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How taking a giant leap out of your comfort zone can help you overcome fear

May 17, 2018

 

Do you ever wish you could mentally reboot? By doing something way outside your comfort zone and perhaps facing some long held fears, I think you can.

To test this theory, I wrote an extensive list of things that terrified me and waited for something to cross my path which might help me face them.

Almost immediately it arrived. 

I was invited to go and visit Childsi Foundation in Uganda, a charity for abandoned babies. My mission was to help train their media team for a week in finding new ways to trace relatives and recruit suitable families who can take the kids back into Ugandan society.

 

In return, I could address some of the items on my list, including a tendency to cry in public, other people's babies in general, being a terrible car passenger and mosquitos. All could be checked off with this single trip. 

To live with volunteers, not in some swanky hotel, was all part of the deal. If the prospect was angst making, the reality was wonderful.

To be clear, it was more selfish than selfless and not about seeking any credit for trying to Save The World.

On arrival at Entebbe airport (with the founder of Childsi), we were met by our taxi man John. And so began a driving experience best described as Mad Max meets Scrapyard Challenge. 

There are no rules whatsoever. No manners, no mercy. No tarmac even, just red dust pitted with gaping craters, flanked by bottomless ditches on either side of the ‘street’.

The ‘cabs’ are mopeds called Boda Bodas, which carry up to three passengers. The helmet-free riders weave and dart in between lorries and trucks, oblivious to the lack of street and vehicle lights. 

As a pedestrian, you have two choices. To walk facing oncoming traffic and see your death approaching, or to cross over and let it be a surprise.

It was 1.30am. We had driven barely any distance through Kampala City when John spotted an eight-year-old boy walking alone and barefoot. Young William said that his father had sent him out to pick up some money from a man in a bar a few miles away. 

We took him on board and diverted to a police station where, faced with leaving him in a cell, we got permission to house him for the night at the children's home. 

En route, we stopped at a local market -- which buzzed 24/7 and resembled a UK market after suffering a major explosion -- in order to pick up a hot meal for him.

Having delivered William to the carers, I eventually arrived at my shared quarters at 3am. The church next door was still banging out loud songs to enthusiastic but deafening drumming.

Welcome to Uganda.

After an interrupted, paranoid sleep through fear of being bitten by insects, day one began. This involved firstly a tour of the offices and witnessing the loving care lavished on the young kids by the nursing staff. Then on to a full briefing by the learning and development, social worker and media teams.

On day two, it was off into some isolated villages far outside the city, with the professional social workers who monitor some of the newly reunited or adopting families.

Taking our shoes off before entering, I was astounded by how little they had, not even running water or electricity in some cases. Mostly they lived in one-roomed dwellings with just a dividing curtain to define the sleeping quarters.

The first home we came to sheltered three sets of twins, but sadly their mother had passed away, so the auntie was bringing up the six children alone. Surprisingly, she was far from desperate, but a cheerful, optimistic and joyous person. The Ugandan communities are usually very close knit, helping each other, sharing a life which is both hard and intimate.

Next it was off to assess a single 16-year-old mother’s plight. There she sat, clutching her tiny, premature daughter in her arms, in a bare concrete garage no more than five feet wide, without either windows or ventilation. Bereft and fearful, she gratefully took the carers advice, practical support, free baby milk and the donated clothing.

And so the stories went on. Every experience, every situation so far removed from my own sheltered and cosseted existence of 57 years.

I sat, listened and took it all in, keeping uncharacteristically silent. There were no tears, or pity on my part.

The country is mad, wonderful, intoxicating and chaotic in equal measure. Full of resilient people who would probably soar if relocated as adults to almost any western country.

It is far from perfect, but I will return because it is an addictive place, and I now want to pay something back. Simply writing a cheque to distant causes is of course valuable, but is not the only way.

So thank you to the Childsi Foundation and to its founder Lucy Buck for a glimpse of life outside my own head.

Whatever your fears may be, I can heartily recommend that identifying and listing your own, then creating a bespoke version of my experience could be highly beneficial. It is a way of helping make more sense of those fears and much more besides, once resettled back into familiar territory. 

After all, sometimes we deserve a little time off from ourselves.

You can find out more about the Chilsi Foundation here

Jonathan Durden was a panelist at Bloom's Achieving Your Potential event on Ageism in Adland on 24 April. He is the co-founder of Below the Belt grooming. Previously, he was a co-founder of PHD Media. Find out more @jdurdenbtb

 

This article was originally published on Ask Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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