Life’s Best Experiences Are On the Other Side of Fear

My grandpa used to say that the things we worry about the most usually don’t happen. He was right. The older I get, the more essential I find it to let go of what happens.

Move past the outcome. Enjoy the ride. If we don’t it’ll slip through our hands — the good and the bad — both facets of life deserving of appreciation.

That doesn’t mean we’ll simply stop worrying, fearing the unknown and doubting ourselves. These emotions mean we care. But they don’t define us. We can change the way we feel, regardless of the situation.

“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought,” wrote the Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations“for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.”

Author Ryan Holiday expands on this idea in a recent Instagram post when he said, echoing the Stoics, that your life is dyed by the color of your thoughts.

The thing doesn’t matter so much as the way we treat it.

What’s the worst that can happen?

For anything scary in life, we must seriously ask ourselves: what’s the worst that can happen? Will the sky collapse? Will we look like a fool? Will we be embarrassed? That fear is what stops us from living.

When we’re afraid it means that perhaps, we’re out of our comfort zone. We’re doing something we’ve never done. That should be embraced and enjoyed, even though we’re undoubtedly nervous.

If we look dumb, if we fail, who cares.

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Heart of Emerson’s Journals.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”

The older we get, the more we must be willing to look the fool

I recently listened to the episode of the podcast “Do the Thing,” titled Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places?

One of the panelist stoked the fire in my belly as he spoke on the limitations of fear:

“The older we get, the more we hold onto things we’re comfortable with or already know. The older we get, we can find the opportunity to try something new, and learn to get rid of caring if others are laughing or looking like the idiot.”

We believe that maturing means we’re supposed to know something. So we’d rather play it safe than look incompetent. Nothing which causes us to grow ever comes from playing it safe.

That fear of trying something new, perhaps looking dumb and taking on a challenge, stops us from pursuing what’s been placed within our hearts — what we want, what we seek, will take some navigating in uncharted terrain, and that can be terrifying.

Yet the good life comes from facing that fear again, and again, and again. That’s what the most successful, wisest, most fun-loving people amongst us have figured out. Being the fool is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be celebrated.

It’s better to fail having tried, than to never try at all

It’s scary to do something that nobody in our family’s done, that our friends may doubt, that we doubt ourselves. Yet so many of us feel that call to try something new, to dive into the void and take a risk; yet fear holds us back.

Doubt says you’re not good enough, you’re going to fail, you don’t have what it takes.

But if we never go, if we never try, we’ll live our whole life wondering what if, instead of at least knowing, we tried. Even if we fail, even if we realize that what at one point gripped our soul is not our destiny, we’ll know — we tried.

That is everything, the gateway to the next thing.

Herald the way to a new world

“Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore,” said the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale.

In Nightingale’s case, she did pave the way to a new world. Nightingale defied what a modern Victorian-age woman should be. Born to an affluent British family, Nightingale wrote in her youth: “I think I am got something more good-natured and complying.”

Yet she felt a calling to nursing. When she told her parents this, they forbade her dream. Still, she persisted. Years later in 1853 when the Crimean War broke out, she was ready to answer the call.

There was nothing they could do to stop her, and even if she failed, even if she died, she would go and give it everything she had. The difference she made in the war was astounding, earning her the nicknames, “The Lady with the Lamp,” and “The Angel of Crimea.”

According to her biography, her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.

In our own lives, we may be heralding the way to a world we never could have imagined, a world in which we feared before, the world of ever-expanding opportunities that comes from trial, error, adjusting, and soldiering on.

But we’ll never know unless we go.

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The fear I’m facing

Last Saturday was my first day of teaching English in Japan. The first two weeks since I moved here had been full of intensive training. I’m teaching lessons to anyone spanning from 18-month-olds with their guardians, to adult classes of business people, elders looking to sharpen their English, students preparing for exams, anybody.

There’s a ton to learn, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not intimidated by all the new information. The first day went well, but it’s going to ramp up from here.

I’d feel much worse if the trainers of my group hadn’t encouraged us again and again with the advice not to worry. To trust ourselves. To have fun with it, be our authentic selves, and simply do our best.

We’re getting thrown into the lion’s den; we will make mistakes. But the only way to grow is to get in there and try.

It’s an exceptional feeling, knowing that I’m doing something I’ve never done before. If I try and make a fool out of myself, freeze up in the middle of a lesson and literally forget everything, who cares.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Accept it all with open arms

The only path forward is through. I will learn, get better, and eventually thrive in this space. I, of course, am the student here as well, and I can’t wait to truly grasp what I’m learning.

Ruby Waters, one of my favorite artists at the moment, dropped the single Open Arms recently; it feels like it came into my life when I needed it.

It’s mysterious and wonderful how this continues to happen; the songs I need to hear come into my life at exactly the right moment. The song goes:

“I’m in no way afraid of the trip I’m about to take
no now I welcome it with open arms, open arms.
It’s okay if today feels harder than yesterday
Just welcome it with open arms, open arms.”

She said about the song:

“[It’s] about how I like to deal with shit, my outlets, and how to handle the ups and downs. It doesn’t always have to be a weakness or a problem to be depressed or overwhelmed. It can sometimes just be a part of life, and however you cope with it isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

Welcome that fear, the nerves which rise inside your soul and tell you, I’m alive.

Embrace the uncertainty, the doubt, the darkness; step into it, and allow your senses to amplify as you search for what to do, who to be, or simply how to see more clearly.

All in all, just fucking live. Life will throw curveballs in our way. It will ask us to step up, be more than we are, and take a chance to thrive.

We must seize those opportunities, perhaps especially when we think they will break us. You can overcome much more than you think.

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