How To Face Your Greatest Fear
I stood there looking down the concrete ramp. My skates hovered over the edge of what felt like a glacial cliff. I crept forward, started rolling—panic. I leaned away from the drop, my skates flew out from beneath my body, my hands met the pavement. Wipe out.
Anyone who’s ever piloted a skateboard down a ramp knows the above scenario all too well. To successfully “drop-in” as they say, you have to commit. If you lean away from the inevitable fall, you’ll crash. If instead you fight the fear and lean into the drop, you’ll skate smoothly down the drop, impressing any witnesses.
There are several takeaways from this story. Facing our fears head on by leaning into them applies to more than skateboards and ramps. In life, you’ll inevitably meet your share of “concrete ramps”. That’s given. What we can control is the way we choose to meet these fears. That’s what this post is about.
I’m what personality tests classify as “conflict-averse”. In other words, I’d rather sit unhappy with my undercooked piece of steak than send it back to the kitchen, risking offending the chef or the wait staff. What good does this do? It allows me to operate relatively peacefully without ruffling too any feathers.
But fear avoidance is a short-term solution. Sure I end up upsetting fewer people, but the price is my own long-term satisfaction. Is it worth it? When you avoid facing your fears, they don’t go away. They kind of just linger around in the back of your mind like some unwelcomed party guests that have over-stayed their visit. They're not really doing anything, but it would be better off if they weren’t around.
The number one thing that I’ve done to help with fear avoidance is to first, acknowledge the fear. Next, I ask myself what would happen if it came true? Then I ask, can I handle that reality? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes—I can handle what I’m afraid of, I’d just rather avoid it, thus the problem isn’t with the fear itself, but in my attitude towards my fear.
Write your fears down if you must. Stare them straight in the face. Ask yourself those same questions, what would happen, can I handle it? This puts my fears in perspective so I can move to the next step.
“I love you,” I said with tears rolling down. I was terrified. What if she says she doesn’t love me back? What if this doesn’t work out? Do hearts explode? I might die right there. What if she slaps me and tells her friends what an idiot I am? “I love you too,” she said. Oh, that wasn’t so bad.
Failure is among the most common fears. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Would you ask out the girl of your dreams? Would you try skydiving? How about apply to the best school?
You see, we have a way of limiting our own growth before we’ve even tried. Sure, the odds you’ll get rejected are high, but they’re low compared to the one-hundred percent chance if you avoid asking in the first place. I’m no statistical guru, but if I had to place a bet on a small chance or a sure failure, it’s a no-brainer.
Fears and Life
Your life is your story. You can influence it, make edits, decide what the protagonist (you) wants to do, page after page, chapter after chapter. Someday our story will come to an end. Will it say what you want?
I love heroes. Why? Because they do the things we’re afraid to do. In every superhero movie ever, who gets to fight the monster? It’s not big guy from the local gym, it’s Spider Man, Batman, whoever.
Overcoming the seemingly impossibly small odds makes for a wonderful story. So, if I want to make my life extraordinary, I know I’m going to have to make more heroic decisions. That doesn’t mean wearing a cape, though I wouldn’t mind.
The question isn’t if there will be concrete ramps, it’s when. You’ll recognize a ramp when you come to one—it’s that unmistakable twisty knot feeling. Anyhow, I hope you're partial to frogs.