Embracing Fear

6 Jun

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”  -Yoda

Uncertainties are ok, they are healthy in a way, I get that shit all the time.  I stopped trying to get rid of them, cause I always have them, it’s part of my DNA.” -Smiley

Ted Gonder inspires StartingBloc BOS ’12.

The topic of fear has come up a lot recently, talking to my friends and talking to myself in my Moleskine.  Fear can be especially brutal when you’re going through a major life transition, and has been a constant presence through the process of leaving my job and beginning anew as an unemployed yet optimistic I-can-fucking-make-it-as-a-writer, don’t-fucking-tell-me-I-can’t.  I had the fortunate opportunity to hear Ted Gonder, a 22 year-old graduate of the University of Chicago, speak last week on the topic of “Smashing Fear” at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and in the course of 90 inspired minutes we watched YouTube videos of the honey badger (motherfucker can run backwards!) sticking his head into a swarming bee hive to get the larvae, Mike Tyson calmly taking endless jabs to the head only to use his impregnable defense to knock-out his opponent with one perfectly-timed, perfectly-placed punch, and then we stood up with 100 other people and bit into a whole lime to suck all the juice out (don’t eat the peel!). 

Gonder, who received his college diploma last weekend, was recognized this spring by President Obama as a Champion of Change in the White House Campus Challenge, for being the co-founder and director of Moneythink, a Chicago-based nonprofit that empowers urban youth through financial life-skills and entrepreneurship mentoring.  This past week Moneythink became the recipient of the $25,000 Chase Community Giving Award and was featured in Forbes.  Gonder lives by the simple, yet powerful mantra:  “If I’m not at least a little scared to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.” 

Rather than a sign of encouragement or motivation, fear all too often becomes a red light that makes us put the breaks on the very ideas, dreams, goals, and journeys that we know we need to take.  Why?  Because the most epic life decisions naturally involve risk and the potential for success or failure—if they didn’t involve risk, you wouldn’t be thinking about them.  However, our fears are rather lame and paltry when we actually say them out loud or spell them out on paper.  Exhibit A:

My friend Shira Bee:  Smiley, what’s your biggest fear right now?

Smiley:  That I’ll suck as writer and never get published or make a living and have to go back to an office job that doesn’t 100% fire me up in the morning.

Shira (looking disappointed): a) You don’t suck as a writer.  b) Even if you have trouble making money from writing, you’ll be doing what you love and have gone for it, and worse-case scenario, worse-case scenario, you go back to an office job that would be pretty much what you were doing before, so… that’s really not that bad is it?

Smiley:  No, I guess it’s not that bad. 

Our fears are not nearly dramatic as we conjure them up to be in our heads.

“If all my friends give me money on Kickstarter for this documentary film and it doesn’t end up getting into Sundance, everyone’s going to think I’m a loser.”  False.  YOU MADE A FUCKING MOVIE, YOU’RE A ROCKSTAR!  How many people in this world have actually written or directed or starred in a film?  Like 0.00001% of the world’s population—you’re basically famous. 

“My parents will be worried or upset if I leave my paycheck to travel the world or be a Peace Corps volunteer or start a nonprofit with my best friend.”  Your parents love you dearly, but they care most about your well-being; following this urge will shape the course of your life and in the end, actually earn your parents’ respect. 

“If I take a gap year to write a book before graduate school, employers won’t hire me because of the gap on my resume.”  Any employer worth working for should value personal growth and exploration and should judge you based on what you did in your time off, not by whether you took it. 

When we spell them out, our fears are actually quite manageable and you don’t need Mike Tyson’s psycho-superhuman abilities to conquer them.  As Marianne Williamson said,  “Our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our biggest fear is being powerful beyond measure.”  Despite this fact, anyone going through a major life decision knows that uncertainty and doubt creep in.  Every run I’ve gone on in the past four months, every yoga class, every time I’ve laid down to sleep, there is some amount of doubt or uncertainty or “what the hell am I doing?” that finds it’s way into my brain.  For months, my approach was to escape this sensation as fast as possible—go away fear, get away, get away get away, leave me alone, alone I said, shoo, fly!  You know what?  Didn’t work—doubt came back the next day.  Then I had a revelation; uncertainty and doubt are part of my DNA, they make up part of who I am.  I have a loving Jewish mother (who I love dearly)—there is no way, no fucking way, whether I want to or not, that I’m living a life without questions or uncertainty or doubt or guilt or worrying should I be doing something else instead or is this a good idea or should I have taken an umbrella?

