On Fear…

In The Alchemist, Coelho writes: “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”

This was proven true to me by my two little Pomeranians, Mocha (female) and Twix (male). Yes, we have a thing for naming our dogs after our favourite treats. Mocha has always been tentative and fearful. Despite the fact that her breed is well recognized for surprisingly high bunny hops and the zoomies, Mocha prefers to remain very snuggly attached to mother earth. It can take her a full 5 minutes to muster up the courage to jump up a small step, and she often resolves to roll up in a ball and cry until we pick her up.

1.5 years into having Mocha, we adopted her half-brother, Twix. Polar opposite to his sister, Twix fully embraces performing the high jump. He has lept up and jumped off furniture so high that I’ve dropped my jaw in a high-pitched soul shuddering shriek as my heart shattered, certain that my beautiful puppy has tumbled down to a concussion, or to his demise. Contrary to my expectation, he has always come hopping back up with not a care in the world.

Mocha gets injured much more frequently than Twix, although she leaps less than a tenth of the distance.

In this way, my dogs have shown me that there is no greater obstacle to success than fear. Overthinking about what could possibly go wrong causes us to take shorter leaps, and results in more frequent injuries because it deters from our focus.

In The 4 Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris explores the limitations we impose on ourselves due to fear. If you will only read one more book in your life, this is the one. Ferris tells the story of an assignment he gave to his students. They were to connect with and interview one highly successful and famous person and report back on their findings. Nobody was able to complete the task, because nobody tried. In underestimating their ability to succeed, and overestimating their peers’, the entire class succumbed to the fear of failure, and did nothing at all. Ferris repeated this experiment with his following class, but recounted this story in order to encourage them to try. During the second round, several of his students were able to complete the task.

Ferris reflects on this phenomenon as the choice to settle or aim for the mediocre because we believe that someone else, not us, will beat us to the extraordinary. He makes the fair argument that this logic is flawed because there are actually far fewer people competing for first place than for second. Due to this, the former may actually be more attainable than we believe:

“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced that they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.”

I remember the banner on the wall of my 6th grade classroom. The background was a starry night with a large moon, and the foreground read: “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you will land among the stars.” As a child, I read this as inspiration to aim higher and to climb the ladder to the top. As an adult, I now recognize that it is more about the fear of failure preventing us from trying at all, even though failing would still mean being on the ladder. By not trying, we remain on the ground.

The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi once wrote: “Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah… it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.” The difference between starting and not starting a project, believing in oneself and not believing, taking the risk and not taking it, is the difference between life and death. If Noah had yielded to people’s criticism and insistence that he was insane, civilization (according to scripture) would have perished in its entirety, along with the animal kingdom.

When we fear, we consider the potential price of action. Instead, take a moment to consider what the price of inaction might be. What is the opportunity cost? More often than not, you will realize that succumbing to fear may actually have more dire consequences than taking the risk and failing.

When I am afraid, I ask myself:

  • What will happen if I don’t rise to the challenge?
  • Who will I become if I sell out and give up on my dreams?
  • What am I if I am not a writer?
  • What am I if I am not a teacher?
  • What am I if I am not a mother?
  • What will I lose if I lose God because my generation criticizes the faithful?
  • What will I lose if I do not fight for my rights when I am discriminated against for being a woman?
  • What is the opportunity cost of compromise?
  • What happens if I allow my past oppressors to continue to oppress other people without speaking up?
  • What will the world lose if I choose to blend in?
  • What will I lose if I stand on the wrong side of history because its more popular?
  • What is the price of safety and silence?

Often, the price of inaction simply cannot be justified.

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

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