The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The No Bullshit Guide to Living Your Best Life.
“Punch fear in the face.” –Jon Acuff
I want to help you conquer your fears.
I spent the last 30 years trying to make certain things happen, trying to prevent bad things from happening and basically trying to control my surroundings, all in the hope of avoiding pain and sorrow. Sadly, my efforts were thwarted.
My efforts to avoid pain and sorrow directly contributed to much of my pain and sorrow.
Until recently, I lived in fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of judgement. Fear of humiliation. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear was my ruler. My overlord. Fear kept me walled off from my friends and family. Fear robbed me of my life. I sought comfort in the fears, as if my being aware of the possibility of things going horribly wrong somehow prevented them. Well, it didn’t. I’ve still been judged and rejected. I’ve failed. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve even succeeded in a few areas. Fear did not protect me from pain. Fear kept me from building relationships. Fear kept me from following my dreams.
I penned these words one afternoon when I first started writing my book:
“This is so scary. All I am doing is sitting here, in the carpool line pounding away at my keyboard, yet I am a ball of nerves and filled with fear. Why? Because these words might actually turn into a book one day.”
When we set out to do the thing we’ve always dreamed of, we are often met with fear, doubt, and excuses. Sometimes our fears are so overwhelming we curl up into the comfortable, boring safety of not chasing our dreams, allowing them to pass us by.
Take it from someone who knows what it is like to be led by fear:
Fear is bullshit.
Fear is a waste of time. Fear will not prevent things from happening to you, and living in fear will most likely end up costing you in some way, shape or form.
Recently, I became acutely aware of just how much fear controlled my decisions. I had been living out one of my biggest fears without even noticing.
Being alert and aware of my surroundings yet unable to communicate is a fate far worse than death.
In a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, one of the main characters appeared to be in such a state. She could see, hear and think, but she could not communicate to those around her. A rush of panic flowed through my veins. My heart began to race, and I had a hard time breathing. “I can’t watch this.” I told my husband. I turned it off in favor of Lucifer, a show where CSI meets the supernatural.
I wondered why the idea of being unable to communicate bothered me to the point that I couldn’t even watch an actor portray this scenario on television. I imagined myself watching and listening to my loved ones talk, unable to join the conversation. The thought alone is anxiety inducing.
I express myself through my words. Spoken language is a primary form of communication. Losing the ability to speak would be awful, but I would manage.
If I lost the ability to speak, I would type.
If I lost the ability to speak and type, I would sign.
If I lost the ability to speak, type and sign, I would nod.
If I lost all those abilities but could blink, at least I would be able to communicate. I could express my needs, desires and fears, even if at a severely limited capacity.
If I lost all forms of expression, I would want to die, yet I would be unable to communicate my wishes to anyone.
These thoughts moved me to tears because I realized I had been living in a prison built out of my own fear. On this random fall evening, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I haven’t expressed myself in years.
I think, at one time, I was “me.” I liked what I liked. I did (or tried to do) what I wanted. I didn’t apologize for my quirks, my uniqueness or any of the things that made me, well, me.
I began to lose myself somewhere along the way. Through a series of large and small events, beginning when I was a child, I started to shut off parts of myself. I thought I was simply growing and learning what it meant to function in a society. While partially true, I was also hiding. I hid from judgement, ridicule, rejection, shame and embarrassment, which ended up being to my detriment.
I wanted to join the dance team, but I was too afraid to try out. I wanted to play softball, but feared I would be the worst on the team. I was terrified to open up to anyone, which prevented me from having good friends.
I spent so much time worrying what others would say or think about my actions, I stopped… acting.
I love giving gifts. If I see something that I think will brighten your day, I want you to have it. After so many years of being the friend who got the “extra” gift at school, I stopped participating in holiday exchanges. You know the extra gift? The generic one you get and don’t put a name on just in case someone you didn’t think about gets you a gift? I almost always got the extra gift while I watched people I thought were my friends exchange carefully selected presents they bought for one another. Eventually, I was so afraid of how people would respond, I stopped giving gifts altogether.
The hurt and rejection I’ve felt throughout my life, some from family, some from friends and some self-inflicted, caused me to shrink. I didn’t want to feel the sting of rejection, so I walled myself off. I kept my heart at a safe distance from everyone. In doing so, I stopped being rejected, but I continued fearing rejection all the same. Keeping my heart walled off, not attempting to foster meaningful relationships led me to stop expressing myself.
I stopped being my true self. I was no longer “me.”
I was watching and listening to my everyone I love talk, unable to join the conversation. I allowed my fears to own me, which caused me to live out my greatest fear. I spent a large part of my life blinking and nodding when I should have been speaking and doing.
I’ve come to learn that the fear never goes away. You really just have to “do it afraid.” Your “it” will look different from mine, and from everyone else’s. Recently, I was able to do some “its” I would have previously been too afraid to attempt:
Earlier this year, I tried out for a Mardi Gras dance troupe. I was mortified having to learn and perform a dance in front of other people. But I did it because I wanted to. I also played in a softball league this summer. I was afraid I would be the worst on the team, and truth be told, I might have been, but I had a blast.
Take it from my hard-earned experiences: Your fears may never completely go away, but you can conquer your fears. Acknowledge your fear, but continue pursuing your desires.
Be afraid. Do it anyway.