Fear Factors

Goodyear Fellow Michelle Poler Inspires Foxcroft Audience with Self-Empowerment Project

Last Friday, Foxcroft students, faculty, and staff participated in an All-School Leadership Day that kicked off with “Hello Fears” founder Michelle Poler, who shared her inspiring journey to rewrite her personal definition of fear. Following a welcome by Head of School Cathy McGehee as this year’s Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellow and a brief introduction by Student Head of School Wendy X. ’19, Poler jumped right into her purpose…quite literally! She immediately engaged the audience with Latin-inspired, high-energy music that had her dancing and waving her arms in the air to the beat, as she weaved her way down the center aisle in the Engelhard Gymnasium and high-fived students. That would be the first example of the theme for her talk: Inspiring Students to Redefine Fear and Live with Courage.
It was July of 2015 when Michelle Poler set out to conquer 100 fears in 100 days. Her list of fears included such things as dancing in the middle of Times Square in New York City, eating oysters, handling a tarantula, skydiving, and singing on stage, just to name a few. She was facing her fears and feeling brave, for sure. Each experience was posted on YouTube and on day 40 of her personal project, “Hello Fears,” Poler was discovered by the media. She was promptly catapulted to international fame for doing something that nobody else had done — facing and conquering her fears, one at a time — and documenting it all for the world to see.

Throughout Poler’s journey, she explored her fears in a way that inspired others to reexamine theirs. In her own life, Poler’s parents served as role models for facing fears. Raised in Caracus, Venezuela, she was born into a family of Holocaust survivors. She was used to living with fear. Still, when she decided to move to New York City to pursue a masters degree she knew it would be impossible to succeed in an environment of fear.

As the “Hello Fears” movement went viral and spread across the globe, Poler received thousands of messages and emails from people who were inspired by her, including some Hollywood A-listers like Ashton Kutcher and Sofía Vergara, and the rap artist Lil Wayne. During Poler's time spent at Foxcroft last Friday, students had the opportunity to hear firsthand how she transformed her life by facing her deepest fears. “I am definitely going to try things that that are beyond my comfort zone,” said Chloe M. ’21.

Poler told the audience of mostly teen girls, “Phobophobia is the fear of fear itself.” She challenged them to think about the things that keep them from pursuing their dreams. Story after story, she connected with the students and encouraged each of us to look within for inspiration. For Savannah A. ‘19, listening to Poler describe her fears inspired her to think about her own experiences in a different way. “I really enjoyed how she used the videos she made and how relatable she was. I realized that some of my fears have been simple, small things, like trying new food,” she said.

As Poler led the audience through an array of thoughts and actions from her 100-day challenge, she shared a quote from Abraham Maslow: “Step forward into growth or step backward into comfort.” Of all the fears that occupied her life for 100 days, Poler says there is one that ranks above them all: the decision not to return to her job as art director after earning her masters degree, but instead to pursue her passion as an inspirational speaker. To that, we say mission accomplished.

“My hope is that girls begin to see that stepping outside their comfort zone, facing a fear, or taking a risk is a growth opportunity — not a limitation — it is about cultivating curiosity,” said Assistant Head of School for Student Life Emily Johns. “It is about living fully and joyfully; it is about connecting with the world — people, places and experiences in a profound and exciting way.”

As she concluded her remarks Friday, Poler returned to the high-energy music that she played at the beginning of her talk and asked everyone to get on their feet and “dance like no one is watching.” We did, and it felt good!
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.