of me I didn't like

JJ Parker  15:50

Melissa Albers  15:51
So I felt like if I can just if other people can like me enough, it won't matter if other people can like me and It won't matter that I don't really like myself. And, and I'm just smiling now, which you can't see. But I'm smiling now. Because here's the interesting part of this journey. What I uncovered, I actually really liked. And I, the more I like myself, the less I worried about if other people liked me. Mm hmm. And here's the funny part, though, is that the less you worry if other people like you, the more people like you and you don't care anymore, I mean, you know,

JJ Parker  16:37
irony, the irony of the whole thing life is irony, right?

Melissa Albers  16:43
Yeah, yeah. I think sometimes hopping in that canoe and floating out to the middle of the middle of a dark, inky black lake has the metaphors of like a very scary experience and yet You got back to the shore fine.

JJ Parker  17:02
Yeah. But I was I wanted to ask you about, you know, when we talked about the self awareness journey. We talked about, you know, being our authentic self and being our act yourself. And, you know, one of the triggers that pushes us off balance out of our centered state is fear. Yeah, right. And, yeah, you know, in, in my story, luckily, I had that flashlight, which was able to get me back to that centered state. Yeah, but when we're in our heads, yeah. And we got that fear going. What, what tips or tricks or or self check ins would you think, you know, think about to get us to get that flashlight back to the shore?

Melissa Albers  17:54
I think like you're really right like the fear factor. You know, and I always say there's two sponsoring feelings to absolutely everything that humans have. And it's either love or fear. And I think that the two most common fears are, I'm not enough. Or I don't have enough. I think those are the two most driving fears and like, even if you could even take take it back to the story that you just gave, like, your your story was, I was in the middle of nowhere, and I wasn't equipped to get myself back. I didn't have enough. I didn't have enough light. I didn't have enough GPS, I didn't have enough. And I really think that getting behind and I always say this, what's behind that feeling. So usually, that's our reactive state. And then we spend all of our time focusing on reaction, oh, I felt like this and next time this happens, I'm going to do this. So I don't feel that way. Like we focus on the external secondary part, which is the reaction And I think that the first part of this journey is looking at ourselves actually through the lens of objectivity and observation, instead of emotion and judgment. I honestly think that that's the key to everything is if you can create some objectivity, there's so much space for you to move around in that, you know, like, like, what if you had gotten out in the middle of that lake, and all of a sudden you had this fear? And instead of it completely consuming you, and causing almost a panic attack?

JJ Parker  19:38
Yeah. And it literally, you know, I felt I could have, I felt I was probably close enough to such a panic that we would have tipped the canoe and that would have been a very dangerous place to be.

Melissa Albers  19:49
So like, and that's so real. That's so real for people out I mean, how many other panic attacks can we explain, explain or experience or heard about people having where the reaction becomes. You almost want to call it rational.

JJ Parker  20:07
Yeah. And it becomes worse than the situation you're actually in.

Melissa Albers  20:11
Exactly. So like going back to Yes, it's precisely right. So like, but what if you could say, if you could create a little space? Mm hmm. And say what's behind this? So like in that story, like, even in that story, what's behind this? Are you kidding me? It's pitch black. I'm on a lake. I've never been on a lake in the pitch black. Okay, so what you're experiencing is something that you've never experienced before.

JJ Parker  20:38
Right? And if I could have checked in with that emotion, and gotten, like, you said, Did you say you said, Get some space or gap between right? And for me, uh, we, we hear that word a lot. You know, when we talk about meditation and things like that, right? Yeah, but it but it is really Whether you want to be in a meditation or not just the idea that your body is going to have a physical reaction to all sorts of things at first, and if you can develop that just even a moment or two, you know, I don't even want to say a whole second, but sometimes even just us a split second of time between that emotion and the reaction, but your mental reaction to it. Yeah, be really valuable.

Melissa Albers  21:31
Because it really helpful. Yeah, because it gives you an opportunity to create objectivity. So like, for example, like, okay, in that moment, you got away from shore. And it was terrifying. And you probably felt this burden of responsibility because you also had one of your children with you. You are in an area have never been before. And you are in a situation you've never done before. And this notion that we're not going to get out of this and yet If you sat for a minute and went, huh, wow, I feel scared. Like I feel really scared right now. But let me just let me just, that's really interesting. Like, there's obvious reasons. Like, if I look around, there's obvious reasons why I'm scared, but am I okay? Like, isn't that interesting? I'm having such a strong reaction. Like, isn't that interesting? It just gives enough space for you to say, Okay, well, at least How about if I give the positive equal time? Yeah, because we don't. The minute we get scared, we start creating all sorts of big, hairy, scary stories.

JJ Parker  22:35
That's true.

Melissa Albers  22:36
What happens if you were to say, well, just a second. I know we got here. Right? We got here.

