Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

by Stacey Ebert /
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Apr 03, 2023 / 0 comments

On Hollywood’s biggest night, as one of the creators of the Oscar-winning movie Everything Everywhere All At Once accepted his golden statue, he mentioned that his “imposter syndrome was at an all-time high.” Seriously, this guy is part of the team that swept seven awards that night—and he still didn’t feel like he fully deserved to be there. If this doesn’t say how strong our thoughts are and how much weight we give them, I don’t know what does. 

Carrie Fisher famously said, “stay afraid and do it anyway”—and while much of the world can agree that Princess Leia is without question a badass, we’ve all had moments when that invisible ping pong match in our brain takes place…and sometimes we’re not really sure which contestant—fear or courage—will win the serve. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Each of us knows someone who always appears fully confident, as if they have everything together, and they’re full steam ahead with everything they touch. It’s altogether possible that that’s truly who they are—yet, like the Oscar-winning director showed, there’s that same probability that it takes far more than we imagine for them to put one foot in front of the other and all the deep breaths they can muster to be afraid, or not feel ready, and jump in with both feet regardless. 

So, whether that battle rages for steps, decisions, or leaps of Oscar proportion, how can we channel our inner warrior, and take a page from Princess Leia’s book?

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

While of course those rigorous academic courses will always be a part of any core educational curriculum, educators know there’s more to building a good human than brains and cleverness. 

We can cultivate the arts, emphasize empathy, introduce physical education, and encourage extracurriculars. However, there’s more beneath the surface of all of us—and building good humans, good citizens, involves the idea of teaching to the whole student. Perhaps we’ve encountered a teacher, a counselor, a mentor, a support group, a friend, or a family member who fully believes in us: our talent, our abilities, and our diligence and grit. Perhaps at some point in life we’ve experienced a strength, something we feel good at, or have even been acknowledged for that trait. 

No matter if or when, the truth is that we talk to ourselves more than anyone will ever speak to us—and it’s those conversations with self, the navigation of our inner dialogue, that can help to set us on our course or derail our every potential leap. 

How do we help our next generation tackle that challenge?

Countless self-help gurus, spiritual leaders, motivational speakers, mindfulness professionals, and experts in their own fields have spoken about imposter syndrome, negative self-talk, infectious self-doubt, and suffering from anxiety. 

We know that mind over matter has always been a phrase, yet how much do we teach about it in our classrooms? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

We know the significance of meeting people where they are; that attitude, grit, fortitude, challenges, obstacles, and privilege, truly matter—yet how do we weave those stories within our core coursework? 

Mindfulness is (thankfully) today becoming a welcome addition to educational frameworks. Apps like Headspace and Calm exist for each of us to work on allowing those thoughts to fluidly flow through our brain space without freezing us in our tracks each time. Endless free YouTube channels showcase the benefits of meditative music and natural images to help level out our frenetic thoughts; Instagram posts of our youngest humans empowering themselves with their morning rituals center us; and we know that mental health issues are struggles that many deal with and that getting help from trained professionals is a game changer. 

Still, how can we as a community of educators help that next generation of travelers, doers, explorers, and citizens develop their own strengths to navigate that ping pong match and learn to manage the results?

Whether you can allow fear to come along for the ride and leap anyway, let doubt hang out while you persevere, or channel that imposter syndrome into fueling faith along your journey, we can all use tools, guidance, and support to maneuver the minefields and pilot our continued journey. 

Are you ready?

5 tools for that battle between fear and courage 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Re-envision our previous leaps

“Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway” - Oprah Winfield

Do you remember the last time you leapt? 

Can you picture a time when you were scared, nervous, unsure of your footing, but you took the step anyway? Remember the first time you raised your hand in class, the first time you tried that new skill, the first time you held your own in front of a packed house, the first time you veered off the path you thought ‘you should’ be on for one of your choosing? Whatever that first was, you did it, you survived, you fell forward, you learned, you grew, and you kept going. 

