Friendly Fear

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Growing up, my sister and I would go snake hunting on my grandparents’ farm, lifting up wood planks and empty metal watering troughs in hopes of finding a slithery serpent. We carried only a garden hoe, which, as all good southerners know, is a choice defense against a snake. This, mind you, was a dangerous game in the mountains of North Carolina, where rattlesnakes and copperheads were as common as the garter and black snakes. But the fear we had in our little bodies was not as great as the thrill, so with little apprehension and no adult supervision we hunted anyway.

I often find myself wanting to be a child again. I want to be silly and brave and free and I want to eat ice cream from a truck and not care if my shoes match my clothes. I don’t want to worry about money or tomorrow. I just want to enjoy today and not feel the sadness of wasted time.

Children often seem fearless, but I don’t think that is true. I think children can be quite fearful, they simply do not give their fears as much weight.

As we grow older, though, we learn to give weight to our fears. I am sure it happens at different times for all of us, but, usually, by our mid-twenties we’ve succumbed to fear-based thinking. We have surrendered to our negative thought patterns instead of joining forces with the positive ones.

I have noticed this about myself. I make a lot of fear-based decisions. I mean, A LOT. But, what I have also noticed is the fear-based decisions, the decisions I make to avoid that of which I am scared, do not leave me in a better position. In fact, I am often even more fearful, regretful and miserable after making a decision solely based on fear.

Fear is often seen as a negative because we have misused and misplaced our fears. We have taken our jet fuel, pumped it into the cargo compartment, and are waiting for some miraculous takeoff.

The problem is we want to be fearless so we can be brave. When, in reality, we need fear to be brave.

We need fear to soar to new heights.

Timothy Ferris said it this way in his TED Talk “Smash fear, learn anything”:

“So fear is your friend. Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: what’s the worst that can happen?”

I recently performed an experiment on myself. I wanted to find out if exposing myself repeatedly to a specific fear could eliminate my fear in other areas as well. Essentially, I was hoping the more I exposed myself to an extreme fear the less fearful I would become overall.

So I took-on the one thing I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would produce a fear response in me: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

This ride, featured at some of the Disney theme parks, has always scared me. I rode it once as a teenager and hated every minute of it; so, naturally, I decided to try it again as an adult because “what’s the worst that can happen?” The worst was my 28 year old self getting off the ride and crying like a baby.

But I kept riding it, again and again, over and over. I didn’t cry every time, but I was miserable every time and my entire body would shake like a leaf and my legs would feel like jello from adrenaline. The fear never went away, my body’s physical response to the fear never went away, and I certainly was not less fearful in other areas of my life after the fact.

My hypothesis was I could remove fear by overexposing myself to it; my conclusion was fear cannot be removed, it can only be experienced. You have to experience your fear to realize you can survive it. You have to experience fear to realize you are brave. You have to experience fear to realize there is a better story waiting to be told (and a few good pictures to be shared!).

I’m not sure what weight you give to fear, but I would challenge you to give more weight to the endless possibilities on the other side of fear. Fear is not the enemy. Staying still, staying silent, never trying, always giving-in and giving-up – those are the enemies. Look at fear as a friend, walk-up to it, take it by the hand, let it come with you on the journey, and when you reach your destination give fear the thanks it deserves for allowing you to be brave.

(By the way, my sister and I, we never found a snake; what we found was a story.)

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