The Startling Power of Fear

 
PHOTOGRAPHED BY WILLIAM STITT

PHOTOGRAPHED BY WILLIAM STITT

 
While I was fearing it, it came,
But came with less of fear,
Because that fearing it so long
Had almost made it dear.
There is a fitting a dismay,
A fitting a despair.
’T is harder knowing it is due,
Than knowing it is here.
The trying on the utmost,
The morning it is new,
Is terribler than wearing it
A whole existence through.
— Emily Dickerson, 1830-1886

Let's face it. The end could come tomorrow. Yes, the real end. The mind-numbing, debilitating, I-knew-this-day-would-come end and you and I would accept it just as we accept the rising sun. 

What would happen if you made your worse fears a possibility today and embraced them? You would swallow every ounce of that fear and sleep like a baby tonight because you have come to grips with that fear as a possible reality and now there is nothing else to do but go to sleep. 

A few years ago, after accepting a job in New York, I had a lot of unknown fear feelings. I had never lived in the another state before, I had never lead a team of people before, I had never managed before, and I was leaving a man I just met (who turned out to be my husband) uncertain if the new relationship would survive. These facts created an uneasy feeling of "oh, crap" what the heck am I doing? But in the midst of the downward spiral, I took a few breaths and remembered this was of my choosing. I was choosing to become a person who enjoyed the unknown, challenges, and the mystery that unfolds when you just roll with life's plan. 

PHOTOGRAPH BY ROB BYE

PHOTOGRAPH BY ROB BYE

Why? Because it all works out in the end. 

The fear reminded me of the risk I was taking and how choosing to live could work out in my favor. The fear prepared me for the unknown; it coaxed me to be alert, aware of my new surrounds, and purposeful in my dealings. Today, I look back on my experience in New York with pride, everything did not go as expected but I had the time of my life.

The startling power of fear is the awareness it brings to a situation, your muscles tighten, throat dries, fingers tingle, heart speeds up, and you remember what it feels like to be alive. 

Why “Not Caring” Is Hard

photo credit:  Cristian Newman

photo credit: Cristian Newman

If you read through the comments section on Amazon for Mark Manson’s breakout hit, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k you will see that many of us spend too much time caring about what other people think of us.

We can’t help it.

“Caring too much” is in our DNA and Mark wittily explains why you should give less f**s and the power you gain in doing so.

But why do we care so much about what other people think about our lives anyway?

They, of course, are not and have not lived our experiences, shared our pain, or walked where we have been. Why do we care so much what other people think of us especially when the people we use to gauge our progress are just trying to get on with life, same as us?

I once heard a friend attribute her social media addiction to gauging whether her life has ended up better off than her exes and friends. Here again, the cycle of trying not to care but caring too much continues because we fail to realize that the human experience is a common experience.

No problem, situation, or shortfall is new under the sun, the Good Book says.

Manson argues that it's not that we should not care at all, that's called apathy, but that we should care or give f***s about the right things: family, our aspirations, community, love, our well-being.

Do we care too much out of boredom or the same reason we watch reality television -- for the drama and spectacle of it all? Do we care too much out of habit or because high school conditioned us for the daily practice?

Do we care too much about other people's opinions of us out of fear or because we have forgotten how to hear our voice? The voice that says we are unique in every way. The voice that whispers when we remember to find our breath.

I believe we are afraid to care less because we want to know if others can see the deepest fears we have about ourselves.

What if you owned your fears? Adressed them all? Lined them up one-by-one and laid waste to them like they do in karate movies. 

You would care less.  

What To Do When You Are Afraid

photo credit:  Elizabeth Lies

photo credit: Elizabeth Lies

Hide. 

This answer satisfied the younger me. The young girl who shared a bedroom for most her life because being born a triplet there was never quite enough space. Even after I got my own room, my sisters and I used to sleep in the doorway of our bedrooms with the bathroom light on. We were scared of whatever we imagined existed in the dark when we were alone. 

But when you have no doorway to sleep in and no bathroom light to keep on what do you do when you are afraid?

Your natural tendency may be to find the nearest exit, immerse your feelings in doubt and worry, or to place blame. But these solutions are temporary escapes, and your fears meet you at the door when you are ready to come home. Just as I had to learn to sleep in the dark alone if I wanted to keep my own room you must stare down your fear if you’re ever going to move past it. 

Remember, there were never any monsters. The boogie man under your bed was not real. You and I may have avoided stepping on the carpet in the dark or peering under the bed, but today we know all of it was in our heads. It was apart of our imaginations, which means you have the power to make the scary thing disappear. All I had to do was make sleeping alone a habit, look into to the dark and see nothing. 

As a result, I got to keep my own room, and it became a place to call my own. 

That is what we gain when we face our fears: a place to call home. Fear tries to crowd your mind, limit your dreams, and determine your destiny but if you can conquer it, you gain the world. You acquire a bold future. Have the hard conversation, tell that person you love them, fight for your marriage, and champion your dreams. 

When you are afraid to look towards the light, lean into the fear that seeks to consume you and stand firm.