As I flipped through three of the 20 diaries I had filled over the past decade, I began to feel a bit sorry for myself. Not in that “woe is me” kind of way but more in that “whoa, is this me?” way. There, reduced to a few hundred pages, were years worth of triumphs, disasters and unremarkable men so remarkably similar that it left me wondering if Ancestry.com might reveal a biological connection. There were some fantastic career highlights but the pages were mostly filled with some kind of pleading on my part. More specifically, begging myself to make a move: to the new state, toward my goals, on with my life, away from those habits and people who put the pain on repeat. There were the loud exclamation points and the long-winded sentences that never gave way to a definitive period. Flipping through the pages, it was clear that what should have taken a few hours took weeks. What was lost in months took years to let go of. There were some incredibly happy moments but the underlying theme in each chapter of my life was one big F-word.
Quite frankly, the pages dripped with anxious trepidation and now, looking back, I am met with a strange image of myself scribbling furiously in a thick silence. Opening these pages today brings about a deafening scream; I want this but I am afraid. And I was. Of everything: of speaking my mind, of taking up too much space, of sharing my real “story,” of carrying that “story” forever, of applying for my dream job, of being left, of leaving him. And him. And him, too.
While I can sit here and explain, quite logically, why I stayed, waited and held on too long, the fact of the matter is that being at the mercy of fear felt horrible and deep down I knew that unless I made changes I would always live in pain, without access to the joy, success, love and peace of mind that I craved. Fear bullies all of these things into submission and, though excuses serve as comforting lifelines in the discomfort of chaos, the truth is that there is no honor in fear, no virtue in a last breath that whispers “If only…”
There is no progress in a room ruled by fear and certainly not any in a life that stays put under its thumb. It is a fallacy that we “live in fear.” We exist in it. Living requires growth and risk which brings about change. Fear allows none of that. Facing your fears won’t help you overcome them, either. Facing fear has never been the problem. We face it every day. It’s the reason we panic at a silent phone and worry the loss of one thing means the loss of everything. It’s the reason we hit the snooze button instead of seizing the day and complain that we want to be healthier with a slice of cake in our mouths. It lives in the ambiguity of “maybe” and “we’ll see.” It runs away from intimacy and allows love and friendship to die at the hands of an ego that refuses to open its arms, ears and heart. Fear ensures that we are always “going” to do the thing we never do.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we don’t have a reason to be afraid, it’s just that we have to decide what we are actually afraid of. What’s scarier? The loss of relationships that are not working or the feeling of failure we may face if we don’t get the job, acceptance letter or phone number, or being reduced to your half-self that fear forces you to become? Joy, excitement, love, travel, a life worth living are all behind the door guarded by fear. Becoming fearless begins with fearing less and taking the lack of the world falling apart as proof of our own ability to navigate through whatever comes our way. For me, it began with saying “no more” to what was tearing me apart, “yes” to invites I’d normally decline, “no” to people I had never declined and “can you help me?” to mentors and friends who shocked me by never turning me away.
The alarm clock was placed on the other side of the room and the shoes by my bed. Before I knew it, my body, mind, friendships and relationships were changing. My apartment became a home, my day job became my dream job and my passport gained a few new tattoos. Does fear still try to bully me? Absolutely. The only difference is that now I refuse to hand over my lunch money. Sometimes I take a punch or two but so far the world is still intact, so it looks like I’ll live.