You know how the song goes: Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again. Although based on my own experience, it would be more fitting to say, Hello Fear, my old foe – I NEVER want to talk you again!
I met my first true love when I was 16, in my freshman year of High School. We met at a concert in our favorite grungy club, The Sprout. We danced to the music, sat outside in a doorway in the winter cold, smoked cigarettes and made out. I went home with butterflies taking over my body. Her name was Sidse. I was smitten.
But come Monday, back at our High School, I was terrified of running into her. I went out of my way to avoid her classrooms and the cafeteria, even though I desperately wanted to see her again. I told myself, with cowardly rationality, that I wasn’t really into her, and it was probably just a one-night fling, and ‘who cares anyways!’ But it was all rubbish. I was just scared. My stomach felt like a giant knot. I kept obsessing about her in my head, but the fear kept me from reaching out to her.
I suffered my way through the days, until Thursday of that week, when she flat out confronted me in the hallway. She planted herself right in front of me, seemingly without any of the fear I felt. What she said basically boiled down to, “WTF, dude?!” And that was that. As we finally connected, I was surprised to discover that she really wanted to see me again, and the feeling was entirely mutual. We went on to have a great time together for most of high school. She was my first true love.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t confronted me. Would I have worked up the courage to approach her, to get bigger than my fear? I honestly don’t know. But I do know, that if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on a great love story.
The only reason I had the courage to connect with Sidse on that first night at the club, was because I was drunk. For years, alcohol was the only reliable method I had to silence the fear in my gut and those nasty voices in my head. The older I got, the more alcohol and smoke it took to keep my fears submerged. But at some point, event that didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t escape my fears. They followed me wherever I went.
Eventually, I had to sober up and look at them straight on. On the surface, it never made much sense what it was I felt scared of. I had done lots of “dangerous” and “risky” things in my life. I had climbed volcanoes, travelled alone in foreign countries, jumped from enormous cliffs into rivers, raced mountain bikes down skinny mountain paths where my body could be broken by a split-second’s inattention. None of that ever scared me one bit. It was just fun. No big deal.
What really scared me was always much more personal and intimate stuff. Like reaching out to a girl or woman. Telling the truth about how I felt inside. Admitting I felt lonely or inadequate. Or stepping out on a public stage to offer something from my heart.
Perhaps most of all, it terrified me to look deep inside myself to see and feel what was there. Isn’t it odd how the scariest stuff is what can’t be seen with the physical eye?
A man at one of our workshops recently said it like this, “I never wanted to look deep inside because I was sure I’d find terrifying darkness and nasty parts of myself. I didn’t want to see it, and I didn’t want anyone else to see it, either”.
I’m not sure if I was more afraid of what I’d find “down there”, or of what would happen to me if others around me saw who I really was, caught a glimpse of what I really carried around inside.
I can’t even tell you how many ways I’ve tried to rid myself of fear in my life – to just get rid of it once and for all. I’ve tried distracting myself from it, drinking and smoking myself out of it, running away from it, screaming at it, getting all brave and “just doing it anyway”. But all of these attempts failed to eradicate my fears.
Even today, as a mature adult man (I’d like to think), with a wonderful marriage, an awesome family, enough money to be safe and comfy, and work that is meaningful and transformative, fear is still a constant companion in my life.
But my relationship with fear has changed dramatically.
Now it doesn’t screw up my life or my peace of mind. Not because there aren’t things to be afraid of, but because I have developed a sound, powerful, and kind relationship with my fears and with the parts of myself that are “deep down there”. I’ve learned how to tame my fears, talk to my fears, and treat them like a trusted companion whose presence is a known quantity, not a spooky unseen.
A few weeks ago, I wanted to reach out to a world-renowned best-selling author to interview for our podcast. In the past, I would have fretted about that action for weeks, not unlike how I fretted about connecting with Sidse way back in high school. This time, I just reached out to the man with an invitation, knowing I might not get a response. But lo and behold, in no time at all, he said, “That sounds great, let’s do it!”, and within a week, it was done!
I learned that fear doesn’t have to stop me – it actually has the positive intent to support me. It wants me to be safe, awake, clear, present and on purpose. It wants me to succeed and be loved. Instead of fear being an obstacle in my life, I now see fear as a friend – launching me into to my deepest compassionate heart, my wildest creativity, and the realization of my biggest dreams.
If you’re attracted to taking a deeper look at your fears, and how to transform them so you can live a fearless life and love fearlessly, we invite you to take a look at our Fearless Life workshop. This workshop is beyond our standard curriculum, and we only offer it rarely.