I think fear is one of the most dangerous things we can experience.
I’m not talking about real fear – the kind where we feel afraid of going too close to the edge of a cliff, or driving too fast, or not being able to afford food.
No, I’m talking about the kind of fear we feel when we face the blank page, when we dare to show our work to others, when we think about doing something we have always dreamed of, when we want to follow that deep longing inside. That kind of fear is a liar.
If I had to list all the obstacles that got in the way of me pursuing my dreams of writing, painting, creating, sharing my work with others and generally building an awesome career and life that I love, it would be a very short list.
What has stopped me? Fear.
Sure, we give it fancy names: resistance, procrastination, perfectionism, planning, preparing, waiting until the time is right, following common sense, not being rash, etc. But really all it boils down to is that I have been too afraid to go after what I really want.
And I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this.
What have I been afraid of? At first, it’s hard to describe. But on closer inspection it becomes obvious: I’ve been afraid of looking foolish, of failing, of making mistakes, of being disappointed, and even of being successful.
Fear’s job is to keep us safe – safe from these imagined dangers. The key word here is ‘imagined’. That’s not to say those things couldn’t happen – of course they could – but rather, that I won’t know for sure that they will happen. Fear assumes the worst. Fear knows for certain that they will happen, and it’s just not worth the risk.
But fear is a liar.
We have no way of knowing for certain that these things could happen. It is also possible that wonderful things could happen – the most amazing things we could possibly hope for.
There’s a line from a poem by Erin Hanson that sums this up nicely:
What if I Fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?
Fear says, you will definitely fall.
The antidote to fear is courage. Courage says, you could fly. Let’s give it a try.
Courage is a nice word, and it sounds simple enough, but courage is like exercise: you need to do it consistently every day to see results. Courage is an active thing that takes deliberate effort.
Every day I have to ask myself, what would a courageous person do? I’m not exaggerating when I say this – I actually ask myself this question on a regular basis.
You see, journaling regularly made it abundantly clear to me that fear was holding me back. The more I journaled, the more absurd it became that the only reason I wasn’t going after my dreams was because I was afraid of imagined outcomes. So I taught myself how to be courageous, with that one little question.
Courage will look different to each and every one of us, but for me it looks like:
- Sitting down with my journal even when I feel like I have nothing to say
- Facing my journal when I have difficult things to deal with
- Painting and creating often
- Showing what I create to others
- Opening up and expressing myself freely to others
- Offering what I create to others not knowing whether they will like it (for example, the newsletter)
- Committing to things that scare me, like the 100 Days Project
- Singing in front of others
- Owning my talents and gifts
- Embracing the parts of myself I used to reject
Now I know not to listen fear, because fear is a liar.
How do you experience fear? How does fear hold you back?
What would/does courage look like to you?
How might your life be different if you had more courage than fear?
In what ways do you already practice courage? List anything you can think of, no matter how small.
Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.