Back at the start of 2020, I set out on a quest to do more things that were uncomfortable.
What did this look like back while I was living in Chicago? Joining a Dutch speaking club. Doing a solo trip without the Internet as a crutch for connection. Speaking for an hour at a virtual conference. Joining a a small group to share about vulnerable topics I’m insecure about like my dyslexia with strangers. Going on dates with strangers. Yes a bunch of stuff with strangers and going alone.
But why do things that I am fearful of?
I see fear on a scale. They can come in the form of uncomfortably scary or life-threatening things. Being uncomfortable is like a little fear I have that allows me to create more bravery for my future self. With each step I take of doing things that are uncomfortable, I minimize that voice in my head that tries to limit my choices. When I have fear, it takes optionality away from me. That voice for me takes shape as a micro-manger Emanuel, who always told me things I couldn’t do. It felt like compliance and obedience were the only things rewarded. I didn’t like his management style.
For making sense of my fears, I lump them into two types of fears.
I simple it down to the ones that
Serve my surviving
Impede my thriving
These first ones are more rational that keep me alive like fear of poisonous snakes, drowning in the riptide of waves, or being raped. The latter type of fear keeps me from excelling in my life. For instance, each week, I still get scared of hitting publish on this newsletter, but I know that fear of embarrassment isn’t actually a fear. It is one that is holding me back from my potential.
It’s easy to get out of hand with chasing fears. Life doesn’t get easier after. I’m still very much fearful of breaking my body from jumping out of planes despite sky diving, being bitten by a shark despite swimming alongside one, and feeling lonely despite joining numerous clubs, communities and my stable support system.
Most meaningful things in life like, connection, fulfillment and happiness are on the other side of those scary places in the unknown. This means adding spice to life with variety and creating change proactively. The sweaty hands while meeting a stranger. The nonstop stuttering when stepping up to the mic. The pain of a stretched tendon while rolling an ankle. It’s all far from fun.
My north star for me has been cultivating bravery by acting in spite of fear.
I watched the TED Talk from entrepreneur, investor, podcaster, and lifestyle guru, Tim Ferriss on “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.” He is most known for writing the book 4-Hour Work Week.
Tim reveals how he has had over 50 major depressive episodes in his lifetime while dealing with bipolar depression disorder that nearly led to him ending his own life in college.
He later found the philosophy of stoicism which focuses what you can control over what you cannot control to decrease emotional reactivity.
This led him to a fear setting exercise instead of goal setting.
Here’s how to do it with three steps:
What if I…
Define 10 outcomes
Prevent and list 10 solutions
Repair is what you could do to help if it happened or who you could ask for help.
What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?
Look at the potential upside. With learning new skills will you feel more confident or recharged?
What are the costs of inaction?
Across the timespan of 6 months, 1 year, 3 years
If I avoid this action what might my life look like?
Tim does this once a quarter. Some fears are well founded and they don’t get easy but they get easier when you analyze and put them under a microscope.
I read even more about fear from Yung Pueblo in his collection called Inward. I discovered his Instagram and couldn’t stop binging his posts, so figured, “heck, I’d love to read one of his books.”
Below I’d like to share one of his poems.
Specifically the fourth line in this “anger reveals your fear” hits home for me. Snakes, submarines and public speaking are some of those fears that cause anger for me with how anxious I get on these topics.
My most irrational fear that angers me? Needles.
I’ve had a fear of needles as far back as I can remember. While I was growing up my grandpa, Dziadzia, had diabetes, so whenever we were at dinners together he’d bring along his dialysis bag. He lived in fear of doctors. They wanted to minimize his joy in life of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I aways think about Dziadzia when I eat them today. This phobia of needles was passed down to my older brother that passed down to me and my sister as well.
Even as I see the doctor as an adult, I still wish that my mom is there to console me for anything. She usually is. Especially circa 2018 when I had my first surgery of a tonsillectomy followed by 13 hours of nausea from finding out I was allergic to Vicodin painkiller.
The thing that gets me most nervous about needles is losing control of my body. Fainting has been something I grew up doing. In horse stables. In the biology lab while dissecting Fred the frog. In church while kneeling before communion.
If you’re not a pro like me at fainting (which I hope you’re not), it feels like your consciousness slinks away. Like a fever rush of sweat where your heart skips a beat.
This past week with getting blood work done, the room started spinning. My body felt heavier while my head felt like a floating balloon. Naturally, like an anchored ship, my body sunk further into my seat. I deliberately took my glasses off to blur my reality but I couldn’t see anyways. Spec by spec, my vision went black and white across my field of view. I lost sight. The four vials of blood collected felt like gallons left my body.
Coincidentally, my aunt was in the waiting room and she said she heard ‘sounds of terror’ behind the doors. I feel childish for this fear, and it is one I’m actively seeking to overcome, so let me know if anything helps you with this.
Below are two more poems from Yung Pueblo relating to fear. I added questions below each one to think about:
What is no longer serving me and would create more happiness if I let go?
When was the last time I tested the boundaries of a fear?
🌟 Quotes to inspire
“We suffer more often in our imagination than in reality.” –Seneca, Roman stoic philosopher
“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” – Jerzy Gregorek, Polish Poet, World Weightlifting Champion
“NO FEAR. I think the motto is disingenuous or stupid. Of course you should have fear. Riding a bike without a helmet may be fearless, but it’s not smart. Lava surfing might be fearless, but it’s not smart. Swallowing fire without training might be fearless as well, but we can all agree it’s not smart either. So what’s smart? Living life without regret.” –Seth Godin from Linchpin
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do… The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. “ –Steven Pressfield from The War of Art