No Fear, Just Plenty of Asparagus

I learned an important lesson this week: Don’t go anywhere without asparagus.

I spent the last two days in the company of very good friends who came to California for business meetings. The primary meetings took place on Wednesday, so we spent Tuesday in a combination of preliminary discussions and general Running Amok.  (Trust me, the capitals are required and yes, there were cupcakes involved.)

When things calmed down, the conversation turned serious and the topic turned to fear. It turns out my friends and I share a weakness – a tendency to worry despite successful lives and generally competent tendencies. On the outside we look like confident women. On the inside we wage constant, secret battles against fear.

What fear, you ask?

Fear of failure. Fear of loneliness. Fear that we will fail despite our confidence in our callings and our faith that competence  is a gift from God and not just something we accomplish by ourselves. Fear that the people we love will not return that love or, worse, will turn it away.

Fear that the cat will puke on the rug. You name it, we’ve been there.

As my friend expressed her concerns about her recent distress, I asked her why she worried about those things. None of them seemed like cause for worry to me. When she began to explain I interrupted with a question.

“Didn’t you say you were called to this? Shouldn’t you just work to the best of your ability, trust that you’ve heard your calling correctly, and move forward without fear?”

I’ll omit the details, but she agreed. We decided she shouldn’t worry about those issues any more. When she caught herself worrying she would tell herself to put away the fear. When I saw her worrying I would remind her to let it go.

Fifteen minutes later she caught me worrying. You can probably guess what she told me. (And, for the record, it’s harder to banish your own fear than it is to explain why someone else should let theirs go.)

It’s something we’ll both work on in days to come.

As we prepared for the next day’s meeting (with a third friend who shares our vulnerability but was elsewhere during the earlier discussion) we decided to establish a code word in case one of us thought the discussions had veered off course. It was a safety net against fear. If the word was never spoken it meant everything had gone well.

“What word should we use?” I asked.

We looked at each other in silence, trying to find some word that wouldn’t arise naturally in the course of the conversation. After a few seconds our other friend said, “ASPARAGUS.”

Which, of course, sent us all into stitches. Try working that into a business discussion. Or ensuring it doesn’t come up accidentally at a lunch meeting. Among women. Who might just order salads.

With asparagus.

By the end of the evening we picked an alternate code phrase and also made a pact – under no circumstances would anyone mention, suggest or even think about asparagus. Doing so would send us into gales of laughter, destroying any semblance of professionalism we might otherwise manage to muster.

We broke the pact all the way to the meeting. Much fear-cleansing laughter was had by all, and we arrived ready and raring to go. The meeting went well. After it adjourned we walked out to the car … past a large market stand we hadn’t seen on the way in.

It was covered with asparagus.

Two important lessons emerged:

First, don’t let fear overwhelm you no matter what the cause. Everyone has fears, and most of them are unfounded. If you let them paralyze you or interfere with your ability to function, you may not achieve the blessings which would otherwise be yours.

Second, find a way to turn your fear to laughter. True joy leaves little room for fear, and shared laughter makes you feel less alone.

In other words: Have the asparagus. It’s good for what ails you.