Whenever we get the idea to do something new or daring or great, our fear response kicks in. Like an overprotective mother, it impedes us from doing anything it sees as risky or threatening. While this can be really helpful and has served an essential purpose – to help keep us alive - over time, our fear response has been kicked into high alert. It's meant to register new, perceived and previously labeled threats – helping alert us to life-threatening situations so we can protect ourselves.
But, as we have evolved, the presence of actual life-threatening situations and experiences has lessened. And while you would think, then, that our fear response might lessen its hold on us as we are not consistently in imminent danger anymore, this is oddly not the case. Sure, we are safer and healthier and all in all, in a much better place than ancient ancestors, but we live in a world bombarded by advancement and innovation. We are CONSTANTLY faced with something new, and while our rationale brain can make sense of these things (or most of them anyways...I am still having a hard time rationalizing major concepts like what exactly the internet is and how a car can drive without a person inside) our fear response is part of our primitive brain which knows the world only in good or bad. We can only see things as “safe” or “unsafe” and so unfortunately, “new" and “innovative" is often marked “unsafe”.
So, rather than just reacting, as needed, to truly life threatening or potentially harmful events, fear is feeling on top of the world thinking its doing awesome work keeping you safe from all of this potential “harm” it sees, kicking in whenever we take even the smallest risk or even think about trying something new. SO what happens? We avoid having the hard conversations. We avoid going for the daring career move. We avoid asking for the promotion. We don’t ask the person we are interested in out on a date. We go for the car and the white picket fence with 2.5 kids, a dog and a cat rather than admitting we don’t want kids and travel the world. We live a life cushioned by “comfort” which is essentially just a masked version of fear. If we are “comfortable” we don’t have to consider making a move. If we are “comfortable” why mess with the system? Let’s just stay here, in the relationships and jobs and roles that are devoid of joy. Because the idea of risking comfort for true happiness is unfathomable because all we see is the possibility of failure. I found myself stuck here for years. In a relationship I merely existed in, chasing someone’s dream career, sacrificing myself to make others happy, all for the superficial feeling of comfort. And it was nice for awhile. I knew my partner would never leave me and that I had support, even if only superficial, near me. I knew my career would guarantee me financial security. So why try anything different? I wish I could say that I woke up one day and just found the motivation intrinsically to walk away from all of this. I didn't. And to be honest, I am not sure if that would have happened for a very long time. Rather, it took the death of one of my best friends - my cousin Shaun - a confidant who had always made it his life goal to live his life as authentic as possible, for me to step back and see how miserable I was. I left the shitty job. I made the real, raw and deep leap into a new relationship that scared the crap out of me but made me feel more alive than ever before. I started eliminating people from my life that didn’t bring me joy. I began dressing for me and no one else. I started to let the real me out of the box I had spent years pushing shut. And while I lived in a state of constant fear everything was going to crash, I had felt freer than ever before. Over time, the fear subsided as I continued to see happiness, warmth and passion at the forefront of all I did. I was able to see how fear had protected me but also how it limited me and started to work on building a new relationship with it to allow me to always have the opportunity to expand beyond the limits of my comfort zone. I still struggle every day - especially since opening my own business. I am still holding myself back in so many ways, scared both about the possibility I could fail but even moreso afraid of succeeding and pushing myself to the next level. It is constant daily battles and I don’t conquer them by trying to defeat or overpower fear. I win by joining with fear, getting curious about it and then figuring out what I need to allow myself to move forward.
And so with that, I turn to you. I truly believe that until we learn to take fear out of the driver’s seat, we cannot move forward. Again, I’m not saying we have to reject its existence or stifle it by trying to shove it back down and not engage with it. Rather, we need to simply look to it, thank it for showing up and tell it and yourself that you are just going to write a blog post or ask for a promotion or whatever it is for you and that right now, there is no real danger. Acknowledge the fear is real but turn to it and say that you will survive this no matter the outcome so it is okay for fear to let go a bit. Then, you just have to jump. Creating or doing anything authentic to who you are is already a success no matter the outcome. So what if you don’t get that grant or the person decides not to go out with you or you don’t get into that awesome program? You went for something that most people only dream of doing. You made a choice authentic to who you are and with each failure, there is deeply rooted success in that you get to know yourself on an even deeper level every time you get this opportunity to bounce forward from something. We spend so much time measuring our success by how others react or perceive what we do - how many likes we get on Facebook, followers on Instagram, retweets or products sold - and do everything we can to mitigate risk before we jump that we never actually do anything new. But, ultimately, our passion is not rooted in anyone else but us and therefore, should not be made more or less valuable based on anyone else’s opinions.You are never going to have a guarantee in anything you do. You are never going to have enough money or all of the skills or the best way to articulate something. The only thing you can bring with you in those moments is the courage to simply try. Shaun left this Earth sooner than anyone ever anticipated and what we, who knew him, carry every day is the essence of his soul and how he showed up every day open to everyone around him and dedicated to changing the world. Sure, he had plenty of failures, tons of annoying quirks, countless fights with people over the years including some bad break-ups but no one ever carries those things with them. It is the way we live our lives every day that stand out. And every day we succumb to our comfort zone is a day we are not truly living. So ask yourself…what is holding you back? How is fear showing up for you? And take the next step towards embracing it and jumping past it.