What is it about being an adult that makes us so afraid of things? True, we are no longer young and naive. We've got life experiences behind us. We know that touching a fire will burn us and that sometimes people aren't upstanding and honest. But if we've made it to adulthood, then what do we really have to be afraid of and worried about?
Before the "dying a slow, painful death" or "losing someone close to us" people start their march straight to my nerves, let me say that there are obviously things to be afraid of. I have a fear enormous snakes, alligators, bees and basically anything that could cause me great (or small) (no really, I'm fucking terrified of bees and it's a real problem guys) bodily harm. The fears I'm talking about right now, though, are the ones that won't kill us.
An example, I have a pretty severe fear of being the center of attention. There's something about a room full of people staring at me that just freaks me out. I feel very exposed - or at least feel like there is a strong possibility I could be exposed - and raw. Like all my flaws and vulnerabilities are on display for everyone to see.
For a long time, I let fear make decisions for me. But once I came to a place where I knew I had to change, I started chasing the fears and pursuing them. That's how I found my way into public speaking. You see, I became a writer because I didn't want to talk to people. As a child, I read books to escape from the bullies, the stuttering and the insecurities I carried on my sleeve. I loved getting lost in the characters and their stories. The books I read generally had strong female leads that were both flawed and fearless, and I so desperately wanted to be like them. But I felt trapped in a life where that just wasn't possible, so I resigned myself to reading about women I wanted to be like but knew I never could.
I came to this conclusion at a pretty young age - maybe 11 or 12. Yeah, I was a bit of a weird child.
As a result of this, I only really knew being afraid and avoiding things because of that fear. And I feel like a lot of adults fall into this trap. We go to college. Get a master's degree. Work our jobs. Never take risks - big or small - because of whatever negative thing that we think may happen. And we end up living a life based on fear.
How did this happen? When did we stop challenging ourselves and instead take it easy?
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a risk taker. Like I mentioned before, I chose my career because I thought it wouldn't put my stuttering on display and I'd avoid a lot of embarrassment. Not only did I figure out that those things just weren't true, but also that choosing paths based on fear is a fast way to be miserable. Don't get me wrong; I love writing. Some of the opportunities I've had, especially this past year, have been a result of my professional skill set. But what if, instead of doing certain things because of fear, I had chosen to strategically pursue things in spite of it?
Maybe I'd be farther along in my career or I'd make more money. Maybe I would have taken a different direction or worked with a totally different kind of client. Or maybe I'd be doing exactly what I'm doing right now. I could dwell on this and pick apart the path I took. If I would have done this differently or If I would have spoken up in that situation and I should have gone to that networking event.
Does that help anything? You know that answer to that. Going back in my past and pin-pointing my mistakes won't make my present or future any better. But adjusting what I'm doing right now will.
And that brings me back to the topic of this post - what the fuck are we so afraid of?
Aside from being tortured to death or - even worse - stung by a bee (really, it's that serious), looking at our fears with neutral set of eyes could do us all some good. Will it stop the thing from being so scary? Probably not. But maybe stepping away from the negative emotion attached to the fear will help you see in a different light. More specifically, detaching your emotions from your fears could lead you to a huge opportunity for growth.
I can't imagine that every single current NFL player walked into their freshman-year tryout feeling like a million bucks. I also find it hard to believe that Al Gore's first time stepping on stage to discuss An Inconvenient Truth didn't induce some nervousness. Former vice president or not, he was basically about to take the world as we knew it and flip it upside down. I wasn't there (still waiting on my invite, Al), but it's safe to say that he probably had a few butterflies.
Now I'm not telling you to go jump out of a plane to get over your fear of heights. I'm not even saying to give the toast at your sister's six-person birthday dinner. What I'm suggesting is that you stop viewing your fears from a negative perspective. They don't have any power of you; in fact, you empower them. The more you tell yourself you're afraid of it, the more you will be and fewer opportunities will be available to you because of it.
So the next time you feel yourself falling into the "there's no way in hell that shit is about to happen" trap - and I have been there, trust - just stop. You can do anything, especially things that scare you.
So, what are you afraid of? And how can you turn it into an advantage?