October 26th, 2020

There’s nothing wrong with fear, says world-renowned cave diver


By Sulz, Dave on March 13, 2020.

World-renowned cave diver Jill Heinerth was featured as part of the Wider Horizons speaker series Thursday at Lethbridge College. Submitted photo

Dave Sulz

lethbridge herald

dsulz@lethbridgeherald.com

Most people will likely never find themselves in some of the scary situations Jill Heinerth faces – squeezing through a cave inside an iceberg or diving deep down into a water hole in the Sahara Desert.

But they can use some of the tools the world-renowned cave diver has developed in facing “their own virtual caves in their lives,” says Heinerth, who was the featured speaker Thursday at the second annual “Wider Horizons … An evening with …” speaker series at Lethbridge College. She spoke to college students in the afternoon and was scheduled to address a public session in the evening.

Heinerth’s aim in her talks to Lethbridge audiences was to encourage them to face their fears and step into unknown, just as she is called upon to do in her explorations that have earned her induction into the Explorers Club and the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame.

“I’m not fearless,” Heinerth says. “I’m scared all the time. Fear means we understand and appreciate the risk.”

The key is to not let fear stop us from exploring, from pushing beyond our comfort into unknown territory. We can “use fear as a catalyst to discovering new things.”

“I want people to step into the dark,” she adds. “That’s what moves us forward.”

Essentially, it means regaining the “explorer’s mindset” that is such a part of childhood, but which has often been trained out of us by the time we reach our teenage years.

“We’ve been told not to take risks,” says Heinerth, who lives in Carleton Place, south of Ottawa.

Part of that picture is the fear of failure, which holds us back from trying new things.

“I like to reframe failure. I call it ‘discovery learning.'”

Part of the process in overcoming our fears is to take our eyes off the scary big picture and focus instead on just taking the next small step. For example, when she finds herself in a frightening situation in an underwater cave, she works to calm herself by just focusing on breathing. It’s a matter of turning off the emotions and just taking the next step.

It’s a formula that can be applied to some of the “caves” society is facing now.

“People have quite legitimate fears about the future, from climate change, to $20-barrels of oil, to the coronavirus,” says Heinerth. “It’s a very uncertain time.”

But the challenges can be overcome, she stresses.

“Success is a series of small steps,” Heinerth says. “We don’t know how it’s going to end but we know what to do next.”

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