On Fear

 

Fear is something all humans can relate to. No matter your age, ethnicity, gender or anything else rational minds use to categories people, fear is known by everyone. Tell me who hasn’t known the fear of a near miss while driving a car. So shaken and engulfed by a physical reaction that you have no control over. With hands sweaty, heart pounding and mind consumed by what just happened you may have even pulled over to give yourself time to calm down.

What about fear that comes with pushing yourself beyond your physical comfort?  Afraid of heights and looked over a breath-taking view outdoors only to be focused on some mental sensation that you have no control over? Then you know how controlling a fear of heights can be. The first time I ever jumped out of a plane I was almost paralyzed by fear. Even now when I go rock climbing my fear of heights and falling making my climbing less than optimal. I’m still climbing to avoid falling and not climbing to climb. Anything that you do that has fear infused within it likely means you’re not doing it very well.

The fear I want to discuss today is a different kind of fear. It is a fear of failing at something and controls us so much that we likely just avoid even attempting the task because life is a little more comforting when we are not confronting our fears, but comfort does not a good life make…

Ultimately fear comes down to some kind of perceived loss. In the above examples the loss is our wellbeing or even our life. Those kinds of fears have their place, but still shouldn’t be allowed to dictate our self-chosen course of action. The fear we face when pushing ourselves into unknown territory carries with it the basis of some kind of perceived loss, but the loss, albeit possible, is largely based on a very limited idea of an outcome.

Our focus seems to be only on one possible outcome, the negative one, out of several other possible outcomes including the positive ones.  If you have followed investing for any length of time you are probably familiar with the field of investment psychology. One of the principles of this area of study is called loss aversion.  We apparently are far more impacted by a loss than a gain.  I think this extends into other areas of our lives as well.  Loss hurts; at least mentally.

But a loss is only one potential outcome and although it influences us the most it is best to keep it in check while moving in the direction we desire.  I want to share with you a few other fears that I have faced over the years and how facing those fears turned out to be profoundly positive experiences.

Rock Climbing

For a guy who has a mild fear of heights I’m not sure why I decided I wanted to rock climb.  I love being outdoors and there has always been something that appeals to climbing the face of a rock; even though it scares the hell out of me!

The first time I climbed outdoors was in Oman and I remember the outfitter I was with had a program that employed local Omani citizens.  When I took a fall it was that young Omani man who had my life in his hands.  I remember coming down and hugging him and thanking him for keeping me safe.  In rock climbing your life is literally in the hands of your belayer.

Recently I was climbing in the Gorge and was stuck in a corner half way up the route.  This was a two pitch climb and my partner had already made it to the top and I was stuck in a little corner pocket fearing for my life.  It took me a half hour to find the courage to make the moves to get to the top.  It had been overcast all day and the final few minutes of my climb I could feel the sun on my back.  When I made it to the top the sun was setting and the view was magnificent.

I promise the picture doesn’t come close to capturing the experience!

Facing my fear turned out to be well worth the discomfort.

Working Abroad

Going to Afghanistan was one the most challenging things I have done.  Leaving home to live in a less than desirable environment raised the eyebrow of a few family and friends.  There were good days, bad days and every other kind of day you can imagine; even some you can’t.

Traveling throughout the Middle East was a wonderful experience and one I will cherish for a lifetime.  So much good came into my life during these years and it all could have been very different had I not faced my fears.

Facing my fear turned out to be well worth the discomfort.

Buying a house

I looked and looked and looked when I decided I was going to buy a house.  The number of good, no, great, opportunities that I let pass me by is depressing.  There were so many unknowns that come with buying a foreclosure and you guessed it, I was focused on the negative ones with a mind clouded by fear and not able to see the potential positive outcomes.  However the past nine months have been a wonderful experience.  I’m not going to lie and say it has all been easy or fun, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The financial gain, at least in capital, has not been actualized, but living rent/mortgage free has certainly helped my cash flow.   And what price can you put on learning an entire new set of hard skills that one acquires when rehabbing his/her own home?  Had I listened to fear I would have known none of this.

FACING MY FEAR TURNED OUT TO BE WELL WORTH THE DISCOMFORT.

Now why am I sharing with you several of my most fearful moments?  Bear with me for a moment.

When I opened this post I related how fear is well known to everyone.  We all have more or less of it in varying degrees, but we all know it.  I don’t care if you are reading this from down the street or on the other side of the globe; you know of what I write.  Fear can be crippling as I have tried to show in my own personal experiences.  Because it is known to all of us I know that the fear I have felt in certain circumstances is known to you even if the circumstances are different.  What causes fear may differ in each of our lives, but we know of fear itself.  I plead with you that whatever direction you want to take your life, whatever it is you want to try, whoever it is you want to be you do so valiantly.  No, fuck that.  You can do it cowardly and still be courageous for anyone who has ever faced her/his fears has shown bravery of which the masses know not.  Let not the fear of your failing be what restrains you; let your fear be that which is terrified of living this life safely.  Life itself knows not of safety.  Life came kicking and screaming into existence from a universe  largely indifferent to the failing or success of its inhabitants.    Deep within you exists the remnants of the audacity which allowed life to spring forth and that audacity cannot coexist with fear.

** Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming**

Fear has been on my mind for the past several weeks because I recently faced another fear and that fear is the doubt that has cluttered my mind while starting a small business.  I’m not going to get into the details of the project as that is not what this post is about; perhaps another time.  This fear was so great I would get excited about the possibilities only to have loss aversion obstruct my view of the greatness that could be.  I went back and forth for several months on what I should do and finally decided that I had to know one way or another.  I can’t tell you how this will turn out, but I can tell you a little about what it is like to know of fear that restrains you.  Don’t let it.  I know that there are readers out there who have their own desire to try something but have let fear hold them back.  DON’T LET IT!!  I can’t guarantee your outcome, but I do know that you should give equal weight to both positive and negative outcomes when your mind wants to focus solely on the negative and convince you that is the only possible outcome.  It’s not…

My wish for you and for myself is that we not find firm ground when we take the first fragile steps into the unknown, but that our fall be short and on soft ground so that we can pick ourselves up and continue on…

 

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4 thoughts on “On Fear

  1. Hi Stoic, you´re damn right about “doing it cowardly”. If you have to do it cowardly, do it so. BUT DO IT!!!

    Like I always used to say in the military, there are neither bad nor good solutions. There are only well thought out or badly thought out solutions to a given task (or problem). And that applies to the civilian life as well.

    Think it thoroughly through and then again. And then again. Until you can tell honestly to yourself: Yeah, this is it and I don´t have forgotten major points. Knowing and accepting that there can´t be perfection is also important. So avoid or at least recognize when you start thinking in circles about your problem.

    And like you closed, be ready to stumble anyway. Just use that case to think again, there will at least be one point less, that you forgot.

  2. Great post! Fear is like this artificial barrier you create for yourself that limits you from being your best self. I needed to read this post… and it’s a reminder to myself to work on breaking out of this bubble I’ve been stuck in…

    I’m looking forward to testing myself and growing as a person. Hopefully once I exit out of the cube I’ll be able to tackle life full force. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to travelling overseas in August… That’ll be a good first test…

    Glad to see you’ve been able to excel in spite of fear… Just DO IT!!!

  3. Excellent – great post. Here is a nice quote by Sam Beckett on the subject “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

    (I won’t be trying rock climbing though!)

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