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facing my fear by elin stebbins waldal

Elin Stebbins Waldal

When my great friend, Elin Stebbins Waldal, told me she was finally facing her fear of the ocean by going kayaking, I was so proud of her. I think it’s awesome to overcome your fears in midlife — something I did with the encouragement of Patty Chang Anker and her must-read book, Some Nerve

I asked Elin if she would share her experience with all of you because it’s so empowering. I bet her story will inspire you to try something new, as well. Let us know what that might be.

Last October I faced my decades-old fear of the ocean by simply getting wet. You know, the up to your knees kind of wet. I had reached a point in my life where I realized that only I could redefine what getting older meant to me and I was determined not to lead a life filled with “I remember when I was able to …” stories.

Today, I can actually swim in the ocean. Although, to some, my steps may seem infantile, to me they are monumental.

In July, before I actually went swimming in the ocean, I was invited by Everyday California to go kayaking. In the ocean.

My friend, Anna, and I were fitted with life jackets and helmets, and headed to Everyday California’s classroom—the shores of La Jolla, one of the most beautiful beachfront communities in Southern California.

My mind raced with questions. Had I actually agreed to enter the ocean by kayak? Why did I turn down the included wet suit? What if we capsized?

Everyday California kayaks

The sun broke through the clouds just as we approached, as if commanding me to leave my dark thoughts behind. Along with the sun came a wave of resolve; I no longer wanted to be a spectator in my own life.

The guides gathered the group and issued a series of instructions.

Moments later we were knee deep in water.

Anna and I were partners in a tandem kayak. She took the lead position – the power spot – in the bow while I happily nestled myself into the stern. Fortunately, we managed to get in sync right away, gliding through the emerald water and speculating how long it would take to reach our destination: the sea lion-draped caves.

Everyday California seal

The closer we got to the caves the more I felt at ease. I was engaged in “doing,” too busy to be caught up in all the what ifs.

And isn’t that why we are here – to be engaged in this thing called living?

While awaiting our turn to enter the caves, Anna and I spotted the trademark orange of several Garibaldi’s swimming below. We marveled over the antics of the enormous sea lions basking in the sun. They are so much fun to watch.

Everyday California sea lions

We were the last pair to tour the caves. As the guide swam our kayak into the mouth of the cave, we were hit with an aroma I will not soon forget – a reminder that these blubbery creatures permanently inhabit the cliffs overhead.

As we paddled back to the beach I realized how much fun it was to be on the water in a boat powered in part by me. My mind swirled back to days gone by, days when I had taught canoeing. How wonderful to be reclaiming a part of me that had been laying dormant for far too long.

The guides gathered us, releasing us one by one to paddle toward shore. Anna and I rode a decent size wave in, capsizing the kayak in the process. Thankfully, at that point, we had the benefit of the sand beneath our feet.

Everyday California kayak

What a great experience it had been. In fact, it was so great that I was inspired to actually take the paddleboard my husband gave me last May out into the ocean. I may not be riding enormous waves – yet – but it was another first step of what I trust will one day end up to be many.

As it turns out, the Everyday California slogan, A State of Mind, is one I have taken to heart. I live in Southern California, a place that many only dream of. It is my intention to embrace a state of mind that inspires me to experience it daily.

Today my fear rides shotgun. Maybe one day I will manage to wrestle it into the backseat, maybe even the trunk. Better yet, perhaps there will come a time when fear will only be briefly glimpsed in the side view mirror. But, just as learning to swim in the ocean began by getting wet, having fear ride beside me rather than in the driver seat is a great step in the right direction.

Midlife is in full swing and I refuse to sit on the beach, watching everyone else have all the fun.


  1. Facing your fears can give you a whole new outlook on life. I have started doing this two years ago, but I have a few more fears to face.

  2. It’s great that you faced your fear. Your pictures are amazing…what a wonderful kayak outting.

  3. I love this. I also have a fear of the water, which is strange, since I grew up at the beach and used to go in the ocean…until I got older, and then just liked to WATCH it. Good for you for conquering your fear and managing to have fun!

    • Thanks Sheryl! I was the same as you as a child, in fact my mother claimed she thought a sea goddess would snatch me because she couldn’t get me out of the ocean…kind of ironic. I have to say it has been very liberating to get off the sand and into the water again. Thanks for your nice comment.

