While growing up, we learn all the things we shouldn’t do. We learn not to be stingy, not to talk back to our parents, not to be mean to our friends, not to sneak cookies before dinner, and not to lock our baby brothers in the closet (or was that one just me?). In the midst of the long list of “nots”, we are commonly told not to be afraid. We learn that fear is a bad thing, like stealing our friend’s toy or pinching our siblings.
We are taught that fear is bad. When something is bad, we have two options. We either get rid of the bad thing or get rid of the cause. In other words, fear has to go or the causes of fear have to go.
Unfortunately for the human race, fear is a basic human emotion that we all experience. We have felt fear. We do feel fear. We will feel fear. This fact leaves us then with one other option- erasing the causes of fear. The world tells you not to be afraid? Fine. You won’t do anything that makes you feel that way!
So we start doing safe things. Predictable things. We choose college majors that will undoubtedly provide us with employment. We may be great artists, but engineers make more money. We choose to set down the paintbrush, the pen, and the guitar, because they are vulnerable pursuits that can come with much criticism. We don’t travel because bad things may happen. We stay friends with the great guy for fear of him denying us. We don’t apply to the dream job because we will probably get rejected due to being under-qualified. We don’t go the doctor to check out the lump, because doctors sometimes give terrifying news.
We play it safe. No fear allowed.
But I think we may have it all wrong. What if fear is not a bad thing? What if refusing to actually live our lives because we are paralyzed by fear is the bad thing? The author Steven Pressfield, in his fantastic book The War of Art, argues that fear is indeed not a bad thing; it is actually good:
“Fear is good…fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do…The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it…the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
The point then is not to eradicate our fear. As humans, this task is arguably impossible. As long as we live on this earth, we will at various times feel fear. The point is to feel fear and do it anyway. Paint. Give a speech. Ask him or her out on a date. Fight for that promotion. Speak up. Major in English. Fly to Australia. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride. Go the doctor for a check-up. Be vulnerable. Do it anyway.
Feel that fear. Life can be scary. It’s a fact. Fear is an emotion, so feel it. Don’t stuff it. But don’t allow it power enough to paralyze you. Don’t fear your fear. Realize that fear can precede something that may be very important or amazing; and the fear you feel shouldn’t stop you. We can choose the safest option. We can choose the option that brings no fear. But then are we really living or just merely surviving?
So what if we stopped saying “Don’t Be Afraid”? What if we started saying: “Feel the fear. Do it anyway”? We may make mistakes. We may get hurt or offended. But we can never say we did not live to the fullest.
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