Could you imagine what you could accomplish if you didn’t fear? Yes, fear is useful, quite necessary in fact. Without it, your ancestors would have walked straight into the jaws of a saber tooth tiger or volcano. It’s the primal defense mechanism. But it’s also manufactured.
Beyond the survival instint, fear is a collection of experiences and imaginative projections that linger just below the surface of our conscious minds. Some are conscious, like the fear of death. All fears lead to death as the common denominator, even if it’s a metaphoric death, like rejection or humiliation, the death of reputation and pride.
But most fear is irrational and unhealthy. It’s based on imagined realities that may or may not happen, mostly unverified assumptions. “If I ask her out on a date, she’ll probably say no,” one might fear. “Look at that man staring at me. He’s probably sexualizing me, dangerous, or creepy,” I’ve thought on occasion. The truth is, the man may be staring in my general direction and not even seeing me.
Humans are storytellers. The mind tells stories about everything it perceives. I suspect not many of the stories are true, or at least, not verifiable.
And yet, I confess that fear prevents me from succeeding. I’ll avoid what makes me unconfortable, actions that I imagine the consequences to be rejection or loss somehow. The fear drowns out the confidence, charitable impulses, and acts of kindness. Those are just as driving impulses as embarrassment or shame, but fear strong arms them to stay back, get lost. Fear paralyses. Even little fears will cause an “I better not.”
Bravery is a muscle. Like all muscles, it must be exercised for strength and stretched for flexibility. Facing fear is exercise. Action despite fear bulks up courage muscles. You get used to looking fear in the eyes and one day, you’re not cringing, avoiding, or ducking out. You’re not stymied or paralyzed. You forge ahead and forget that fear ever stopped you. That’s success. You’re unstoppable.
Public speaking terrified me for the first half of my life. That’s crippling for a newly-minted teacher and lawyer. Five years after appearing in court, queasy and terrified I’d spew my guts when my case was called, I rose before the court, spoke my piece, and walked out the door struck by the absence of nausea and fear. I’m not sure when it actually happened, but that was the first time I noticed my fear had left. I had conquered it. I rarely fear public speaking now.
But I still have so many other fears, mostly wrapped around the story of who I am that I tell myself, how I am a likeable person, fiercely independent, and self-sufficient. I don’t rely on anyone for what I need. It’s an old story and mostly untrue. Yes, I’m all of those things, but not because anyone else believes those characteristics are mine. They exist regardless of anyone’s opinion.
And not only that, I am those traits …except for when I’m not. They’re just part of a story that I gathered along the way and decided was me, probably from remarks I’ve heard about me or novels I’ve read, celebrities or political figures I’ve admired. I identified with scraps of ideas and words swirling around me randomly patterned together as me.
So, reality is pretty flimsy. I can choose my story. I don’t have to be afraid of what others think about me. Anyone just needs to act in accordance with their dreams and values. The rest is none of anyone’s business.
Running a skincare business is fun and terror, but most importantly, personal development–big time. It’s yet another time to stretch and grow, like we never stop doing, constantly and uneasily. The alternative? Death. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. Facing fear keeps us alive as we bravely go where so many have gone shaking in their boots…for a time. And then, the fear is gone, replaced by happiness.