We're all afraid of something.
Updated: May 23
I'm afraid of heights. At times, I've been able overcome my fear. I once climbed a rickety and dangerous lookout tower (picture a ladder semi-attached to a very tall tree) in Guatemala. I was terrified, but I did it. And I was rewarded with a treetops view of the Mayan Ruins of Tikal that I will never forget.
At other times, I have been paralyzed by my fear of heights.
Angels Landing in Utah's Zion National Park kicked my butt. At the trailhead, there is a sign which warns hikers that seven people have died on the trail since 2004. Still, I was confident that I could do it. I made it through the strenuous ascent of seemingly endless switchbacks. When it became necessary to hold on to a chain (a moving chain!) and balance on the edge of trail with a thousand-foot drop, I persevered and kept moving forward. It wasn't until I came around a corner and caught my first sight of what's known as "the bridge," that I felt real panic. Taking the first steps out onto the bridge, I was terrified. Instead of completing the trek to the top, I spent the next hour or so sitting in the shade with my newfound chipmunk friends and listening to other people coming around the same corner, seeing "the bridge" for the first time, and uttering expletives in multiple languages. My son and husband made it to the top of Angels Landing, while I succumbed to fear and failed to accomplish what I had set out to do.
During the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been thinking a lot about fear. Fear can be a good thing. It protects us. It urges caution. Without healthy, rational fear, we probably wouldn't survive to adulthood. (We've all seen that toddler with no fear, right?!) Sometimes, though, fear becomes debilitating. It stops us in our tracks, both literally and figuratively. We can't move forward, not even one step, because we're afraid that something bad will happen. We may fail. We may get sick. We may get hurt. We may lose.
Besides bringing children into the world and trying to raise them well, the most terrifying task I've undertaken is being part of creating and sustaining The Foundry. In fact, for me, those two fears happen to be closely related. From the time our founding board began meeting until the doors opened at the school was less than four months. We developed a mission, created a schedule, wrote by-laws and policies, built a website, hired teachers, recruited applicants, held interviews, found a location, passed a budget, built an accounting system... It was a whirlwind of hard work, and we had a profound sense of urgency. I was almost too busy to feel the underlying fear I had: My son was going to be in The Foundry's first class of students. What if we failed him?
Today, I have that same fear, but it's not just for my son and daughter (who will be a Foundry freshman in August). It's for every student at The Foundry. And so, I operate with fear. The difference is that I use the fear as a motivator and don't allow it to stop me in my tracks. I am grateful to be surrounded by a profoundly courageous board of directors. We have faced some up-hill battles as a school and as a board, and not one of us has quit. We are fighters, and we are determined to succeed.
COVID-19 has presented many challenges to The Foundry, but it has also given us opportunities. This has not been an idle time for the board. We have had time to reflect on why the school began and how it has evolved over two years. We have evaluated our failures and our successes. And we've been working hard to improve and refine The Foundry, removing the proverbial impurities and focusing on what made the school so special in the first place. On any given day, you may find us meeting to clearly define the organizational structure of the school, being coached by a school growth expert, writing policies and procedures, clarifying communication standards, asking families to be frank with us about what we've done wrong and what we've done right, or developing a lasting curriculum which reflects the heart of The Foundry and prepares every student to live up to his or her full potential. As a board, we are resolute through challenges, but we are also humble. We recognize that we have not always been successful. Nevertheless, we still feel an enormous amount of pressure to succeed, and that pressure is only made greater by the fact that, as a group, we will have six of our own children enrolled at The Foundry this fall.
I am determined that my time at The Foundry will culminate in a picturesque view of Tikal and not a failed attempt at Angels Landing. I'm not going to struggle through the exhausting switchbacks and the initial scariness only to give up and hang out with the chipmunks. My gut tells me that the rest of the board feels the same way. That's just one of the reasons I see a bright future for The Foundry. If we were debilitated by our fear of failure, we wouldn't have made it this far. We are determined to learn from mistakes, refine our school, and grow together.
Thankfully, every day something happens that abates my fear and reinforces my resolve to continue. It may be a grandfather hugging me at Exhibition Night and telling me that The Foundry has changed his grandchild's life. It may be the look in a student's eyes when she's accomplished something she never thought possible. It may be watching my own son interact with students at the school, and knowing that the school culture alone makes every tuition dollar well spent. It may be parade-goer shouting, "Thank you for helping that veteran!" to the students. It may even be a stranger who hears about The Foundry and is ecstatic, because a school like this has been needed for a long time.
We all have fears. Some protect us, but some prevent us from truly living. As we move forward together, let's not allow fear to defeat us.