  4. Girl I feel you. I have a fear of water and have been working towards facing it. you are amazing fr doing so.

  5. Good for you! Seeing those sea lions should have been a sign that you were doing the right thing!

  6. My sister did this a bit before she had children. Being on the open water terrified her, so she signed up to learn how to sail. Classes started in the harbour, but eventually you went onto the open water.

  7. Good for you! i admire your courage and willingness to step out.

  8. Thank you, Carol!

  9. Many thanks to Lois and Elin for this post. I was right there with you, routing you on to a successful ride. So happy you did this, and I know there will be other “brave moments” down the road. Brenda

  10. I have been trying to do the same this year. Mine have been small things like having the courage to be in a crowd of women at a conference, using a pressure cooker (was totally terrified before Sunday haha). If I notice I have a fear of something I make sure to explore it more and see what that fear is actually from. I love that you did this! We toured those same caves several years ago and they are so amazing.

    • It’s pretty exhilarating to look fear in the eye and say, Not this time! Good for you, no doubt tackling your fears will give you things to write about too! Good luck and thanks for your comment and for being here today.

  11. What a great post! Very motivating to those out there that have fears of their own they are trying to work through. This is one experience I would love to have. The pictures are beautiful.

    • Thank you, Pam. If you’re ever in La Jolla, Everyday California, is the place to go, they take care of everything and the guides are very knowledgeable too. The pictures were courtesy of Anna, everywhere you turn there is something beautiful to capture!

  12. Wow! Facing your fears took you on quite an adventure! I have been around the ocean all of my life so I am not fearful of it but I am afraid of mountain climbing. Maybe one day I can conquer that!

    • It’s funny, I always loved the ocean until I had a bad experience, sadly I allowed that one incident to tether me to land for years too many to count. I hope one day you will make peace with your fear too, the mountains are filled with so much beauty and in all seasons too.

  13. Woo-hoo! Congratulations to you for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. You’re an inspiration… and a motivator! One day I, too, will learn to swim, figure out how to get past the what-ifs. I love this: “It is my intention to embrace a state of mind that inspires me to experience it daily.”

  14. Way to go Elin! My biggest fear is also the ocean (well water in general!) But I’ve been forcing myself to do a little more each time I am with my kids at the ocean or lake. I’d hate for them to think they should be scared because Mommy is!

  15. I have been facing my fears for quite awhile, not by choice. But I find the more I do it, the less intimidated I am, the more powerful I feel and I know joy is next…So glad you did this, and even happier you had fun!

  16. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    I can’t swim, so I wouldn’t have been able to join you. Glad you had fun!

  17. Looks like an amazing experience! There is definitely something to be said for facing your fears.

  18. I am so glad she conquered her fear. Looks fun!

  19. Wow. So proud of your friend. Love her saying: My fear rides shotgun!!! Cause she did it anyway. And what a cool adventure. Time for me to do something scary, methinks!

  20. What an awesome experience. I had no idea you were able to kayak right next to the sea lions. It’s great that you’ve been able to conquer your fear so well.

  21. It is important not to let fear hold you back in life. I try to go out of my comfort zone and try things i never thought i would.

  22. I would love to try skydiving. I have a fear of heights that has stopped me from ever trying it. I should try one of the indoor skydiving places first to see what i think.

  23. That is so awesome. That is what life is all about!!

  24. I’ve been big about swimming in the ocean either. I almost drowned when I was 16 and ever since then I don’t go if the waves are even a little bit big.

  25. I bet it was a good moment when the sun broke. It sounds amazing to me. 🙂

  26. You are a brave woman! I would fear this also, I wonder what I am missing out because of being scared of the water. Looks like you met a nice friend because you faced your fear (the seal)

  27. Great water adventure! I have always wanted to do kayaking or wild river rafting when I was young, but I don’t think I would do it now. I would be too scared!

  28. Wow. What an experience this would be. Those sea lions are amazing. What fun!

  29. Oh my goodness go you what an amazing step! I couldn’t imagine facing such a fear. x

  30. I totally agree that a good way to successfully face a fear is to fully engage in what you are doing. Keeps your mind off of your fears!

  31. I loved reading this. It’s such a great feeling to face your fears head on and get over them. I think it’s so cool that you were so close to the sea lions.

  32. How awesome of you to face that fear, Elin! I am so proud of you and also in awe! That was quite an adventure. I am not a strong swimmer so I have somewhat of a fear of water (even though I love swimming!) Good for you! Love this post. xo

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