Imagine living your life, completely devoted to facing fear. Every. Single. Day. Welcome to the life of Kendra, who in 2013 started the Year of Fear Project, and has been confronting her fears ever since.
“People have this misconception about my story that I was naturally adventurous and charismatic and brave, when I was quite the opposite.” The odds were against Kendra from the moment her life began, given only a 5% chance of living at birth.
She was born with Cerebral Palsy and spent most of her childhood simply learning how to walk. "When other kids went to recess everyday, I went to therapy." Growing up with a movement disorder that left many people in wheelchairs, she was often sheltered and protected.
"Having CP as a child didn't give me many opportunities to develop grit or determination. I was always excused if things were too hard or exceptions needed to be made to accommodate me. I was never expected to do anything world changing. If I made it to living an "average," somewhat normal life, that was success."
The Year of Fear Project began rather simply. Kendra had challenged herself to try activities outside her comfort zone and asked herself, "What would life look like if I did this for a year straight? How would I be required to grow?
“People often say ‘oh my god, a year?’ Well YEAH a friggin’ year! Because you know that you will be REQUIRED to grow. There’s a wow-factor to going all in on something and tackling something that feels hard or impossible. The challenge is where all the reward is.”
The first Year of Fear project Kendra had an accountability partner. They decided that they were going to do something new, different, or outside of their comfort zone every day.
“What many people don’t realize is that a “comfort zone” is simply just a rut. A pattern of doing the same thing over and over again...checking out. Many people are on autopilot the majority of their lives and don’t even realize it. By doing something different and something new, you actually have to wake your brain up to create new memories and new neural pathways so it stretches out time and creates these new experiences for you. Not all comfort zone expansion has to be scary.”
Q: What was one of your first fears you faced?
A: One of the examples that I love to give is one that actually spans the whole 3 years of the project. When I first started the project I had a lot of body confidence issues, and particularly, I didn’t want anyone to see my knees.
I live in Texas which is often triple digit heat but I never wore shorts! I literally wore pants year round, which is crazy. For me, one of my initial comfort zone challenges was to start wearing shorts. Now, that doesn’t seem very big for most people, but what most people don’t realize is that your comfort zone does not equal my comfort zone and vice versa. So, in the first year I started wearing shorts and I became more confident. Then, I decided to buy a skirt, which felt like the biggest shift in my entire life- I had never worn anything girly like that! I bought this really beautiful skirt, it was this vintage, A-line, black, white and yellow skirt. That skirt alone, just buying it, felt like a huge identity shift. I kept it tucked away in the back of my closet for 6 months. However, just buying a skirt was a big thing for me. Then eventually, I wore the skirt, then I started wearing it a bit more, and then I started to become known as someone who wears skirts, and this year I have been trying to wear as many skirts as humanly possible, and know I even feel more comfortable in skirts than I do pants!
This is a really great example of how a comfort zone can expand. I didn’t feel comfortable with showing my legs- a lot of which I know realize probably relates to having to wear leg braces as a kid. There are so many simple things in our lives holding us back. I call it “looking for tension,” there is a tension between who you are and who you want to be. And the space in between, is this really magical place that if you can move through it, you have the opportunity to grow into the best version of you.
The first year of the project she kept it to herself. Then, the following year, people began to hear about her adventures. “I became known as the Year of Fear girl. I started sharing my stories. I realized that it wasn't just about me anymore. When I decided to do the second Year of Fear, I wanted to be much more purposeful about it; I wanted to write about it, I wanted to share about it and I wanted to encourage other people to do the same.”
Now it has expanded into a movement. In addition to facing her own fears, she helps others face theirs. She travels and speaks on the topic, and this year, she also launched an online course. She teaches people how to grow through their own Year of Fear including psychological steps, how you put yourself first, and how you can give your gifts to the world. She has students in 8 countries and 4 continents as of now that create their own 30 day comfort zone challenges. She recommends that you either theme it around one goal (like becoming more confident in your body) and you pursue that for 30 days, or you do 30 new things that make you uncomfortable. Kendra explained, “It isn’t what you base it around really, the goal is just constantly learning and expanding for 30 days straight.”
Q: What has been the biggest fear you have faced in your 2 years of the project?
A: I would say that cutting the ties of the traditional “job” and going full time with my business was the scariest thing I ever did. It really took every ounce of belief I had in myself and then some.
Surrounding myself with a powerhouse inner circle has been crucial. Your close friends have a superpower that you don’t posses: they can see all the incredible talent, possibility and sparkle in you that we ourselves often can’t. To do great things you’ll need to wrangle all your inner confidence, and then surround yourself with people who you can call in on the days where you can’t do it yourself. My friends are always the first people to remind me of what a badass I am when I feel like the world is burning down. Great friends see the potential in you that you often can’t.
Q: How do you even begin to conquer something as massive as a Year of Fear?
