As a kid, I used to have dreams about going into epic battles. In the dreams, it was always clear to me that our aspirations were noble—that we were fighting monsters, willing to put our lives on the line to protect our loved ones.
I’d often make it as far as the front lines before terror gripped me and I turned and ran. Never once could I bring myself to fight. The next morning, I would wake up ashamed.
I believe that in dreams, our brains provide us with practice runs for reality, testing how we would truly behave in different situations. My dreams prove my cowardice.
To this day, I never tell anyone I would die for them, no matter how much I love them or how willing I feel. Confronted with fear and a choice, I have seen firsthand what I would do.
The fact is, I’m afraid of everything.
To date, there are conversations I’ve been avoiding for months.
I haven’t seen a dentist in over a year.
There are friends whose invitations I keep turning down because competitive games spark major anxiety for me, foods I’ve never bothered to try and never want to explain why I haven’t, and skills I’d love to learn but haven’t been able to get myself to start.
I’m also a bit of a thrill seeker, so there are a lot of fun things I’ve always wanted to try, and the main reason I haven’t is fear. Always fear.
Awhile back, I heard a TED talk from a woman who faced 100 of her fears. This year, I’ve decided to follow suit. She spent 100 days; I’m giving myself 365 (actually 366, since 2020 is a leap year).
Only a few of her fears matched mine—for instance, I have no trouble at all with public speaking—so I started working to compile my own list of fears to face.
She was able to break her fears into 7 categories; I had 8. Ultimately, though, the vast majority of my fears fell under a single category. It’s cliché, but I’m afraid of fear.
Needles are a good example. I care very little about the 3 seconds during which I’ll feel the slight pinch of a needle, but I dread the terrible, terrible hours leading up to it. The pain would have to be pure torture to compare with my anticipation of it.
I’m a bit proponent of growth mindset, so I love the idea of challenges that help in eliminating my own weaknesses. In 2018, I made a goal to be rejected on my writing 100 times, thinking and hoping I would eventually become numb to the pain. By number 10, I was stinging badly. By 30, I was hurting more than I had ever imagined. But by 60, I knew the exact balance to strike between navel gazing pity partying and harshly scolding myself to tough it out, and I knew exactly what emotions to expect. And by the time number 105, I can honestly say I just didn’t care. Not that rejection didn’t hurt, but that it just didn’t bother me.
I don’t expect facing 100 fears will cure me of fear. But I would love to come to a place where fear doesn’t matter to me. My hope is to build a reflex of managing my fears rather than avoiding them.
There are enough reasons in life to choose to do or not do something. Fear isn’t allowed to have the final say.