Early this summer, I noticed a baby wren perched on a birdhouse hanging at my kitchen window. It had hatched sometime before and was now ready to fly. Wobbling on the perch, it waited for Mother Nature to say, "Fly" or for its own mother to push. Since neither mother was present, the bird just clung to the perch waiting. Even a novice at reading bird body language could see that the baby wren was scared all the way down to its hyperventilating lungs. The little bird knew that it was time to take its first flight, yet it was hesitant.

As I toasted my cinnamon-raisin bagel and downed a handful of vitamins, I continued to watch my feathery-frightened friend. I took my healthy breakfast to my computer and started working on an assignment. As I tried to write, I wondered about my empathy for the wren. I had seen similar scenes before. Why was I so intrigued by this fledgling flyer? By the time I had finished the first page of the assignment, it dawned on me why this little bird interested me so much. Perhaps, it was because my last child, Michelle, was preparing to try her wings and fly away to college.

As I wondered about her first flight fears, I reflected about my memories of going off to college for the first time. I could hardly wait until my parents unpacked the car and said, "Good-bye." Finally, they left. I returned to my dorm room down a long hallway. All was quiet, and I was alone-all alone-and on my own for the first time. Was I scared? Absolutely. I could readily identify with the baby wren. It was caught between becoming an adult and fearing the process.

Later, I sat down with Michelle and asked her about her fears about taking off to college. Out came a litany of concerns: who will be my roommate, what will my room look like, will I need a refrigerator, and what will my course-load be like?

I tried to console Michelle that in a few weeks, she would have all the answers to these concerns. It wasn't long before I realized that the fear of taking off for the first time is like many other fear-filled experiences in life for those of us who are much older than the wren and Michelle. We all fear flying, especially when going off to something unknown and uncertain-like new jobs, relationships, and other life experiences. Here are some ideas about how to handle fear:

  1. Our fear of flying or trying something new needs to be seen in the context of our entire lives. The bird wobbling and waiting to muster the nerve to fly needs to realize that it has already succeeded in several other past activities. It has mastered eating worms, growing, and walking. My daughter, who was on the verge of her solo flight, had already mastered some significant activities. She had graduated from high school, held a job, dated, and learned how to drive. These don't match the risk of flying, but they are indicators that she can learn and adapt to change. We, who have flown years ago, are still facing new and different flights. However, all of us need to get a true perspective about what we have already done so that the fear of future flights doesn't keep us grounded.
  2. We also need to realize that we are designed to fly. Taking off on our first flight is just the first of many adventures-many of which are very scary prior to that particular flight.
  3. If we shrink from the challenge of the next flight, we lessen who we can become. If the wren just stayed in the birdhouse, it would die. If we shrink from taking off, we will die emotionally and surely kill the potential that we have to succeed.

I took another break and returned to the kitchen and looked to see how the wren was faring. It was gone. Either it flew away and mastered its first flight or one of the hungry raccoons caught sight of the fledgling flyer on the ground and had it for breakfast. Learn from my fearful wren and take off.

By the way, Michelle called last week to tell me all about her first flight. Her roommate is from Japan and is very nice, her dorm room is large, she did need a refrigerator, and she is excited about her classes. She also asked if I could send her some money.