An essential truth on fear

If you look to the left of this post you’ll see this quote (and a bunch of other worthy quotes, I might add):

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. -Nelson Mandela

I think that this one of the essential truths of humanity.  Fear is a significant daily motivator for many, many people, whether they know it or not.  Fear can define our actions, how we respond, what decisions we make.  The thing is, if most of what we are afraid is based on evidence, some would say truth.  And, we make decisions based on that truth, even if the action we take is slightly ridiculous.  For example:

  • Truth: The subway is a potentially dangerous place.  I may get hurt.
  • Action: Therefore I will walk the 6 miles to work.
  • Truth: I may get hurt on the roller coaster.
  • Action: Do not ride the roller coaster.
  • Truth: My husband beats me.
  • Action: I will lie about my feelings.
  • Truth: My mother says things that hurt my heart.
  • Action: I will keep my distance from my mother.

See what I mean?  Each thing listed is, or may be, true.  And therefore, you do what is necessary to protect yourself, even if it means compromising yourself, your principles, and/or your morals.

I am a person who has lived her life with fear.  Fear of just about anything and everything.  Even ridiculous stuff like “I might fall on the sidewalk therefore I must vigilantly stare at where I am walking, or avoid sidewalks altogether.”  Yeah, I did that.  Here’s another example: Fear would motivate me to act like a loon around people I didn’t know very well because I was afraid of being rejected.  If forced to talk to a new person, I would babble like an idiot all red in the face in sheer embarrassment at my ungainly social behavior.  For me, the safest thing was to avoid meeting new people altogether.  This fear lent itself to tension in  my marriage because my husband is rather fond of meeting new people.  Going to birthday parties of people I didn’t know would cause me a great deal of pre-festivities anxiety.  My husband has done a pretty good job being gracious with my crazy behavior.  But, I could tell he was sad because it was so hard for me.  Because of his desire to be supportive, my behavior limited his ability to be social.

I eventually got over the worst of this kind of social anxiety.  Mostly because, over time, I came to realize the new people weren’t going to hurt (mostly).  I felt like my behavior was wrong and it needed to change.  I had to force myself to calm down and give it a try, over and over again.  I had to force myself to appear to be calm, and have a nice conversation with someone I didn’t know.  This is where Mr. Mandela’s quote comes in handy.  He is saying that it is likely you are never going to stop feeling afraid. If you want to triumph over fear, if you want to conquer fear then do the very thing you fear.  Despite the trembling and shaking and your imagination going into overtime.

To overcome the fear, you have to ask yourself if being afraid is worth the price you’ll pay for allowing yourself to behave in fear?  Is it right to let yourself be bullied by your spouse?  Is it right to NEVER experience a roller coaster ride (well, maybe)?  Is right to walk 6 miles to work, in the snow, uphill both ways because something MIGHT happen to you?  Is it right for me to never form new friendships because I am afraid of rejection?  I have to choose one or the other.  I have to choose fear, or courage.  In other words, it’s my choice.  Mine.  No one else’s choice.  I  have to choose to overcome my fear.  I have to choose to be brave, even if I don’t feel brave inside.  And it’s your choice too.  YOU CAN CHOOSE to do the thing you fear.  That’s right, you have a choice.  Making the choice is point A, doing the thing you fear is point B.  The process of getting from A to B may look messy, but it’s a good messy.

Recently, I walked into a Zumba class at my local YMCA.  I didn’t know a single person in the room.  Not a soul.  It would be easy for me to do my usual wallflower routine and stick to the back and not talk to anyone.  No one was making an attempt to approach me and say, “Hi!”  Which would normally be just fine with me.  But, I would be missing out on making new friends.  Just last week I looked at the woman next to me and introduced myself.  I CHOSE to overcome my fear.  And, as it turns out this person is very kind and warm.  She shook my hand warmly, held it tightly, and introduced herself.  I felt good inside.  And, next time I show up for this class, if she is there, I will probably get a warm, “Hello!” from her, even if she can’t remember my name.  Overcoming my fear was totally worth it.

So, here it is:  Do what you fear.  Then you will be fear’s master, not it’s slave.  You will have unchained yourself from that wall.

Eventually, you will live free.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So tell me, what are you afraid of and what can YOU do to overcome your fear?

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