I’m scared. There isn’t a day that goes by that leaves me untouched by doubt. But that’s ok.
So often, fear coerces us to live as “safely” as we can. It corrals us inside of its narrow boundaries. It holds us hostage.
Riding Fear Like A Wave
I think of fear as a giant 100 foot wave. You’re drifting on your surfboard, and suddenly you feel the strong pull of the ocean. Massive quantities of water are being sucked out to sea, and you know why – it’s a big wave. Your body starts to shake as you realize that this could be the end for you.
But in that moment, something special happens.
- It’s like when you’re diagnosed with cancer
- It’s like when you are fired with no plan B
- It’s like being in an accident that leaves you unable to walk again
- It’s like when life seems to pick on you for no reason
- It’s like hitting rock bottom
When the wave is building up over you, and you’re struck with the likelihood of certain death, after a brief moment of shock, you begin to paddle. The wave continues to rise, and you paddle harder. And when the wave peaks 100 feet above your head, you stand up on your surfboard, ready to ride. And why? Because you have nothing left to lose. You’ve gone beyond fear and back into life.
And what’s so interesting about going beyond fear is that you’re so much stronger on that side of it. Living on the safe side of life creates a lasting fear of fear. The unknown downside of life is a constant threat when you’ve never experienced it. But once you’re in the water and face the reality of your 100 foot wave, you’ve gone into the heart of fear. And once you get close to it, you can conquer it.
The Two Ways To Conquer Fear By Getting Close To It
1. It’s not so bad. In 2011, fear dominated my mind because of series of unfortunate medical issues; I was always in perfect health until I suddenly wasn’t. I was thrust into a wave of fear and it rattled me to the core. Some nights I would sit in the corner of my bed, visibly shaking, not knowing what to do with myself. ME. I couldn’t believe it. That kind of stuff only happened to other people.
As time went on, and I was still alive, I came to terms that life just tackled me really hard, and I needed to regain my composure. It took me more than a year to recover back to normal, but you know what? I’ve beaten it. It was like taking the hardest punch from a boxing opponent. You take the hit and say, “is that the best you’ve got?” It can do wonders to live through a fear and realize that it’s not as devastating as you worried.
The worst year of my life made me mentally stronger and less fearful than I’ve ever been.
2. It’s devastating. The other way to conquer fear is when its punch absolutely devastates you. This is like the example of the 100 foot wave that’s about to kill you. Because when you have nothing left to lose, are backed into a corner, have hit the bottom, or whatever phrase you prefer, you have no choice but to adjust to your new reality or give up altogether. Some people sadly give up, but for those who don’t, this can produce powerful results. Any person with nothing to lose is dangerous, either for good or evil. Some give up, some turn to crime, but others turn their life around.
You won’t hear many stories as inspiring as Jon Morrow’s. Jon was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a fatal debilitating disease that kills most kids before they reach 10 years of age. Jon, 31, who can’t move from the neck down, has well outlived his life expectancy. He had pneumonia 16 times before he was 16, but never gave up. Flirting with death has shaped his fears quite differently from your average man. His greatest fear now? Wasting his life watching TV.
“I would rather die doing what I want to do than die in a nursing home bed somewhere watching TV for 15 hours a day surrounded by other people waiting to die. To me that is the scariest thing imaginable.” ~ Jon Morrow (from an interview with Johnny Truant)
And by the way, Jon absolutely dominates the blogosphere, makes a lot of money, and lives in paradise. He’s smart and awesome. Read his story here.
Humans are strong, resilient creatures, and I love that about us. Even when everything is taken from us, we can move forward, sometimes further than we normally would have been able to move.
Do You Ever Call Out Your Fears?
When I entered the heart of fear, my understanding of it increased greatly. As I wrote about in my book (read a free preview or subscribe to get the full book), fear is strongest in the shadows, vague and unconfronted. So it’s a great practice to simply name your fears. Here are mine; some are rational, others aren’t.
I fear that…
- I shouldn’t publicly list my fears
- I’ll never find a wife
- Even after pouring so much time and research into my forthcoming book, nobody will buy it
- I’m doing the wrong thing by pursuing my dream and holding off on getting a “normal job”
- I’ll say the wrong thing or do something to lose every Deep Existence reader somehow
- I’m disillusioned about my own gifts and potential and will fail miserably and stereotypically slip in mud right after I find out
- Not using my college degree within a few years will render it useless, and that I’ll desperately need it later as a fallback option
- I’ll get cancer or some other life-altering disease (especially before I am financially secure)
- I’ll never achieve my dreams (financial security with location independence, redefining entertainment & storytelling, and having a great marriage)
And you know what? It’s out there now. You know I’m scared just like you are, but it’s ok that we’re scared. Why? Fear itself isn’t a problem, it’s how we choose to react to fear that matters. (tweet this fearless quote) When you allow fear to dictate your life, the living part of your life dies and you freeze in uncertainty. The inaction it causes leads to some fears coming true.
When you see the fear, but continue walking forward, doing your best, you have a chance to succeed with your life plans. Nothing is guaranteed in life, and that includes “living safe” under the tyrant of fear.
I just think that this is an important insight, that you don’t need to fight fear. In fact, “fighting fear” can be counterproductive because it makes you focus on fear all the time. You can still do things when you’re scared, and the more you do, the less scared you’ll be. At one point, I would have been too scared to publish something this vulnerable.
And I’m still a bit scared to hit publish, but I’ve learned that it’s ok to be scared, and that it doesn’t have to control me. When it comes to fear, I think this quote sums it up best…
“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” – Unknown