JJ Parker  22:44
We didn't push off at Harvard, probably like eight feet. I was painting a picture that we were like 200 yards out in the middle of a gigantic, you know, we're literally gonna walk back.

Melissa Albers  23:02
But in that moment, though, you didn't feel like that, you know, it's like in the moment you didn't give the positive equal time because Heck no, you're not going to you're terrified. You know, it's so and you're going to swamp the canoe, but you had said how still have a night it was, you know,

JJ Parker  23:17
so no. You know, the fact is, is that the safest thing in that situation was to just sit there calmly. Yeah, right. doesn't move in. We weren't moving.

Melissa Albers  23:31
Yeah, that's the case with most things if we are and we realize, wait a minute now. Wait a minute. I am feeling really freaked out right now. But I find that what does this just

JJ Parker  23:44
call my way? Yeah, emotion, you know?

Melissa Albers  23:48
Yeah. Yeah. And and completely go away. Like, I mean, it might not you might still be scared. But when you have that initial body reaction and it puts you into that fight, Or flight. And then your brain responds with Heck yes, your right body. Let's get out of here. Like it's a Scooby Doo moment. Whereas sometimes, like, if your body has that quick fight or flight, then your brain can go. Hmm, isn't that interesting? Is that true?

JJ Parker  24:16
The The other thing I've noticed with especially uh, uh, whenever I have a strong physical reaction I you know, the chemicals in your body like a create that reaction and they don't just instantly go away. No, right now, the other night I had a dream, you know that. I don't know. I had a dream. I was getting like run over by a car or something right? Like, but it was I was I was like, I woke up and I remember laying there feeling. You know, all that adrenaline and all that chemicals just through my whole body and i and i just i remember How long it took more that actually come down? I just I really purposely laid there feeling that Yeah, of course through my body and then fade a while but it probably took a couple of minutes, right? Oh, yeah. When you think about those reactions, we've got to realize that, that those those physical reactions are with us for for minutes or maybe hours after that event. It's not like we can just turn that off. Right, we can recognize that that's part of the way our body reacts,

Melissa Albers  25:36
right. And in the module with the self awareness journey, the teaching module around feelings, we really go into that a lot. The body chemistry, the body feelings of what happens when something emotional when you have an emotional response, you know, and something external happens in which you have an emotional response. I remember one time I was driving I was I was in my 20s and a car pulled out Right in front of my car, and I slammed on the brakes so hard that everything that was in the back of my car came to the front of my car. And you know, when you're 20, you pretty much live out of your car. So there was weird stuff there. I remember having a metal taste in my mouth. And I had read in books where people would talk about fear and get it in their mouth. And I remember thinking, well, that's like the weirdest thing. I've read this in several books. And I've never heard of that before for real. And in that moment, I had the exact same reaction. So yeah, the body responds in all sorts of really meaningful and wonderful ways, actually, because it's telling how we feel.

JJ Parker  26:42
And the thing I think is so interesting is that, you know, we're using these examples that, you know, and I think it's really easy for everyone to relate to these examples that are physical things that happen, right, right. Yeah. Those same reactions happen with all sorts of just mental things. Right? Yeah. that aren't so obviously, you know, physically threatening but there's our environment is filled with lots of triggers that we take as you know, whether consciously or not take as threatening or, or an induced fear and, and when we react the same way, you know, there's no body's not filtering these things it just it's like a fear. Here's a response. Wow.

Melissa Albers  27:23
Yeah, you're going around the grocery store around the corner with your cart a little too fast and somebody's doing the same thing. And you bang into each other. You have the same sort of oh my gosh, yeah. Well, this has been such an interesting conversation. Thanks for time. I didn't realize

JJ Parker  27:39
my little news story had so many parallels into awareness.

Melissa Albers  27:47
So my only thing is headlamp next time headlamps so

JJ Parker  27:50
we're going up there this summer again, and I'm really not sure if it stars or not, but we'll we'll see when we get up there.

Melissa Albers  27:59
Sounds off. Some

Discussed in this episode

Let's get real

Meet your guides

JJ Parker

JJ Parker is a serial entrepreneur passionate about building creative strategy, efficient operations, and unique marketing perspectives. Parker got his start as a student at The Minneapolis Institute of Art, and soon after launched his first company Tightrope Media Systems (TRMS) with a high school buddy in 1997.

Melissa Albers

Melissa is passionate about developing people’s self-awareness and ability to positively interact with others. She focuses on the importance of building influence, and highlights the most important relationship we have is with self first. Ms. Albers speaks on leadership and self-awareness, and has shared the stage with John Maxwell (Leadership Author and Speaker), Lee Cockerell (Exec VP of Disney) and Les Brown (Motivational Speaker) to name a few.

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