Face Your Fear, Find Your Freedom

Shine a light, grab a pen, and banish those fear-mongering demons in your head.*

Writers, Use the 4hr Work Week to Free Yourself from Fear
Photo by Will Hastings via Flickr

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never came to pass.
Mark Twain

We hear a lot about the power of fear.  It holds us back.  It paralyzes us.  It compels to make the safe choice, even if, in the choosing, we go against our own self-interest.

And I don’t know about you, but in my life, fear often takes the shape of tiny demon monkeys who like to invade my brain just as I turn in for the night.  They plant the seeds of a thousand different catastrophes – each one more horrific than the next – until I’m sure that I will eventually end up homeless, blind, and lobotomized against my will.  I can see the image clearly: There I sit, staring blankly into space, strapped to a wheelchair parked in a dingy corner of some state-run facility for sad sacks like me.

At least, the lobotomy will save me from truly understanding my circumstances, so I’ve got that going for me.

“Please, please, please….buy a ticket.

I’ve started reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, and the first few chapters talk a lot about fear.  What are we doing, Ferriss asks, to avoid the risks that scare us the most?  And what’s the real damage that avoidance is causing?

“Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action,” advises Ferriss.  “It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction.  If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years?”

When we’re frightened about taking a big step, we prevaricate and rationalize – placing a lot of hope on miracles and happenstance.  This reminds me of an old Irish joke: For years, a man prayed to God on the eve of the big lottery draw. “Please, please oh Lord,” he cries, “let me win the big prize.”

Every week the same prayer, and yet the money always went to someone else.

Finally, when the man – now old and stooped and fumbling into senility – finishes his weekly plea one evening, a voice booms out from the shadows.

“Please, please, please….buy a ticket.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often fallen into the trance of the great big “win.”  I imagine what I’d do with my windfall.  The prizes I’d dole out to friends and family. The trips I’d take.  The funds I’d donate (I’m not going to be one of those “rich assholes” after all…).  I’ve whiled away many an hour daydreaming about this sudden largess.

But I, too, rarely buy a ticket.

That’s not to say that I advocate gambling – at least not in the traditional sense (and there go the heads a’ rolling, as relatives far and wide – I come from a long line of gamblers – read my words and clutch their pearls – no gambling?!  Surely you jest!).  In my experience, those big paydays rarely come (though my mother is quite adept at beating the odds…some of the time…). You can waste a lot of time and energy waiting and wishing when you should be planning and doing.

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.
Epicurus

So what does all this mean in terms of writing and living a creative life?  I’m not sure yet, but my gut tells me there’s a strong connection.  Ferriss’s book is focused primarily on explaining how you can ditch a 9-5/40hr-week existence to live a richer, more authentic life.  He discusses valuing time and freedom over money, and assures the reader there will always have enough as long as you’re clear about what you need and what has to happen in order to make it possible.

And Ferriss’s message about unearthing the thing you really want to do applies most certainly to the aspiring writer.

“After years of repetitive work, you will often need to dig hard to find your passions, redefine your dreams and revive hobbies that you let atrophy to near extinction,”
he writes, going on to explain that when it comes to a 4-hr work week, “the goal is not to simply eliminate the bad, which does nothing more than leave you with a vacuum, but to pursue and experience the best in the world.”

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Plato

So how does one carve out this new life – this less work/more riches fantasy land?  By replacing assumptions, digging deep to find out what really inspires your, focusing on your attributes instead of trying to shore up your weaknesses… and confronting fear.  That sounds like an excellent blueprint not just for life, but for the working writer.

Ferris believes “most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty,” yet much of what we fearfully anticipate never comes to pass.  That’s certainly the camp I fall into – the wary risk taker who hesitates at the front of the line, unsure about taking my turn jumping off the cliff, skating on the ice, or speaking into the microphone.

But I also know – from personal experience – that the plunge, once taken, rarely morphs into the calamity you’ve anticipated.  In fact, it usually turns out that the risk pays back in triplicate; in dividends, you could never have imagined.  But you do have to step out onto that ledge, knock on that door to the demon’s lair, or speak to that receptionist who’s cool condescension sends ice-cold self-doubt running down the back of your neck.

And just like the monsters under the bed used to disappear when you turned on the light, many fears will diminish or vanish once you name them, explain them, and describe them in full.  Highlight their strengths and weaknesses.  Play the odds maker and see if you can’t figure out the chances of your worst-case scenario coming to pass.  See how that probability compares to the best-case scenario turning into reality.

Then make the bet, gamble on your abilities and determination, and just see what extraordinary events transpire.

And remember, “ Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” (Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister.)

Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.
Dorothy Thompson

*This content was originally published October 3, 2012.
Cover photo by Krista Grinberga via Flickr
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