Why Two Experts on Overcoming Fear Didn’t Have The Answer

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

“Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”

– Baby, Dirty Dancing 1987

For a long time, this is how I saw myself. Afraid of everything. I wasn’t fearless, but I made up for it by being brave. So, when I saw there was a workshop about “How to Build Confidence and Destroy Fear” at the World Domination Summit, I immediately signed up.

I left lunch early to make sure I got a seat. I couldn’t wait to learn from Leo Babauta and J.D. Roth, two apparent experts on overcoming fear. I was going to have ALL THE CONFIDENCE!! It was going to be awesome.

It turned out to be OK. Poor Leo and J.D. had planned to conduct an interactive workshop with about 100 people, and about 250 people showed up. I guess confidence and fear are common issues.

Instead of hosting a workshop, the two experts stood in front of the room for most of the session and talked about how to overcome fear.

It was mostly hilarious.

Leo, the bald, soft-spoken zen master behind Zen Habits, counseled us to turn inward. “Things we are afraid of aren’t that bad when you turn and look at it,” he said.

J.D., the charismatic personal finance writer with gel-spiked hair, insisted that turning outward was his secret for overcoming fear. “I had to put myself out into the world to try new things!” he said.

“Fears come from expectations,” Leo said. “Hold loosely to your dreams and realize that other amazing things could happen.”

“Fight fear with action!” said J.D.

“Use the fear ladder. Start at the lowest rung,” said Leo.

“You have to do the hard things first!” said J.D.

I have no idea how these two came to be planning a workshop on fear together, and I don’t know how much discussion was had beforehand about their personal philosophies on overcoming said fear. From my seat in the back, neither of them seemed aware that they were immediately and constantly contradicting one another.

And that’s kind of what made it great.

If I had gone into that session expecting The Answer For Overcoming Fear, I might have been a little pissed. And, OK, I was sort of expecting The Answer. But listening to these two experts preach from different books, I was reminded about how much I already knew about overcoming fear.

I know about the power of mindfulness.

I know that sometimes the only way to not be afraid is to close your eyes and do the thing that scares you.

I know that there are days when you have to focus on the low hanging fruit, but that there are other days when you can take the big flying leap of faith.

I didn’t learn anything new about overcoming fear – but I did learn, or at least was reminded, that there is no one way to do it. Nor is there one way to build confidence or find happiness.

There is no Answer.

There are lots of ideas. There are suggestions. There are mantras that work in some situations and tricks that work for others. There are people who have done brave things who can help you see that you can also do brave things.

And at the end of the session, at the end of the day, there is you and what works for you.

“Which one did you like?” my friend Mona asked me after the session.

“What do you mean?”

“I figured you’d be drawn more to the zen dude,” she said. “I liked the one with more energy and charisma.”

“Actually, I was drawn to them both. I’ve been both – done both – if that makes sense.” The look on her face made it clear that it didn’t. “My natural instinct is to take charge of fear. To blast my way through life. That works for me sometimes. I have to work harder to look inward, to slow down. I think that’s probably why I get so much more out of that route.”

“Sooo… do you want to find a bathroom before we go back into the main hall?”

I always want to find the bathroom.

But that’s not the point. The point is that there is no one way to overcome fear. There’s not even one way for me. There are lots and lots of ideas, and you kind of try them all out to see what makes the most sense right now.

What matters most is that you’re trying. What matters most is that you’re looking for ideas to move yourself forward.

That is, in the end, what makes you brave.

That’s why I know you can be happy.

Your turn: What have you done to overcome fear?

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  1. Megan says:

    One thing I think both approaches have in common is actually facing your fears instead of ignoring them or hiding from them. You either examine them and get to know them or you just grab them by the throat and cast them aside. Either way, you’re dealing with them.

    I wish I had been in that room – good comedy!
    Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week 50: Fear & Anxiety

    • Miss Britt says:

      SO TRUE! Both of them were definitely advocating dealing with fears, not running from them or pretending they don’t exist. Good catch!

  2. Allison says:

    I try to approach fear with logic. Usually the things I’m afraid of are things that DO NOT MATTER, not one bit. They’re silly things really. So I constantly ask myself “What’s the absolutely worst that could happen?” and “If that happens…is it really that bad?” When the little fears melt away, the big fears are easier to deal with. At least, for me.
    Allison’s most recent post: Beer Mimosas (Because We’re Classy Like That)

  3. racheal says:

    Being stubborn.

    I have a lot of fears, some are irrational, some are valid, and some come from some place that I think I will constantly battle my whole life. Like bunny rabbits and guinea pigs. I AM DEATHLY AFRAID of bunny rabbits. WHO DOES THAT?! WHO IS AFRAID OF BUNNY RABBITS?!!?

