It was the last day of my junior year of college, and I was getting lunch with my freshman year RA. We laughed over stories of our old crazy floor, and she asked me how life was being an RA myself now. I told her it was perfect. She told me that I looked tired. I looked away.
“What do you want to do after all this is over,” she said waving her arms, as if gesturing at the entire University.
“I dunno,” I said while kicking now-cold broccoli around the plate with my fork, “I think about a lot of different things.”
She adjusted herself in her seat, reassuming the kind of position she had held while talking to the freshman version me about how I was handling my transition to college, or whether I was finding classes okay.
“Okay, what kinds of things do you want to do??”
“I want to write,” I said quickly, as if my heart knew the answer inherently.
“But,” My brain interjected, “I know that writing jobs are super hard to find. And I might not be able to make a living off of it. And I don’t even know if I am good enough, anyway.”
She paused and opened her mouth, as if she were about to say something, but was unsure of how exactly to phrase it.
When she spoke next she asked, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
It is too easy for our lives to become about what we are afraid of. Bit by bit, slowly, fear makes us believe that not trying is better than failing. That’s when fear owns us. Suddenly we are reduced to the totality of our fears, and our lives become defined differently —
Not by chances taken,
but by the opportunities missed.
Not by relationships had,
but by boys we didn’t text, because we KNEW they didn’t want to text us back.
Not by jobs pursued,
but by applications we let languish in our outbox.
We don’t fail. We fail to try. Because that’s what fear tells us to do. Stay. Hide. Run.
Fear finds excuses.
“It’s not the right time.”
“I’m really busy right now.”
“It’s probably not even meant to be anyway…”
Fear loves vague platitudes.
A life without fear is not a life without rationality. It is a life that sees failure not as the end, but rather the start of a new beginning.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Slowly, I began to adopt my old RA’s question as a life manta. I began to use it to challenge myself. Every time I felt my gut twisting into the familiar knot of fear, I prodded myself with it. What would I do if fear weren’t a factor? What would I want to do?
I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I applied for four jobs that I didn’t feel remotely qualified for.
I went out more, and flirted with more guys while I was out.
I stepped back into a church for the first time in years.
I dyed my hair seafoam green — just ‘cuz.
And while for many people, these events aren’t that remarkable, for me they were. I felt good about myself. I held myself with more confidence.
Psychology Today calls fear, “a vital response to physical and emotional danger”, and warns that if we didn’t have it, “we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats”.
I’m just saying — if Psychology Today likes fear so much, they can have some of mine.
Only a few months after adopting my new mantra, I found myself representing my University at a conference. It was a big to-do with tons of people, a great many of them gay. As if the world had turned upside down, I was suddenly in the majority sexual orientation, surrounded by countless attractive people that I was eligible of being with. Outside of sessions I flipped through guys on Tinder and Grindr and fantasized about hookups that would probably never happen.
On our last night in town we went to a big dance party. I pulled together the clean clothes I had left and crafted a brazenly homosexual rager outfit. I was ready.
When we got there I was busting moves I didn’t even know I had. I was rocking it. I was insulated in my group of all girls, and one straight boy (god bless his heart) and having the time of my life. But suddenly a boy I didn’t know entered our circle. He asked if he could dance with “us”, but he stared straight at me.
And maybe it was just how sudden it seemed. Maybe it was because I was out of town and out of my element. Maybe it was because it had been an intense weekend, and I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
But whatever the reason, I became afraid. Like really fucking afraid.
I excused myself for a drink of water, which became a trip to the bathroom, which became me sitting on the lid of the toilet seat, hiding from the world. Why was this happening? What had happened to my newfound courage?
I went back to my group and mumbled something about “being tired” and “having a headache” and walked back to my room. It had become cold outside in the time that we were at the club, and every gust of cold wind against my bare hand was a reminder that another guy wasn’t holding it.
I walked back to my room with my head facing down.
When fighting fear, one failure can seem like the failure. It can feel heavy, like a weight around your neck reminding you about how you fucked up.
Fear wants you to think that a moment of weakness is the end; that the moment before a screw up was your last good moment. Ever.
It’s not. I promise.
There will be that moment you are “on the ground”. Maybe, like me, you didn’t talk to someone you were interested in. Maybe you missed an opportunity, shied away from taking your shot.
Maybe you are afraid to try again.
Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Tomorrow is waiting.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
When I got back home from my conference I was brave a few more times. I was afraid a few more times too.
That’s life. It’s okay.
The key to conquering fear is not in being fearless. It is in having less fear. It is in taking that one chance that will change your life.
One failure is meaningless; it is the one success that will have all the meaning.
We are all screw-ups. Let’s learn together. Let’s try together. Let’s fail a lot together. Then let’s find a tiny victory together.
Let’s experience the fullest life possible.
Let’s chase our dreams.
Let’s not settle for anything less than happiness, fulfillment, contentment, peace.
And step by step,
Day by day,
Let’s do what we would do
If we weren’t afraid.