Fear and the Fifth Grade

When I was in the fifth grade, I had a feisty teacher named Mrs. Walker that we all loved to pieces. She made everything fun and active and she had an insatiable energy for getting kids excited about learning and about life. One afternoon after lunch, she put up a sheet of instructions on the overhead projector (guys – do you remember when we had projectors instead of computers?! and how if you were the one sitting next to it, it blew all that hot air on your arm? and how if you couldn’t get the problem right and had to make changes, you had to spray the windex juuuust right so you didn’t erase the whole thing?). It had a list of 30 tasks, described in detail.

She said, “Listen up – you only have 5 minutes to complete this entire sheet, and whoever finishes first wins. But make sure you read ALL the directions first. That’s important.”

I thought to myself a) “I SHALL WIN” and b) “That is way too much junk to read first! I’ll lose time. Number one – GO!”

I scribbled furiously through the tasks. Write down all the states that start with the letter M. Or Add the ages of all the members of your immediate family. Or Use the letters provided to names three different animals – THCAGFDIS. I was KILLING IT. Totally snuck peeks to my left and right to make sure I was on track to beat everyone else.

Then I arrived at Stand up and sing the National Anthem. You got it. “OH SAY CAN YOU SEEEEEEEEEEE?”, full volume without a second thought. I think Mrs. Walker let me get to the rocket’s red glare before she busted out laughing and told me to sit down. Then she read number 30 aloud, which said “If you’ve read all the way to number 30, congratulations! Do not complete any of these tasks. Put down your pencil and sit quietly to win.” At which point she rewarded a classmate and I was now embarrassed – not when I broke out into song, but when I was made the example of failure. It wasn’t meant to be a shaming experience, but then again, shame rarely follows the rules.

Why do I share this with you? Because this story is now my LIFE. That experience stayed with me for the next twenty years, and I took pains never to look a fool again. Read all the instructions, have all the answers, don’t get caught unprepared. Definitely don’t ever appear as if you don’t know something. All of which can be sound advice at times, but it can also suck all the spontaneity and gusto and chance out of life.

I simply must find a way to embrace mistakes and wrong turns and false starts, or I’ll get stuck over and over again. How is that I can apply this so successfully in my relationships except the one with myself? Why am I so incapable of giving myself grace and the permission to fall and get back up as many times as I need to? I’m reading entrepreneurial books right now and they are all telling me this same thing. NO ONE fully knows what they’re doing and there will never be enough time to gather all the answers before you start. Read, research, save, and ask lots and lots of questions – for a season. THEN, my dears, you just have to wade in and learn by doing. Because despite what you feel like your empty bank account or incomplete bucket list may tell you, failure does not exist and impossible is a big, fat lie. Because if you’re like me, you’ve found out that you’re actually in this to be brave and vulnerable and alive and full of wisdom, not to be perfect.

My sweet friend Kristyn shared some wise words with me just hours after I wrote about my recent prayer of complete, desperate surrender and the hurricane of opportunity that has blown ashore immediately following. I shared with her how frozen I felt by the fear of failing to live up to the chances so rapidly coming my way. From a beach in Mexico she wrote to encourage me not to eliminate fear, but just to choose daily, minute by minute, not to pick it up. Look at it, acknowledge it, and then pick up truth and wisdom instead. God, she reminded me, did not make us to be cowering, paralyzed creatures. He gave us brazen spirits, full of endless power and shameless love and sound, wondrous minds. Our job is to buy into that, lean into that, fall into that each morning, noon, and night, and leave fear laying spinelessly on the floor. Courage by its very nature requires fear to exist, so let’s not pray for fear to vacate our lives. Let’s pray for the power, love, and sound minds to be brazen – “bold and without shame.” Seems like 5th grade me had that down.

impossible is a lie

2 thoughts on “Fear and the Fifth Grade

  1. I am heartbroken to learn all these years later that I hurt you and created such a powerfully damaging default within you, dear Amy. Absolutely heartbroken. I am genuinely sorry. And I sincerely apologize. I hope you can try to forgive me.

    Ms. Walker


    1. It is not at all your fault! It wasn’t the situation – it was how I handled it. My insecurities got the best of me in years to come instead of sticking to my brave nature – but I came back around! Nothing but love!!


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