Fear (noun)—an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief or anticipation that someone or something is dangerous, a threat, or likely to cause pain.
What are you afraid of?
For some people it’s heights. For others it might be fear of illness or failure. For me it’s goats, riding bikes and time.
I know glancing at my list a few of you probably chuckle. But that’s the funny thing about fears; they rarely seem rational to anyone else. (One man’s tricycle is another man’s worst nightmare.) But these differences in our fears force us to ask, if not everyone is afraid of spiders, why do I fear this? And that, my friends, is the million-dollar question.
Because despite the fact that Webster’s seems to imply our fears are undesirable or somehow harmful, I’d like to argue otherwise. Let me explain with an example.
I used to be afraid of going to the movie theaters alone. Not that I was nervous for my physical safety, but I feared that sitting in the theater as a party of one, I would get awkward side-glances (you know the ones) from fellow moviegoers or somehow enjoy the experience less. So I avoided it. At all costs. Until, for the umpteenth time, I had missed a movie I’d really wanted to see because I couldn’t find someone to go with me. I was tired of missing out on opportunities.
So I put on my biggest hoodie, chose the absolute latest showing and sat by myself (in the back) and cried like a blubbering baby through the entire Fault of Our Stars. And something magical happened. I loved it. I didn’t walk away feeling like I somehow had a “lesser” experience. No one heckled or threw popcorn because I didn’t have a friend by my side. And when the credits scrolled, an older woman, who was also by herself, tapped me on the shoulder to share her tissues with me. It was a beautiful moment, and even though this act of seeing a movie solo required no skill whatsoever, I remember walking back to my car with an odd sense of accomplishment. I’d faced my fear, however insignificant, and reclaimed any power it had over me.
Related: Face Your Fears
Granted this example is on a very small and everyday level, but it’s easy to see how it can be applied to bigger ideas. Afraid of public speaking? If you didn’t confront this fear, you would never have the opportunity to share your ideas or contribute to making your business, city or environment a better place. For those afraid to fly, if they never meet and experience this fear, they’ll miss out on more than half of the world. You should be sensing a pattern here. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction—facing your fears is what bridges the gap between you and your biggest opportunities.
If you’re not running into the things that scare you, you aren’t really living.
The next time you encounter something you’re afraid of, what if, instead, you thought of it as a good thing? Because essentially, if you’re not running into the things that scare you, you aren’t really living. Being afraid of something, if you can step back and look at it emotions aside, is the best indication that you are out there in the world, trying new things and living to your fullest. That is a huge accomplishment, whether you successfully “conquer” these fears or not!
People often shy away from the things that make them nervous, because unless you’re afraid of showering, it seems a little like masochism to force yourself to face unnecessary things that can make you so unhappy. But consistently avoiding things that make us uncomfortable leaves us standing still in a world that is constantly moving. It doesn’t keep us safe; it keeps us behind.
Like GPS, our fears are our mind’s way of letting us know that we are at the edge of our comfort zone. That quickening pulse, that voice in your mind questioning, are you sure you can do this? That’s the old you, not wanting to be lost as the new you ventures into unknown territory that might be dangerous. Change is both scary and exhilarating. But here’s a little secret from someone who’s faced a few fears and lived to tell the tale: Once you step outside of your safety net, that’s where the magic happens.
So pay attention to what gets your heart ticking. And whatever that thing is, chase after it. Because it’s true what they say, that “courage is not the absence of fear; it’s having fear, but pushing through it.” Although my one criticism with this quote is I feel it falls a little short of the point. You should chase after your fears because when your courageous act is complete, when you’ve pushed your deep-seated fears aside and chased after opportunity, in that moment you’ll truly be unstoppable.
Now let me ask you again, what are you afraid of?
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.