If you’re like me, you spend hours, days, months—even whole fucking years!—just steering clear of the things you have always wanted to do. And when it finally comes time to do it, you find all sorts of excuses just to keep yourself from doing whatever it is your soul has been calling out for you to do.
Say, the sink needs some scrubbing, even though you scrub it down squeaky clean every single damned morning. Or, hey, this plant needs some watering, the floor needs some mopping, and you have to do some online shopping for things you don’t really need and wait a few more days for the postman to arrive and deliver your package of things you don’t really need.
And, of course, there’s Facebook! And when you’re done stalking everyone you know and don’t know, you can switch on over to Twitter, then Instagram, then Pinterest. And let’s put in LinkedIn for good measure, even if LinkedIn bores you to death.
There. By the time you’re done, you’ll have practically zero time to do what you’ve always wanted to do but were always afraid of doing.
But when it’s time, it’s really time. Even the deepest, darkest, stubbornest parts of yourself will sense it. You’ll feel it in the air—a restlessness that will not die down until you finally decide to sit down and do what it is you want to do. And you’ll feel it inside—a heaviness in your heart. The kind that has slowly and steadily been piling up all throughout the years you have been ignoring its call.
So what do you do about that annoying but ever-so-convincing little voice in your head that points out all the unimportant things you can do to distract yourself?
Some will tell you to ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t exist in the hopes that it will cease to exist—I’ll give you a hint: It won’t. Others will tell you to shut it up by offering counter-arguments. When it says you’re better off watching a marathon of your favorite movies this weekend, you tell it off by pointing out the reasons why working on your business, going to a networking event, or reading a self-help book is better.
You’ve done all this before. You’ve read tons of self-help books, torn through hundreds of self-improvement blogs, and scrolled past thousands of inspirational posts and photos on Facebook and Instagram.
And most of them almost always advocated a different version of the same piece of advice: Ignore your demons. Don’t listen to them. Fill yourself with positive self-talk and push ahead. In a little while, you’ll find success. Or not.
Let me offer you something quite different. Instead of ignoring the things that matter to you—because, yes, whatever it is that’s keeping you from achieving your dreams matters to you—maybe it’s better to buckle up for the ride and meet them head on. You’ll realize, after a while, that it may not be so bad facing them after all.
When It’s Time to Really Face Your Fears
Here’s a radical proposition. What if, instead of blaming the government, religion, and the filthy rich bastards flaunting their Ferraris and ostrich leather Hermes bags, we take responsibility for ourselves instead? It’s a big word, responsibility. And yet, it gets thrown around so much as though people didn’t understand the weight of the word.
By being responsible for ourselves, I mean owning every single thought, word, and deed we’ve ever thought, spoken, and done. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you look at all the thoughts, words, and deeds that have taken you into the kind life you don’t really like. It’s easier to make someone else be the enemy than to face your own self.
Here’s another one of my radical propositions. What if there’s no enemy at all? Zero, nada, zilch. Nothing to subdue or fight or bear down. Nobody to conquer or vanquish or beat to a pulp. And most certainly nothing about yourself to ignore, suppress, or overcome.
What if, even the stuff you call your worst nightmare, the monsters under your bed, and your inner demons, aren’t even dark, monstrous, or demonic at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to take responsibility for all your thoughts, words, and deeds then? It would.
Most people think fear is this one, giant blob of darkness that will consume you if you decide to face it. The truth is far less grim. The truth is fear is just that part of us that’s longing to be heard.
And once you listen to it—really sit down and listen to what it says—you’ll realize that fear isn’t so scary at all. It’ll go away on its own, merry road. And you won’t have to justify your thoughts or berate yourself. You simply have to take responsibility for your emotion and let the fear in.
How I Let Go of My Fears
You’re probably shaking your head at me right now. Nicole, are you fucking crazy? Why would I ever want to welcome fear into my life? I want to live a life that’s full of love, joy, wonder, and excitement—not a life that’s full of fear and sorrow and darkness.
Well, people have called me crazy before. But crazy doesn’t always mean bad, in the same way that fear isn’t always bad. In fact, nothing is really ever bad. Everything exists for our own good, even though we can’t see it that way yet.
The same goes for fear. The only reason your fears exist is to tell you that there are some parts of you that you have neglected for quite some time.