So instead of running from fear, I embrace it and use it as fuel.  I say to the doubt, directly, “Ok doubt, I see you, I see you doubt, and I raise you ten; I’m gonna run a little faster, gonna work this downward dog a little harder, gonna write some more today, gonna call three friends who live far away today, gonna hug five new people today.”  As my friend Shira writes, “If we stop trying to eliminate fear, and instead use it reveal what it is that we love and value, it can become an incredible source of energy and direction.”  Instead of a dreaded menace to escape from, fear has become fun for me, and embracing it has unlocked a renewable energy source I’m just beginning to discover.  

8 Responses to “Embracing Fear”

  1. Julia June 7, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  2. jeffrey holliday June 7, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Smiley, we miss you dearly. I read your blog all the time!

    Speaking of fear, have you been following this:


    I don’t know if you read GOOD, but either way this whole ordeal is pretty crazy. I am very into how they’re handling it.

    I think you might find interesting.

    Much love from afar! Keep writing!

  3. Jeff Martin June 7, 2012 at 11:07 am #


    It was great to meet you briefly in Mt. Pleasant. Short but sweet. I really enjoyed your post on fear, and all of your posts as well : ) Keep it up buddy, we need it!

    I just came across a good speech by Michael Lewis – the author of the Big Short – that he gave to a graduating class at Princeton; it is very inspirational and humorous. I think it jives well with your spirit, and the presumably the spirit of the readers of your blog.

    Enjoy : )

    Jeff Martin


  4. sharewithlisa June 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Good read that was well…read ;)

    Embrace, shatter, shudder, or just set it…free.

    Some other great fear•less quotes over the years

    “….float like a buttafly & sting like a bee.” C Clay, a fearless icon

    “…to those whose say I can’t, watch me.”

    We all live to be free and even some fight for the FREEdom of & for others. I say we fight our own struggle with FEARdum(b) and set ourselves free. So…Experiment. So you fail. Big whup. You just get better with your next experiment. So you succeed. Big stuff. (just don’t get biggity on us ;)

    Wouldn’t we rather be discomfortably a•l•i•v•e than comfortably numb (ok, maybe in short spurts of bliss) in our lives? After all, that is the meaning and purpose of life.

    So I’m agonna Hu•Man up, & live the dream,

    jus Lisa

  5. elisabet June 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Ay Lindo,
    I love you blog I really enjoy reading it!
    When I feel fear I sing any song that I comes to my mind and it works,
    You teach me how to make dreams come true…..It was a great legacy that you left me here.
    But since you left I’m banned in Raven! (jiji)
    Love you,
    Have fun in Spain!

  6. sharewithlisa June 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Hey Smiley,

    Good read that was….well, read.

    Embrace, shatter, shudder, or just set it…free.

    Some other great fear•free quotes:
    “…float like a buttafly and sting like a bee.” ~ C Clay, fearless Iconman

    “….to those who say I can’t, watch me.” ~ unknown

    We all want to be free and some even fight for freedom of and for others. I need my FREEdom to live fully, as I was in FEARdum(b) unhappily for far too long (and I loved my day job;)
    It’s never too late to start down the path.
    So you fail. Big whup. You just learned how to experiment better the next time. So you experiment again. And you succeed. Big stuff. (just don’t get biggity with others ;)

    Wouldn’t we rather be discomfortably a•l•i•v•e than comfortably numb (ok, maybe some short spurts to enjoy) in life? After all, that is the meaning or purpose of it. Living it fully and paying it forward, right?!?

    Embrace it, you say? I’m putting a big ole’ lip lock around it and will make a difference. Somewhere. In time… And Fearlessly. free.

    jus me (Lisa)

  7. misterchan June 20, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    Good stuff on such an important topic. I think you’re right about fear. Most of it is totally overblown when we stop to really consider it objectively. Yet we all have the habit of letting the fear stop us from pursing things we ought to pursue. Identifying that fear is there and powering thru, totally man.

    What was that phrase you mentioned that you say when you see fear holding you back in something? I think im stealing that LOL

  8. nevaehmarie August 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    You are meant to be a writer. Very inspiring yet again!

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