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Updated: Jul 10, 2021

Hi there! I’m Emmy Apfel, the founder and director of Beyond the Book.

I want to tell you today about fear. I actually still haven’t figured it out myself. What I do know though is that I’ve learned more while standing in the face of my fears than in any other moments in my life.

I’ve had three experiences that define my stance on fear. All different, but intertwined in more ways than one.

This April, I decided to enroll in an East Coast boarding school. Applied on my own, gung-ho, full send. I wrestled with the decision for a while. Most rising juniors in high school hunker down, prepare their college battle strategies, and focus on solidifying their accomplishments in time to write their common app or take the SAT. Not me. In fact, I’m doing the exact opposite. I haven’t even set foot on my new school’s campus.

I don’t want to pretend that this decision was easy in any way. I spent hours racking my brain, creating a list of every minute pro and con under the sun. I cried. I stress-ate. I went back and forth probably two thousand times. But over the phone one evening with a friend, I said something that would later become a statement I live by: be bigger than your fears.

At the same time that I was making this decision, I founded Beyond the Book. While I was certainly not as afraid of starting my own non-profit as uprooting during a challenging year of high school, I had my doubts. While in the process of starting this enterprise, I was forced to be vulnerable and advocate for my ideas, which can be daunting at times. I had to step up and stand up for my vision of Beyond the Book. I stopped being so afraid of voicing my unfiltered opinion on what I wanted for this company.

Just as I felt that I had taken control of my life--of my fears--I fell off a cliff.

No literally. On June 4th, I went cliff diving to celebrate my first day of summer. My friends and I waded hours through a river to get to the prime jumping location. As the beginner of the group, I watched closely to make sure the that the jump was safe enough. When it was my turn to jump, as I took a running start, I lost my footing and fell down 25 feet of rocks. I landed head first into the water, but by then, I was already unconscious.

I wasn’t even afraid to jump.

I wasn’t even afraid to jump, but should I have been?

As I woke up in the hospital, one of the first things I said was that I no longer wanted to attend boarding school. In the coming days, as I dealt with PTSD and the other repercussions of a head injury, I stood by this view. I felt like the shell of myself--the same on the outside, but with all the goodness scooped out. Falling off the cliff felt like a punishment. It felt like my wings had been clipped just as I was taking off to new heights.

I wasn’t even afraid to jump, but should I have been?

My takeaway is not what you think it would be--that you should overcome your fears in order to live a full life. Because truly, if I wasn’t even afraid to jump, I wasn’t exactly overcoming any fears. But there’s something to learn about fear, even in its absence... An abysmal reckoning: fear doesn’t follow the rules. Things that are supposed to scare you won’t, and things that aren’t supposed to scare you will. Why do we trust fear in its irrationality? Clearly fear has no credibility--it failed to protect me from falling off a cliff while almost hindering me from the experience of a lifetime at boarding school. So my point is: don’t be afraid of being afraid, because chances are, the things that you’re afraid of are actually not going to hurt you. And vice versa. Fear has no pattern, no quota. It ebbs and flows. And it’s in the moments where fear attempts to scare you into submission that you will gain the most.

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