(I started this a few days ago, I’m going to finish it now.)
I was watching a video by Ramit Sethi over dinner earlier. I can’t remember when I first encountered Ramit, but I remember that when I did, I thought he seemed a little sleazy and unlikeable. I think it was probably something to do with the title “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, which seemed presumptuous and bullshitty. But over time, the more I’ve encountered him, the more I’ve found that he has a pretty compelling style and approach to things. I particularly like the way he constantly asks questions on Twitter.
Anyway – the takeaway I was getting from reading his material and watching a couple of his videos (I don’t know if this is the main thing he was trying to communicate, but it was what was already on my mind) was the title of this post – which is that if you’re not beating a fear, you’re hiding from it. I’m thinking now about some other person’s point about how, if you simplify greatly, there are only two emotions – fear and love – and everything else is just derivative of that. It kind of makes sense. Love is tied with gratitude, fear is tied with anxiety and paranoia and what-have-you. I’m thinking now also about Chris Hadfield’s TED talk, which opened with “what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done”. He talked about how a person might overcome their fear of spiders by first doing the research and then deliberately walking through spider webs, deliberately handling spiders, and how that would then allow them to function in nature more comfortably. Fears, he pointed out, are often irrational and hold us back from living a fuller and more complete life.
Now I find myself thinking about this video I saw of this lady trying to confront a different fear each day for a 100 days (or something like that). And I remember how heartening it was to watch, how quickly we root for somebody who’s doing something like that. Now I’m thinking of the TV show Fear Factor, and how that was so compelling to watch. Those fears were very physical and concrete – fear of creepy crawlies, fear of gross food, fear of heights, and so on. But I think the real Fear Factor that we all live every day is far more insidious. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of failure. Fear of being ostracized, mocked, laughed at, cast out. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of guilt and shame. Fear of not measuring up, not being good enough, not being worthy of love and affection. All of these things sound a little silly and superficial when you write them down in a text editor while you’re lying in bed on a saturday night, but the reality of it is so insidious. What is stopping me from living a better life? What is stopping me from turning my life into a canvas that I then paint with all sorts of beautiful, interesting and exciting things? Fear! Fear is the primary thing holding me back. It’s easy to write it up as all sorts of technical things – I don’t know this, I don’t know that, I’m too tired, I’m too broke, I have too many commitments… but at the heart of it is always fear. And fear has to be faced head on. You have to introduce yourself to your fears. You have to say YES, hello, I am afraid of you, but I am going to face you anyway, and I am going to win.
A life where we run away from our fears is not very interesting. It’s not very compelling. It’s quite sad. We turn to cigarettes and alcohol and distractions and video games because we are afraid. I mean, those are not all necessarily horrible coping mechanisms – a little bit is always nice from time to time – but if you’re honest with yourself and you take the time to really breathe, meditate, pay attention to yourself and your life, it should be clear what you’re afraid of.
When I say you I’m talking to myself, of course. I can’t speak on behalf of anybody else. I’ve encountered some people in my life who seem pretty fearless. Or they’re really good at managing their fears. Chris Hadfield is an obvious one. Malala Yousafzai comes across as incredibly fearless.
It’s interesting also to think about the fear profiles of other people in your life who might have made your own life difficult. Think about what your parents, your spouse, your in-laws are afraid of. What are your friends afraid of? Surely everybody is living in some kind of fear. The great fear of course is death, the inevitable unknown. Sometimes I almost think that I look forward to death, because it’ll allow me to say “You know what, fuck this shit, none of this shit matters, none of it ever did, it was all one big joke, one big laugh, the universe entertaining itself” – and as I write this I find myself wanting to say “I wouldn’t recommend it tbqh”, but I can’t stand by that thought. Well, I don’t know what the alternatives are. Perhaps there’s a parallel universe out there that’s way more amazing than this one. We’ll never know. What I do know is that the current life I’m living is definitely shaped by my fears, and that is not something that I enjoy.
As I was getting to this point I wanted to remind myself to think about childhood fears. And young-man fears. I remember being afraid of my parents. Being afraid of school. Being afraid of looking bad in the eyes of my peers, being afraid of losing friends. I distinctly remember being afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a job that I liked, that I was going to be stuck in some shitty dead-end job and turn into some rambling old man that nobody liked. I remember being afraid of food, being afraid to cook, being afraid to do squats with heavy weights, being afraid to run. All of those things are fears that I can face and conquer. And I think maybe if big, audacious goals might be a form of escapism, then a small but potent goal is this: to face my fears one at a time, and conquer them decisively like a boss.