“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?