What 2020 Has Taught Me About Fear

I want to take you on an exercise. Close your eyes and think back to 2019. If you can; if not, just try envisioning January when life was less… chaotic. What types of things brought you joy? Really feel it. Are you smiling yet? I bet Charmin toilet paper didn’t make an appearance.

Now that we’re in 2019, what worried you? Think about your most outrageous fear—maybe a “what if” that felt so farfetched it made your children laugh. Wasn’t murder hornets, was it?

2020 has stretched the line between the actual and the unimaginable so thin it’s as if our planet somehow rolled down Alice’s rabbit hole. And before you try to change my mind, tell me that first Zoom call with your parents didn’t feel eerily reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. (“You’re on mute, ma! We can’t hear you, you’re on MUTE!”)

Our lives look considerably different than eight months ago, in the most unpredictable of ways, which has caused many to introspectively reevaluate their preconceived beliefs—myself included. Because if you don’t keep your eyes on something steady, each pendulum swing is bound to flip your entire world around. From my kitchen table turned office, I asked myself big questions.

What in my life is a luxury vs. what is actually a priority?
Who in my life adds to vs. drains my energy?
What do I want my life to look like after this metamorphosis, and what’s preventing me from getting there?

I spent a good deal of time mulling over that last one. What is preventing me from getting there? Besides some purely logistical speedbumps, fears continued to bubble up with additional probing. Fear of the amount of work getting “there” will take, fear of putting in that work and still not succeeding, fear of wasting my time…

This may be controversial and clash with the slew of self-help books on the subject, but having these fears isn’t inherently bad. Quite the contrary. Living fearlessly is a hoax to anyone who lives passionately. Like the way gentle nudges of intuition often lead you to your path of best resistance, I find fears an equally important teacher. That is, if you’re willing to ask with the curiosity of a pestering toddler, but why?

Once diluted down to the utmost why, each fear becomes a looking glass offering a glimpse at what we care deeply about—which, in an age when we “like” seemingly everything, is crucial to differentiate. You can do something with that knowledge. The key is learning to take the information a fear provides, not the advice.

For instance, if you’ve found yourself job hunting, stumbled upon an opening in your field at your dream employer and thought some variation of, “I shouldn’t apply, I’m not good enough,” ask why you demand perfection of yourself and use that information to hack your confidence; but don’t you dare follow that fear’s advice. (Apply to your dream job!) Because why should you? Think about how many of your 2019 fears became obsolete overnight. Last year I would have told you I’m afraid of riding bikes, and this month I voluntarily cycled around my neighborhood because now that fear feels so small. As it turns out, some fears have a shelf life.

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to dream bigger. Because even my biggest fears didn’t come close to matching *this* (gestures broadly). Which admittedly sounds a little bleak, but I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling. The dramatic contrast of 2020 to years prior brings me flashbacks of a lesson in high school physics. Newton’s infamous third law of motion states that with every action there is an equal opposite reaction, and I have to believe this applies to more than the unseen forces of science. If all that is 2020 has been made possible, its equal opposite can be, too. It all hinges on your reaction.

Push back! Through every fear that tries to force your hand. You are the gatekeeper after all.

Read next: Why You Should Look Your Fears in the Eye and Smile

Photo by @lelia_milaya/Twenty20.com

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