THE BLOG

What I Know About Fear Now That I'm In My 50s

03/16/2013 11:06 am ET | Updated May 16, 2013

In her new book "Lean In," Sheryl Sandberg notes the ways in which fear can hold women back and the importance of pushing through that fear. She writes, "This book is what I would do if I weren't afraid." We asked women of different ages to share what they've learned about fear so far.

I'm a worrier and I always have been. Throughout my life, I've fretted over some very real concerns -- like my mother's illness that ultimately led to her death at the age of 58 -- and over some not-very-real ones -- like why I don't have as many Facebook likes as my friends. But now that I'm 50 I realize -- really realize -- that all the worrying in the world won't change a thing. And the things you fear are usually worse in your imagination than they could ever be in your reality. One of my favorite quotes has always been this one from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Do one thing every day that scares you." It is my mantra. If you don't confront fear, you'll be pulling back from your life. After 50 years on this planet, I get it. But having said all that, there are still a few things I can't help but be afraid of. And there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. I'm no longer afraid of change but I still get nervous when a train approaches, and the wind whips around me, and I'm certain for just a second that I'll get knocked onto the tracks.

And so, here's a list of eight things I know about fear now that I'm 50. It includes four things I'm no longer afraid of and four things that I'm even more afraid of.

I'm no longer afraid to say "no" to people. Or at least I try not to be. I've found that people appreciate your honesty - even if they don't like what they hear - more than they appreciate hearing a "yes" that you later have to renege on.

I'm no longer afraid to speak in front of people. I just pick out one person in the crowd, pretend I'm talking only to him or her, and go from there. Also, I learned that the more you speak in public, the easier it gets. It really does.

I'm no longer afraid that other people are talking about me or critiquing me all the time. I recently interviewed Nia Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" fame and she said something that rang so true I'll never forget it. When I asked her what she'd tell her 20-year-old self today, the 50-year-old said: "Don't worry so much about sucking that gut in. No one is looking. People are not focused on you all the time. So many people like to believe everyone is focused on them but it's really not true. They are focused on themselves."

I'm no longer afraid to leave the office after eight hours of work -- even when everyone else sticks around a lot longer. I have three kids. Most of my co-workers don't. My job is important but it's still impermanent. My health, my family, my passions are not.

What I'm Still Afraid Of:

I'm afraid of rats. Always have been. They aren't particularly hideous-looking creatures, but I just can't stand them. In recent months, my husband has found rat droppings in our basement. And it completely freaks me out to the point that I refuse to go down there in socks. But I think there's good reason to be afraid of rats. They carry diseases and parasites. And they most likely triggered the Black Death, which killed up to half of Europe's population in the mid-14th century. Enough said!

I'm afraid of what's going to happen after my kids all leave home. Yes, I realize I will be expected to celebrate my newfound freedom chock-full of unbridled "me time." But I don't want "me time." I have loved focusing on the wants and needs of my two sons and daughter. Nothing has made me happier. When they leave, I'm afraid my husband and I will have nothing to talk about. I'm afraid I'll lose my footing. I'm afraid I'll be lonely.

I'm afraid of the loss of relationships. I'm afraid of pissing off friends to the point they'll never speak to me again. People hold grudges. Maybe even more so as they age. And it scares me that friendships are actually much more tenuous and fractious than I believed them to be when I was younger. When it comes to my husband, I've seen enough of my friends go through the pain of divorce to know that I can never take my marriage for granted. At 50, I've learned to never say never.

I'll get a lot of heat for this, but I'm afraid of the physical changes that come with aging. Fears over the onslaught of wrinkles and sagging skin are smoke screens for what I'm really scared of -- mortality. In my head I'm still 21, so it bothers me when I look in the mirror and see a double chin and graying hair. Growing old in a culture that values dewy youth won't be easy. At least not in my mind.

In the end, if you constantly think that growing older implies a downward spiral, then that's exactly the scenario you'll create. Worrying about the future -- too much -- is a waste of energy. I'll close with a quote from Katherine Paterson: "To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another."