Tom Petty’s Words to Live By

I love Tom Petty.  He writes the best lyrics.  Let’s take a moment to sing a few lines from a smattering of his songs (they’ve been in my head since last night, so it’s only fair that someone else is out there humming along):

“Learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.  Coming down is the hardest thing.”

“You don’t know how it feels, no you don’t know how it feels, to be me.”

“I won’t back down.  No I won’t back down.  You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. . . . In a world that keeps on pushing me around, no I won’t back down.”

“Into the great wide open.  Under them skies of blue.  Into the great wide open.  A rebel without a clue.”

And, just because I love his swagger:  “You got lucky, babe, when I found you.”

A terrific mix of brazenness and insecurity.  Tom, I know you’re at Red Rocks next week.  Give me a shout if you have a few minutes to chat about your ability to express what everyone feels.

Everyone feels fear.  Fear is a crazy thing.  It breeds insecurities and raises adrenalin.  It prevents action or causes irrational actions.  It spurs goal setting or overwhelms.  Fear itself is not bad, unless it irrationally takes over and limits participation in life.  Fear can be a good thing. It keeps us out of dangerous situations. It causes us to put together first aid kits, carry drinking water, wear helmets, slow down on icy roads and rehearse for a difficult conversation with a colleague. But it can also hold us back from experiencing some of life’s greatest moments.

Fear has been a familiar voice in my head throughout my life. My fears have absolutely affected my life’s journey, sometimes without me recognizing that fear was turning the wheel.  Let’s look at some fears I’m willing to admit to, tied to choices that I made in younger years.

I am an introvert who fears rejection =  I did not rush a sorority in college.

I fear making a mistake in public and making a fool of myself = I did not participate in debate.

I fear pain and failure =  I did not participate in scary sports like water skiing and snow skiing.

I feared working in a grown up job after college (really, that possibility of sucking and getting fired . . .) =  After college, I . . . wait for it . . .  WENT TO LAW SCHOOL.

So, law school sucked worse than getting fired (I have now experienced both) and it was really expensive.  But, even though my decision to do so was guided by fear, law school was a good path to take.  I met my husband in law school.  I learned that it was ok not to be the smartest one in the room.  I learned how to work really, really hard.  Eventually, it led to a career suited to my abilities and supported our family well for many many years. Choices based on fear aren’t necessarily bad ones.  But unless you’re being chased by a bear, in which case fear should be present and active, try to recognize that fear could be a lurking driver, face it, and consider whether it should influence your decision.  Address the fear and put it in its rightful place.  Behind you.

Fear has made me miss out on a lot of great things.  When I was young, we spent our summers on a lake.  Friends across the lake had a ski boat and offered to take my older brother out for a few laps. Mrs. Allen then asked if I wanted to give it a try. Me? A scrawny seven-year old? I didn’t do things like that – way too scary. They pointed to the shorter skis on shore and I went over to take a look. Just then, giant spider crawled into one of the boots as absolute proof that I was not meant to water ski that day.  No way. No one could convince me.   And that was it; I didn’t water ski until I was well into my 30’s, when I tired of watching my husband and son have all the fun and decided to give it a go. Turns out I have pretty good balance and it’s fun, even though I’ve fallen, a lot, and with great opportunity for embarrassment. This year I even figured out how to drop a ski. My son is confident that I’ll be “cutting” in a year or two (we’ll see on that one, this middle age body has some limitations). Due to those childhood fears, I missed out on several decades of an activity that I really enjoy.

I almost missed out on snow skiing as well. Growing up, my family had neither the funds nor the inclination to snow ski, so it wasn’t something I thought I needed in my life. In college, my boyfriend convinced me to go ski with him and his friends at Mt. Brighton in Michigan.   I borrowed my sister-in-law’s boots and skis, put on my jeans and headed to the hill. My boyfriend was no phenom in the skiing world, but he had a little experience. I scooched along behind him to the poma lift and by some miracle made it to the top. “Just follow me. Do what I do,” he said over his shoulder. I slid right into a fence and fell over. With determination I didn’t know I had, I got back up and headed for the bottom.   The next moment, my face met the ground, and my ski hit the back of my head. Broken nose. A less than fabulous first run and confirmation of my fears.  I was done.

Fast forward a few years, and I visited my new fiancé in Colorado over Thanksgiving weekend. And he wanted me to go skiing at Keystone. Seriously? As we drove up to the “hill,” I became convinced that he wanted me to die. There was NO WAY I was going to survive this day. I (literally and to his dismay) shook with fear.  He patiently took me to the ski school, where I was fitted with torturous boots and taken to the beginner slopes at the top. My instructors were a sweet retired couple who started us off with, “These are your skis. Let’s stand on them for a few minutes,” and then gently guided us to the bottom of the hill in our snow plow stances. To my great relief, I didn’t die. I persevered in spite of my fears and eventually conquered the slopes. Don’t get me wrong, fear still bubbles up when I look down a steep face and think about it a beat longer than I should.  A good friend of mine once told me, as I stood at the top of a pitch wondering what the heck I was doing there, “Sarah, sometimes you just have to commit.”  She’s absolutely right.  Sometimes, we just have to stare fear down and move forward. With Tom Petty singing in our heads.


5 thoughts on “Tom Petty’s Words to Live By

  1. Sarah, you are a beautiful and articulate writer! Absolutely lovely! You have much to say and your thoughts truly resonant with me. I am so blessed to call you my friend! Keep writing about life….perhaps this is your undiscovered passion! Love you!


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