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  • Writer's pictureKara Lea

The Fear Gap

I’ve never been a big fan of the ocean. It’s big and terrifying and I grew up in landlocked Colorado. Water was for fishing, not swimming.

On March 11th, 2011, I was 9 months pregnant and living in northern Japan. I was walking down the stairs when a semi slammed into our townhouse. “Wait? How could a semi have hit us that hard?” I soon realized the pounding and roaring was actually the sound of a massive earthquake. I held onto a locked doorframe and watched as the other doors in the house banged open and shut repeatedly. The Tohoku earthquake lasted for 6 minutes. Eventually I walked outside to see other neighbors standing in their doorways while our cars bounced and rocked in the parking spaces.

Then came a Japanese announcement over the off-base loudspeaker. The only word I understood?


Our base made no announcement, and knowing I was at about the highest point on base I could be, I went back inside. What else was there to do? I painted my kitchen. I was oblivious.

In the days that followed, we were told that nearly 20,000 had died, mostly from the tsunami. It was horrifying.

My daughter was born 1 day later. In the weeks that followed, I would take her off base and the people would hold her and touch her face and cry when I told them, “Tsunami.” They understood what I meant. And I understood that seeing sweet new life was the best gift I could bring them. Many of them would point to her and look at me and declare “Japanese!” She still shares something deep with the people from the Land of the Rising Sun. 12 years later, her room is decorated in origami and pictures of Mt. Fuji.

However, while witnessing the raw pain in those people’s faces, my fear of the ocean grew into what I now know was panic. We lived two miles from the nearest coast, and I couldn’t look at it without my heart pounding and my legs running away. I absolutely hated it.

Months later, as the country continued to rock with aftershocks, I was talking to another fighter spouse (as in, fighter pilot spouse. That’s what we called each other). She said she had spent the day at the ocean. I said “It scares me too much, it’s hard for me to go there.” I hope I never forget the moment she looked at me unassumingly and said, “I’m scared too. That’s why I go there.”

I went the next day.

The eastern Japanese coast is fierce. Temperatures are literally freezing, the waters are rough, and the sound is cacophonous. My heart would thud and sometimes it was so windy I couldn’t hear anything but what sounded like waves completely surrounding me. However, I was determined to get comfortable with fear. I knew there was a line between fear and healthy respect, and I wanted to find it. I found a sitter that would stay with my daughter for four hours once a week. I would drive, determined to discover new coastlines, often driving for an hour and seldom seeing another soul. And you know what? I found treasure on those beaches. Huge, beautiful glass fishing floats that are dotted around my yard today. The first one I found while pregnant with my son. This picture was taken on the snowy Japanese coast where I found it. I ran into the water after that prize and hauled it back onshore, rolling the barnacles off of it and squealing a bit maniacally.

I still have great respect for the ocean. But now I will run into it, joyfully screaming…up to my waist. I’m getting there. My husband wants a sailboat. I’ll do it.

I have found now that most of the time, if I feel “stuck,” it’s because there’s something I’m afraid of that’s holding me back. Until I face into the fear, I can’t make progress.

So, I’ll make an appointment with a well-known, top-tier voiceover coach that intimidates me, I’ll reach out for new connections, and I’ll move to cities I know nothing about.

What are you afraid of?

I bet there’s a treasure on the other side of the fear.

I’d love to hear your story.

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