A: In 2014, I went to a year-end event. They asked me to describe my year in one word, and that year I had done some pretty epic experiences! I had gone white water rafting, I went hot air ballooning, I went and lived in another city where I didn’t know anyone for a month... Some of these things were really big, bucket list-type milestones, but when I looked back on that year, the word I wanted to use was underutilized. And that was really shocking to me, because if I had written that year on paper, and told my 18 year old self that this year I would do all of that, I would have been my own hero. What I realized is:
Imagine life like a timeline. You have traveling Europe, bungee jumping, and getting married, having kids, and all of these big milestones. We think that is life, but it’s not really life. That is only about 10-15% of life, and the bulk of your life is actually the space in between those big milestones. What I realized was through The Year of Fear, I made a point every day to find new, little ways to expand myself to try new things, and say yes- and it made me feel alive. Many people think facing fear has to be these big or sometimes expensive things, but there are so many fears already in our lives. It doesn’t have to be these gigantic things, if you can stack them brick by brick you can build this huge wall and say man, I feel awesome. I really have done incredible things! So yes, I love the big stuff, that’s great too. But I think real, practical, day to day expansion happens in the small ways. And that’s when it gets really fulfilling: when you find a way to make every day count in it’s own special way.
Kendra and I talked about some of my own small fears that I could work on conquering, and marveled at how we fit ourselves into these constraints of saying, “oh that’s just me,” “I hate this,” or “I am bad at that.” Instead she encourages others to ask, “Why do I believe that? If I did decide to tackle that fear what would the first step look like?”
She emphasizes that little things add up over time. Even something as simple as saying yes, when you usually would have said no can introduce you to some awesome opportunities, experiences and memories. Kendra shared that one of the excuses we use to avoid facing ours fear is being busy.
We say that we are too busy to do something, go somewhere, or work on our own well being. One of the things she said she has learned is that successful people living incredible lives treat time unlike anything else. “Time is the most precious commodity in their lives.” She created a weekly planning process that she is now teaching others. It involves mapping out their week in 30 minutes, as well as carving out time in advance for priorities and assessing the week “energetically.” She schedules free time and really weighs out what is important to her, in relation to how much time she has in her day. “So often people get to the end of the day and they wonder where it went, and it is because they have 80 hours of work they were trying to fit into 40. We aren't super human. If you plan your week out ahead of time you can develop realistic expectations.”
Q: Are there any other extremely memorable moments of these years you want to share?
A: I think that so much of our society is asleep to so much going on around us. I realized that police and EMTs are such an integral part of our communities regardless of how you view them. I went on ride alongs with them and they were truly and completely life changing. I don’t know how police officers aren’t totally jaded. I spent 8 hours in a police cruiser going into the deepest, darkest places in my city. Walking into the frontlines of domestic violence and abuse, going to multiple car pile-ups, and checking on people we thought were dead. Insane stuff. It taught me massive empathy, and that even when touch stuff happens -- most our lives are pretty dang good.
The EMT experience was life changing. As an EMT you are seeing all of these people on what is pretty much the worst day of their life. We have this amazing, beautiful gift that we woke up healthy, and happy hopefully to at least some extent, and if you have to walk into a house and you have to look somebody in the eye, and they look at you and they need you to save their life. And you do that 12 times in a row? All of a sudden all of your problems feel really tiny. You think, “Wow, that person is my age and they might lose their life.” Those were two really incredibly life-changing experiences that I really recommend for every human, and it is so easy to do. You can just call your local station and fill out some basic paperwork to do a ride-along.
What it taught me from an over-arching standpoint was that I have no idea what it is like to be in so many people’s shoes. It taught me not to judge so easily, especially now with everything you see on the news happening with police. I am not saying that any of these situations were right or wrong, all I am saying is get into a police cruiser and drive on the street. I remember we had to go into a house where we thought someone was armed inside. That is terrifying. There is only so much adrenaline you can face like that a day without becoming a little edgy. I have a visceral understanding of it now. But it is also not easy for me to step on the other side, as someone thrown on the ground for race and gender. All I am saying is that it has taught me to take a step back and judge less in these kinds of situations.
Q: What has facing your fears taught you about life overall?
A: I walked into a nursing home, and asked them to nominate me their loneliness visitor. I learned that we can live really well by learning from our elders. I remember going to this door, with this intention of giving a gift. I wanted to remind some long lost forgotten soul that they in fact were not forgotten. I remember walking into the room and it was this 84 year old woman named Ella, and she was the happiest old person I have ever seen. And it blew my mind! So I sat down with her for a few hours, and at one point I asked, “Ella, what is the secret to a happy, well lived life?” and she smiled and grabbed me by the hand really tightly and said “Kendra, take lots of risks, have lots of adventures,” and I realized in that moment, that was exactly what I was doing. And I needed to tell others about this mission. What happens when you get the the end of the road, when you are older and can’t go out and have too many new experiences.
Life is like a credit and debit system. You are going to have to add a lot of debits, a lot of experiences in your younger years so that when you are older, you can draw credit against your experience account. You can pull out those memories and those thoughts, and you have a lot to live off of. The person who works himself to death does not win. The happiest person in the nursing home wins.