The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “No fear is the ultimate joy. When you have the insight of no fear, you are free”. I would like to discuss the powerful role that fear can sometimes play in our lives. Consider public speaking for example. When Americans are asked what they are afraid of most, public speaking often ranks way above the fear of death and disease. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld has pointed out, this would mean that at a funeral, most people would rather be the person in the casket as opposed to the person giving the eulogy.
As I thought about standing at this podium and presenting what I believed, I worried, oh no, will my voice crack, will my hands tremble, or will I sweat profusely? Will my words be dissected and critiqued? Or worse, will the audience become bored, yawn, fall asleep, walk out, or completely ignore what I am saying? These are all negative thoughts that lead me to experience fear and anxiety, and almost kept me from participating.
I decided to participate in this wonderful project because I was attracted by the challenge to consider and articulate my personal philosophy and core values. I viewed “This I Believe” as an opportunity instead of something to be feared. The question remained, however, “What did I believe”?
In considering what I believed, I thought the best indicator would be my behavior, how I acted. In thinking about the past, it evoked memories of the actions I had taken, and those that I had avoided. As important as my actions were, I began to be more interested in my inaction and avoidance. I recalled reading a research article on regret entitled Everyday Egocentrism. The research concluded that when asked to review their entire lives and to think of their biggest regrets, most people reported regretting things that they did not do, rather than things they had done. In considering my past, and why I had avoided some things or failed to act, I decided that the motivation for my inaction was derived from fear.
Certainly fear can be an adaptive and appropriate response when confronted with something that may be life threatening. However, fear can also be the product of our thoughts. Fear in its most extreme form is called a phobia. In essence a phobia is avoidance. We are all most likely familiar with claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces, or arachnophobia, fear of spiders, but did you know that there is even a phobia term for those of us who have an intense fear of having peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of their mouth? Yes, it’s called Arachibutyrophobia. Perhaps someone you know suffers from Triskadekaphobia, the fear of the number 13? There is even Panophobia or Pantophobia, which is the unfortunate situation in which one fears everything.
I am by no means fearless. Over the years, however, I have tried to recognize the times in which fear might be influencing my decisions and perhaps holding me back. In searching for what I believe, I not only considered my past actions, but my aspirations for who I want to be. That’s why I say with confidence that I strongly believe in challenging fear and in leaving your “comfort zone”. I urge you to gain experience. In unfamiliar situations recognize that you may be afraid, but view it as an opportunity for personal growth. Be curious, and ask what would happen if you actually tried something outside of your usual habits. Further, once you actually try it you may be surprised by the outcome and even wonder what you were so afraid of to begin with.
You may ask what if I fail, what if I am rejected, what if they laugh at me, or what if I make a mistake? In response, I would offer a quote from the author Safren Foer, “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness”. Fear is derived from thoughts, and those feared outcomes have not actually happened yet. There is no certainty when discussing the future. The only way that you can discover the outcome is by actually doing it. I ask you to consider a quote attributed to Spencer Johnson, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid”?
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