    But I am stubborn as hell.

    And sometimes, I love a good challenge. And I hate the word NO.

    And so I try. Sometimes I fall flat on my face. Sometimes, I am frozen and cannot think and cannot move and cannot breathe. Sometimes, I just cry and I can’t stop it and it all just freaking leaks out of me, and I stand there paralyzed and sobbing.

    But I am stubborn.

    And so that is why, even when I was deathly afraid of being in love again or learning to trust someone again, I said, OH HELL NO Racheal, you WILL NOT and CANNOT live your life that way.

    Go out and say hi to that poor boy with nice eyes.

    Go out and let him in and tell him your stories even if you are afraid.

    Give him your heart.

    And what do you know, I married the poor sucker.

    And so that is why, when I was so freaking afraid of starting again and moving halfway across the world to come home, I said, OH HELL NO. You pack your stupid bags and you will do this, even if it means you have the world’s scariest panic attack in a bathroom stall in the middle of Taipei because you suddenly realize your whole life is about to change and it begins with a squat toilet in which you have absolutely no freaking idea how your desperate bladder is going to relieve itself into….that?!? WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST DO.

    But you do it anyway. You suck it up and you chant, big picture big picture big picture. And now you know, why you did it. Because the safe warm and fuzzy of family and the security of being home? That far outweighs the fear.

    And so, sometimes, when I am feeling bold, with said boy next to me, and we pass by a petshop with the stupid damn bunnies displayed in the front, my heart pounding out of my chest and my poor husband trying to walk us past as fast as we humanly possible can as he says, “Don’t look, just walk, don’t look, I got you,” and I SWEAR TO GOD those fuckers with their beady red eyes are going to eat me, I sneak a glance back when I’m a good distance away. Sometimes, that is all the courage I have in me to conquer that fear, a quick breathless oh my god I’m going to die glance, but I am stubborn. And I don’t like no. And I freaking hate “I cannot do it.”

    Because I have learned that while a certain among of fear is great for motivation, being motivated solely by fear however is not healthy.

    I stayed because I was afraid. My previous marriage. The one that imploded in my face.

    Fuck me, I stayed because I was afraid and he made me scared. My ex husband. He never hit me, but holy shit was I scared of him and the consequences. And so I stayed. I stayed and put my blinders on, and I walked the straight line and closed my eyes and never once, dared to look back to see, really look at what and who I had become in that marriage.

    Fear is so good but so bad at the same time.

    And so I know, that in this marriage, I will use my voice and say, OH HELL NO. But I will also be patient enough, and wise enough to say, but OH HELL YES, we can do this.

    Stubborn. It’s all because I’m stubborn. Or maybe, I just don’t know any better. :)
    racheal’s most recent post: Today.

  4. try to think about the worst case scenario and then minimize its long term effects (if there even are any at all).
    Father Muskrat’s most recent post: May 2013

  5. Jb says:

    We’re moving 3,000 miles. Big truck comes Tuesday. Two kids, two parents, dog, cat. Afraid I won’t have friends. Afraid I will hate the rain. Afraid I will hate that my kids take a bus instead of walking to school. Afraid that I will regret all of it. But the truck is coming, it will be loaded and we’ll get there and maybe it will be fabulous. And maybe it will be hard to make friends…or not. Maybe it will be comfortable and I will love rainy days. Either way, we did it. We are taking an enormous, flying leap. See you in the air!

  6. J.D. says:

    Hey, Britt. Good overview of our workshop. I agree with almost everything you said. I especially like this: “It was mostly hilarious.” Yes. Yes, it was.

    You asked if Leo and I planned. Of course we did! We spent a month working on this workshop, and we thought we had our shit together. Obviously, we were wrong. If we’d only had 100 (or 150) people, things probably would have worked as planned. Instead, we were flummoxed from the start, and mostly making things up as we went along. We did the best we could.

    We were aware that our approaches were different from the start. There was no real way to reconcile that, though, as you could tell. But I think you drew the correct lesson from this: There’s no one right way to do things. That’s something I’ve been trying to preach for years when it comes to personal finance. But it’s also true with overcoming fear — and with other aspects of life.

    (As a footnote, I’ve never heard myself described as charismatic before. It kind of makes me blush. Thank you.)

    • Miss Britt says:

      J.D – so thrilled to see your comment here! Thanks. :-)

      I didn’t mean to suggest that you guys hadn’t planned the workshop at all. It was obvious you had planned an interactive teaching event. I was more curious if you’d already discussed your various philosophies on fear. I love hearing that you did and that you just completely embraced that you guys think about it differently! I think it would have been tempting to try to come up with something more cohesive, and what you did instead was so much more authentic. The end result, I’m certain, is that each of you resonated with who you were supposed to resonate with.

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