Our fears hold us back… so what would happen if we let them go?
Spiders, earthquakes, flying, cancer, public speaking, vomiting, germs, clowns, your own inner crazy urge to throw yourself off tall buildings, cheese. Fear of cheese? Really? Yep, apparently it’s a thing. Not that I can talk. I have a phobia of sponges, find morris dancing scary, same for blowing up balloons, not to mention my fear looking like an idiot in all sorts of situations. And the rest: generic rejection, abandonment, being unloveable, being unworthy, being shunned, looking strange.
Help; this isn’t a very cheerful story so far! But that’s what happens with fear. Fear is the root cause of every negative emotion. Fear and love; in the end that is all there is. The darkest fears come to you when when you can’t sleep: fear of ageing, dying, nothingness, black holes, the abyss. These are The Big Fears. But both the small fears and the big fears combine to create the sole reason that holds us back from living the most glorious, vivid lives we can imagine.
So if we could conquer our fears, jump off the edge, into the abyss, what could happen? I don’t know… do you?
A friend sent me one of those sayings, the sort I normally find a touch cheesy (and I am an excruciatingly cheesy person!) the words floating in the blue sky above a picture of a beach umbrella: “everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
It might be twee, but this time it made me think. To be fair, a lot of these quotes make me think – because I am a big thinker. But this time was different. This time I was thinking… “here is possibly the most important question in the world.” What would you do if you had no fear?
A therapist I spoke to told me that answering this question usually provokes an “Ah-ha!” moment; it’s as if the person connects with what is really important in life, almost as if they have been waiting a lifetime for someone to ask them this key question. It is a profound, potentially life-changing inquiry.
So it’s not just me, then.
But apparently therapists do not have my juvenile friends. Armed with my new life altering question, I asked around: what would you do if you had no fear? Steal a car, scuba dive, marry, skydive, bungy jump, use my 2-iron, take lots of drugs, become an actor, take my clothes off in public, gamble my life savings, stop caring what people think of me and start saying NO more often, do exactly what I want to do, tell a lot more people where to go, open a jazz club, hurt myself doing more stupid things.
But not all my friends sounded like Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear. Some sounded lovely. (Because they are lovely).
“I would love completely.”
“I’d get straight in a plane to Brazil and find some boys to salsa with. I wouldn’t worry about looking like a stupid idiot, like I normally do, because in my head when I want to get my sexy on, I think about it and then my self comes out and goes, “look at you, you’re a fool”. But I would have no fear, so I wouldn’t care.”
Another friend said:”There are only two fears for me. Fear of dying and fear of pissing off my peers. If I get shot of those puppies and the sky’s the limit, baby.”
I also liked the person who answered: “I’m already doing it. I gave up on fear a long time ago.” Though I couldn’t quite believe it. Could anyone have given up fear and not shared the life changing secret with all her friends?
Anyway, why does this question make us think so much? Why do we need someone else to give us permission to follow our dreams? Do we need someone to provoke us to even discover what we really want? It seems to be a lifelong project to find out.
American Taiwanese artist Candy Chang painted the side of a house with blackboard paint and wrote the start of the sentence “Before I die…” inviting strangers to finish it.
“Before I die I want to be tried for piracy; before I die I want to sing for millions; before I die I want to plant a tree; before I die I want to hold her one more time; before I die I want to be someone’s cavalry; before I die I want to be completely myself.”
The question resonated around the world.
Change project has now been recreated in more than 500 cities and over 70 countries, including Iraq, China, Haiti, Brazil, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and South Africa.
In her TED talk, Chang explained the project came about after she lost someone close to her, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. “I thought about death a lot and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had and brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.”
Diane Conway, author of the book, ‘What Would You Do If You Had No Fear?’ says you need to get in touch with what you feel passionate about. “Passion defeats fear.”
She says you need to declare your dream out loud to a supportive person and then ask people to help you; don’t go it alone. Ask yourself, “how would I act, think and BE today if I knew everything was going to work out?”
Make an action plan and “BREATHE”.
She makes it sound so easy!
In the movies when someone conquers their fears it is usually dinky and life-affirming, with a montage of them learning boxing or running down the beach to Celine Dion. In real life, if we are asked to face our fears, most of us feel like vomiting!
In real life, the process of facing your fears is not uplifting at all, it is nauseatingly, gut-evacuatingly bloody awful: and I don’t just mean Celine Dion. (Not really slagging Celine, I love her. Also, I have what I call an eclectic – others call tragic – music taste). That’s why we will do anything to not face our fears.
And the weird thing is, facing the biggest, hairiest fears is something no one will give you an award for. It’s a kind of secret, quiet bravery that happens in your bedroom or office with no spectators.
Researcher Brene Brown discovered that when she asked people what makes them feel vulnerable: “Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick and we’re newly married; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people; leaving my husband, even though I still love him, because I know it is the right thing to do.”
Overcoming those fears won’t help you win a triathlon or be a national hero or give you an good adrenaline rush. So I’m still confused. I still don’t know what my answer to the question: what would I do if I had no fear?
Because I’m too scared to answer it honestly, perhaps? To admit my full truth to myself.
But I do know if I had no fear of do something fundamentally life changing. I wouldn’t just make a memory, like going to Machu Picchu or fundraising or running a marathon. I would make a change that would make all my memories better. Maybe if I had no fear, I would just be the real me, every second of every day. If I had no fear I would meet every person and every situation with pure love. So I’m going to try to defeat fear and do this. Because I find myself judging people every day, and , even though I know I am an incredibly forgiving and non-judgmental person, I have daily slip ups. I don’t have to be scared to be taken advantage of, or scared to give in or scared to be seen as weak. I wouldn’t be scared of rejection and I wouldn’t take rejection personally. Instead I’d meet the rejector with only love and positivity.
Armed with this knowledge, I’m now going to make a very conscious effort to meet every situation from a loving perspective. And that seems the scariest thing of all. Much scarier than even the smelliest cheese or scariest clown.