It’s been said countless times, in countless different ways, but it all boils down to the same thing: bravery isn’t never being afraid; it’s being afraid and doing it anyway.
I’m not the only person guilty of trying to pretend I’m not afraid of doing something, afraid of failing, afraid of stretching too far, afraid of…any number of other things. As if nobody else knows I’m afraid, then maybe I’m not, or at least maybe they’ll think I’m tough and strong, instead of weak.
That’s what we get told fear is: weakness. The REAL heroes, they don’t get scared. They walk through fire without flinching, because they’re brave.
Wrong. They walk through fire without flinching because they’re either really good at hiding it, or really, really stupid. I mean come on, people, it’s FIRE! Fire hurts, it burns, it kills – being afraid of fire it is the smart thing to be! As long as you’re not so afraid that you when you need it, you won’t use it.
It’s not about not being afraid, it’s about being afraid but not letting that stop you.
It’s almost a year now since I was invited to join the 8 Sided Films ensemble. I was brought in this group of people who were talented, experienced, halfway across the world. I was told it was my job to help make things happen. How I did that was pretty much up to me, because I was the one with the skills.
My reaction? Abject terror. Fear of failing these people, especially those who were becoming friends. Fear of not being able to give what they were told to expect of me.
I put in hard work, most of it behind the scenes. Piece by piece I started to try and build on what was already there. I got comfortable with my face and my name being out there, with being the person people knew was behind the community, the tweets, etc. I remembered how I felt when I first arrived and used it to welcome others. I slowly stopped asking before doing anything and just started doing. I learned that I do have some skills and knowing them means I can build on them too.
But then came the tests: A crowdfunder to raise the money to begin work on a new production. A webseries to release, which we’d all worked really hard for, but for the success of which – the finding of the audience – was very much down to me.
Abject terror? You got it.
But I worked. And? The crowdfunder was a success. The webseries went slightly nuts across the internet. I also managed to finish a degree I’d been busting over for 4yrs, get changes to bipolar meds and a whole bunch of other life stuff and move onwards.
The kicker? Not only am I fairly sure I didn’t let anyone down, I think I did better than anyone (especially me) really expected – at everything.
I owe a lot to the support of the people around me, whether they knew the fears I had or not. But actually, getting through the fear and doing it anyway – that was a thing I did. I own that.
Not that I won’t go right back to abject fear at the next possible opportunity. But hey, I know what I’m afraid of, I know why, and I know I can exceed every expectation I set for myself – if I don’t let my fear get in the way.
I take some basic steps, which I’m going to share:
1) Examine the fear. Find out just what it is I’m afraid of. My big ones are letting other people down, fulfilling the expectations of those who expect me to screw things up, and proving that I really am as useless as I fear I am.
2) Allow the fear. It’s really ok to admit that you’re afraid. More than that, it’s helpful. Pretending it doesn’t exist gives you no way of dealing with it, now or in the future. Acknowledging it, naming it, looking it in the eye, then explaining why you’re gonna do it anyway – this is a powerful response to fear.
3) Walk through the fear. Once you’ve admitted it, allowed it to exist, and told it you won’t be stopped, you can keep going. It might follow you: it might run beside you, it might pop its head out every so often to taunt you. But you’ve already taken away much of the power of your fear by allowing it to be there. So don’t stop. Find a way – any way – to keep walking. Let somebody else remind you that you’re better than your fear, remember the things you’ve done despite the fear and succeeded at. Also remember that you’ll feel much worse for much longer if you don’t try because you were too afraid.
4) Trust yourself. Somewhere inside, you know what you’re capable of. Chances are other people know that too. Use both of these things. If somebody you trust has no doubts about your abilities – trust their judgement, and trust yourself. If some part of you is responding to your fear by whispering “Yeah but, you know you can do it”, turn up the volume and listen to it. Trust what you know you can do. If, like me, your self-confidence gets in the way of listening to that little voice, then that’s a good time to ask somebody else.
5) Don’t be too harsh. It’s possible that something won’t go right. It’s life; not everything does. Never let that feed your fear. Find the reasons why it didn’t work and next time you know what to watch out for. Knowing that is halfway to getting it right next time. Nobody ever succeeded by only ever trying once – getting it wrong is how we learn to get it right.
6) Own it. You got through the fear? Go you! Own that success because nobody but you could do it. You rock.
Do I sound like a self-help book? Yeah…a little bit. Sadly you are the only one who can fill in all the blank spaces, but maybe the above can serve as a little template, if you get stuck.
If all else fails, stick this to every free surface you can find and read it repeatedly – don’t just scan it, read it:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
– Frank Herbert, Dune (the Bene Gesserit litany against fear)
Here’s what I do know, and what you probably know too: turn any corner in life and you’ll find something scary in the way. You can turn and leave, find a path without the scary thing but also without the reward; or you can take a deep breath, look the scary thing in the eye, and keep on walking. Even when your legs shake so badly you can barely stand. Even when you’re so scared you want to faint and be sick at the same time. Even when you bounce right back off it and have to take those steps again. Keep walking. That, my friends, is how to be brave. Just. Keep. Walking.
And hey, if it helps to share, go right ahead – that’s what the comments are for (or find me elsewhere).