Let’s Talk About Fear

Let’s talk about that insidious assassin of joy and peace. That creature which steals creativity and hope, leaving behind a discordant emptiness that paralyzes every part of you that is good and fun. Fear. Such a small word and yet it can keep a soldier from saving his fellows, a person from expressing his love for another, a mother of three from writing the next Great American novel. Fear stops us in our tracks. It nags at us, tugging at our mental clothing until it hangs in tatters from our worn out selves. It stops us from inventing, from risking, from learning, from creating. It stymies us and tells us that we’re only good for our day-to-day lives and sometimes not even then.

But Fear is useful they tell me. And it is. It keeps most of us from doing things that are truly stupid and life-threatening. And yet, because it protects us that way, we allow it to run our lives in a myriad of other ways. We permit it access to the social side of our brains instead of just the primal side. We allow Fear to tell us we’re stupid, weak, fat, ugly, or useless. And one of the saddest things is that we believe it. We join it in tearing apart our self esteem and our desire. We let it lead us to hate, prejudice, drugs, and pain.

So. I’ve been reading this book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and listening to its associated podcast. This is not a plug for the book, I promise. Read it if you want, don’t read it if you don’t want. All I’m saying is, it helped me to see that Fear, an emotion most of us walk with everyday, is a bit of an overbearing asshole. Like the over protective mother who would dress you up in a helmet, long pants, shoes, socks, and knee pads before you ever stepped foot outside your door, it teaches you that failure and humiliation live around every corner and you must insulate yourself against it.

And I do. I don’t date, I never ask for raises, I don’t travel very far and never without a plan, and I’m scared shitless of home ownership. I have a tattoo that says “Risk Your Heart” on my wrist as a reminder of hope and courage, but do risk my heart? Nope. Not me. Why? Because risk is scary. Because Fear tells me I will fail, that the stress of growing and learning in those situations will be more painful or irritating than any gain. Because there won’t be a gain, Fear says. How could there be while Fear constantly lists my failures in my head? Constantly.

But what has listening to Fear done for me? So far, very little. I’ve never been married, I make considerably less than my fellows, I have suffered under the rules of apartment complexes and landlords for years, and, until last week, I’d stopped writing. I agonize over my weight and my looks, chiming in with Fear that, because of all those things, I will die unhappy and alone. Fear is such an asshole. What has this realization of Fear as the ultimate asshole done for me? Well, I’m working on it. Today, I’m sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a writing group because it forces me to sit and concentrate on something that brings me joy. Next week I sign the final papers for a house, a house that will allow me to take care of my family in ways I haven’t been able to before. Next month, I have an appointment with my supervisors to discuss my annual review and a raise. I’ve even started thinking about dating again. “You’ll fail…” There it is. Fear telling me I’m taking on too much, trying too much, risking too much.

How do people do this? Try and try again, they say. Ok, but what does that look like. Well, today its me saying “Forget about all that publishing crap. Forget all the home-ownership horror stories. Forget the potential rejections. Today, just write. We’ll work on tomorrow when it gets here.” And that’s ok. Small steps are good.

Tell Fear its an asshole and do the thing it says you can’t. Drag Fear kicking and screaming along with you, if you need to, but do it anyway. Because the saddest thing is getting to the end of your life and saying “I almost did that once.”

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