Perhaps this leap is a different one, yet your ability to take the step is even stronger than that very first time. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. It won’t be easy, but each time it’ll be a little bit easier. Journeys are made by walking—the bigger the leap, the more steps it may take. Remember the kid who took the step? They’re still there, fully capable of taking this one, too…I’m certain of it.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Channel a time you felt successful

“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyway” - Glennon Doyle

That moment when you first floated on your back, that moment you clinched that part in the school play, or the one when your robotics team made it to the finals, or maybe the one when you successfully navigated the map on your family holiday or landed that first job…can you remember a time you felt successful? 

Wrapped in that tool of reflection are a whole bunch of strengths, emotions, and skills that are within your reach. Harry Potter’s story is a messy, memorable, and motivational one. At one point, to challenge the demons that could literally suck the soul, he must channel a deep memory, a happy one to strengthen his forcefield, and conjure immense courage to save himself and those he loves. He reaches back to go forward; so can you. Perhaps this new challenge isn’t the same as learning to swim, but the success captured then can be yours again. 

Your courage is ready to be unearthed; embrace it.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Believe in your strength and resilience

“Stay afraid but do it anyway” - Carrie Fisher

Over a decade ago, on an adventure-filled day in Livingstone, Zambia, I stood shaking atop a giant boulder. The rock is part of Devil’s Pool, a natural body on the edge of Victoria Falls—and those who dare can jump into it, catch the farthest-most rim of the falls and gaze over the edge. It took the encouraging shouts of my husband and strangers to break through the noise in my head. I leapt, came up with a smile I can still feel on my cheeks, and amidst a double rainbow, leaned over the edge. Sometimes I forget that girl, and the fear re-emerges; at other times, I remember her and the support of the crowd. 

While some memories are magical, others that are survival-clouded in difficult days and months also vividly capture cultivated strength and resilience. Yours might be a smile-filled reminder, or one shrouded in years of ick, or somewhere in between—yet your fortitude is ever-present. 

With an ingrained notion of making it through and thriving, your resilience muscles have been well-worked. You may not immediately notice the pride when arising from the water, but when you look back on the journey today, you’ll see it.

You are built for far more than survival; flourishing is within your grasp.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Take the toddler approach

“To live will be an awfully big adventure” - Peter Pan

Our youngest humans are fearless. They learn by doing, figure it out as they go, and see the world as their playground. They bound towards the ocean, climb on everything in reach, explore with the ferocity of experts, and set their sights on discovery. Some continue that into their youth: trying their hand at exhilarating moves at the skatepark, becoming the youngest human to scale mountain ranges, sailing the seas, or circumnavigating the globe. 

For the average human, it’s possible that as we age, that fearlessness tempers. We bandage our own booboos, have to pick ourselves up, or find fearlessness momentarily replaced by worry. 

What if we flipped the script? 

What if we engaged the childlike mindset of discovery and expedition, and found more adventure in the world? What if we risked failure? For a toddler, failure doesn’t exist. For adults, it’s part of reality…but the comeback is always greater than the setback. 

Learning fuels growth. The trials and errors make the success that much sweeter. If Peter Pan could duel a pirate, Moana could trust that there’s more beyond the reef, and Dumbo could face his fears and fly, so can we. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Find your inner expert

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” - Jack Canfield

Today, a simple Google search can take me down a rabbit hole. With heaps of options, I find myself digging through a lot of clatter before the real gems appear. We spend hours scrolling through the marketing mayhem of social media seeking the post we want, the people we wish to listen to, or the item we truly need. 

The noise of life can often be filled with the same clangor and din, drowning out the true voice inside. 

You are the expert on you; you’re the gem. While you may not always believe as strongly in your capabilities, they’re there. Find that inner genie who reminds you that you are powerful, good, capable, and ready. 

You may not have all the answers, but you can learn and grow. 

Empower the mindset of the kid who tackled the playground swings, won the spelling bee, and earned a spot on the team, and remember the work it took to get there. Know that no matter the obstacle, you can find a way through. Remind yourself that not everyone has your skillset, your approach to the world, and your heart. 

Your voice is your gift—use it well. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Fear vs. courage—the invisible ping pong match

Make decisions that bet on you instead of your fears, and take your spot above the noise. You deserve to be at the top of the Google search! Fear might travel with you, but fueling a journey is a far cry from winning the day. 



Please click the photo below for a collection of my Through the Eyes of an Educator columns:

Through the Eyes of an Educator: A Compendium


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.