face the fear

by: Emily Boecking

Blank. Sheet. Of. Paper.  Yes, paper, not laptop, or desktop monitor, or tablet device.  After dropping my laptop one too many times, any sort of word processing software no longer exists on that 200 GB of memory, and I really haven’t had the patience to schedule an appointment with an Apple Genius (or Apple Not So Genius) to remedy the situation.  This lack of sufficient computer capabilities is one of the many excuses I have used to put off writing this article; including, but not limited to: I don’t have time, I’m too tired, writing requires thinking and I’ve already done too much of that today, I have several movies in my Netflix queue to catch up on… you get the idea.  So here I am.  Blank. Sheet. Of. Paper. 

I usually think of myself as the “go getter” type—someone decently good at making “To Do” lists, and then knocking out the tasks relatively quickly.  But this one task, to write a simple article on what it means for me to “face the fear”, stayed on my “To Do” list week after week.  I finally had to ask myself why I kept finding so many excuses, as lame as they were, for procrastinating on this particular undertaking.  Finally I had to admit that my excuses served no purpose other than to distract me from facing my fear of writing this article.  What was so intimidating about this article? 

Hell, it was my idea to write the article anyways.  Although it is a topic I feel passionately about, I realized I was scared that I might not really have anything of merit to say about the subject.  I couldn’t even fathom how to approach the article.  Maybe I could make the piece anecdotal … possibly relay some examples of obstacles or issues in my life I feared and how I worked through them, whether successfully, or not so successfully.  And yes, I could see where that approach could have some value. Honestly though, if that were the course of action to take there had to be someone grossly more qualified than myself to lead such a discussion. 

Sure, I’ve been through some stuff, and had my shit, but how does that make me different than anyone else?  Plus, as much as I like to put on a tough exterior, I honestly don’t think I’d make it through the entire article claiming that I am “Fearless.”  Heck, I couldn’t even sit down to write an article about fear because fear was the very thing inhibiting me (suck it irony).  And taking the opposite approach of composing a confessional of how much some shit scares me didn’t sound like too much fun either (I for dang sure didn’t want to reveal all of my gross insecurities to the general public).  So. Blank. Sheet. Of. Paper.  We meet again. 

And alas, as much as I would like to say the inspiration as to how to give some substance, and content to this matter struck me with a lightning bolt of epiphany, it did not.  Rather, I had to make a truce with the endeavor.  Knowing I couldn’t speak as any so called expert on “how to face the fear”, nor could I portray a self-flagellation of all my fears and woes, I could, however, engage in a discussion in regards to our collective challenges as to how we handle fear, and how we can find the strength from within to face it.

So here it goes …

If we ask ourselves how many of our fears are based on reality, and how many are based on our perception of reality, what would the ratio be?  Would we be able to say that 99% of our fears are reality based?  50%?  Or maybe a mere 1%?  If we are honest, most of us would probably confess that the majority of our fears are based on what we perceive reality to be, rather than what it actually is. 

An Alcoholics Anonymous adage states that FEAR is an acronym for the following:  False Evidence Appearing Real.  As various situations and stimuli arise in our lives, our natural human instinct is to relate the current circumstances we find ourselves in to prior experiences.  Since life happens on its own terms, which are often not in accordance with our own terms, many experiences have outcomes that may be, in our minds, less than we had hoped for, or perhaps an outcome we associate with failure.  And with that association of failure arises emotions that we’d rather just not feel again, or deal with.  Maybe the feelings that are conjured up are just a little uncomfortable.  Maybe they are a lot of uncomfortable.  Or maybe somewhere in between.  Regardless of where that feeling falls on our “uncomfortable” barometer, the bottom line is, given a choice, we’d rather avoid that uncomfortable feeling and just not go there again.

And yes, we have all read the motivational books and heard the inspirational quotes that instruct us that we can’t hope for anything more out of life other than status quo if we approach life from a stand point of avoidance of failure and uncomfortable feelings.  Once such quote on the subject can be found in Theodore Roosevelt’s The Strenuous Life speech,

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

But stuff comes up in life.  Maybe it’s a time to just branch out a little from our comfort zone, or maybe it’s a time where we are asked to really step up to the plate.  And if that stuff, whether it be big or small, invokes that deja vu of some “who, what, where, when or why” from our past that we really didn’t like, our natural reaction is to respond, “Nope.  Been there.  Done that.  Not going there again.” 

But here is the real reality of the situation: we have NOT been there before.  We have NOT done that.  Of course we are not going there again, because we can’t.  Maybe something similar to the situation we currently find ourselves has happened before, hence our protective instincts flair up.  We get scared and have an impulse to respond out of fear.  And in those moments, I personally often find myself having a little internal conversation in regards to Mr. Roosevelt’s quote:  “Yea, Teddy got it right on it being better to ‘dare mighty things’, but today I’d rather be content to be in that ‘gray twilight’ area.  I may not know victory, but I’ll go with not rolling the dice and instead be able to eliminate that suffering thing from the agenda today.” 

And some days, this is response is OK.  We don’t need to wage war with the world everyday by any means.

Yes, we all have major and minor life crises that we are faced with– relationships, careers, the economy, natural disasters, crime, etc. – but none of them are going to be confronted and defeated within a single day. 

Looking outward at the external battles raging in our lives may not be where we are called to direct our energy.  Rather than outward, maybe the direction to look is inward, at the internal battles we face.  And many of those battles are merely incarnations of fear.  Exactly how facing these fears will look like for everyone, I can’t necessarily speak to, but it might take the form of asking ourselves questions such as:  ” What things, both good and bad, am I avoiding because of my fears?”  “Where am I selling myself short because of what my fears tell me I can and can’t do?”  “Where am I selling others short because of this?”

Fear loses its power over us when we let go of the outcome.  When our days are no longer governed by our expectation of what we think can happen or will happen or should happen,  all of the “what if” scenarios that fear played out in our minds fall by the wayside, and we can instead be fully present.  And when we are fully present, we are able to take action from a place of personal strength and power.  Whereas before we would have resorted to simply reacting to challenges out of fear, we can now empower ourselves to act mindfully and purposefully in any given set of circumstances when we let go of the power fear had over us. 

So maybe today we dare that mighty thing anyways, and maybe we risk a measure of defeat, but we also open ourselves up to experiencing a measure of victory.  And whether it’s victory, defeat, or everything in between – isn’t it all experience?  And isn’t experience what life is made of?  Maybe today we take that chance at facing our fear, knowing that if failure does happen, we can still handle it. 

Face the fear… and do it anyways…

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