Let me share with you an example. I have always wanted to write on my own blog. I have always believed I have pretty cool ideas that I’d like to share with who resonated with what I put out. But for years, I have tried and failed to keep my own blog.
Oh, I’ve started several blogs, all right. But they never really lasted more than two months. And it wasn’t because I ran out of ideas or stopped feeling good when I was writing. It was mostly because I let myself believe that people wouldn’t like what I wrote, that they’d judge me for being weird, uninteresting, or trying too hard.
But I refused to listen to that part of me that was scared. Instead, I let myself believe the thoughts that my mind fed me—that I wasn’t good enough as a writer, that people would make fun of me, and that who did I think I was, anyway?
And so I allowed myself to be carried away by distractions that never brought any satisfaction in the first place, only to justify my false belief that I wasn’t good enough.
But I found it impossible to live a good life without letting myself follow my dream. I was constantly picking up odd writing jobs here and there, never lasting over three months. My head told me I had to make money writing about things I didn’t give a damn about. My heart told me another thing.
It’s funny because, in a world that prizes logical, rational, and critical thinkers, you can almost call it foolish to listen to your heart. But that’s what I finally did. I had to listen to my heart. But first, I had to face the stuff that kept me from doing what I had always wanted to do—my fear of being criticized, judged, and belittled for the things I wrote.
It’s simple, really. You just have to let yourself feel scared, that’s all. Yet, as simple as it sounds, it’s way, way harder to do in real life. But once you practice welcoming your emotions, including the negative ones we don’t like to feel, you’ll soon realize you can be free of whatever that tries to hold you back. Because the only thing that really holds you back is yourself.
How to Welcome Fear
You don’t need to beat the drums, pound your chest, or show off your strength. You simply need to close the door, go off into a quiet corner, and sit with yourself until you don’t feel scared anymore.
And while it may look like you’ve done nothing at all, you’ll see later how strong and courageous you actually were for having faced the stuff that even the loudest and brawniest never even dare to face their entire lives.
1. Stay quiet.
It can be hard to stay quiet in a world that celebrates loud and proud. Even our own minds refuse to give us quiet time. When you’re stressed or anxious, have you ever felt as though your train of useless thoughts would never end? That’s just the way our mind works. And until we can make peace with that, we won’t ever get to feel real peace and quiet inside.
This is why meditation is good for us. When you meditate, you let go of everything in your world—including that noisy train of thought. You don’t force it to quiet down; you just let it go its own merry way chugging down its tracks. You don’t need to follow it down wherever it goes. You simply let it go. And then you realize there’s no obligation to actually listen to your thoughts at all.
But you don’t have to be meditating for 10 years, or two years, or even two weeks to learn how to stay quiet inside. Whatever makes you feel calm and relaxed will help. For some people, it’s listening to their favorite music. For others, it’s spending a day at the spa. Or at the gym, kickboxing, lifting weights, or doing restorative yoga.
But even if you don’t have an hour or two to spare, there’s still something you can do to quiet your mind. When you feel fear stepping up from behind and trying to take over your life, close your eyes, and take 10 deep belly breaths—or however many breaths you feel you need to calm down.
Yes, you’ll still feel scared. Yes, you’ll still want to dive under the covers and refuse to live your life. But chances are you won’t do that. You’ll feel a little bit calmer, a little bit more centered, and a little bit more solid where you are. Because that’s the point of all this—to stay where you are and be with your fears until they leave on their own.
2. Feel it in your body.
Your body isn’t just a bag of skin, blood, and bones. It’s not just a random group of atoms that miraculously came together to form a living, breathing human being. It’s a sacred vessel that knows more than we do about ourselves.
Have you ever thought about how awesome it is for the body to suddenly know what to do when your rational, logical thinking mind stops working properly? When you accidentally brush your fingers on a metal pot of boiling water, your hand instinctively pulls itself back to keep you from getting burned.
Or when you’re being chased by a mad dog and there’s nowhere else to go but up a tree, you suddenly know how to climb a tree even though you’ve never climbed one before.
Or when a mom sees her child trapped underneath an 1800-kilo car, she suddenly gains the strength to lift up the car all by herself, even though she’s never lifted anywhere near that weight in her entire lifetime.
Your body knows; you simply have to listen to it. When you’re feeling scared, chances are your body has ways of telling you. For some people, they feel it in the pit of their stomach, where rats start running around in place of the butterflies fluttering about. For others, it may be that sinking feeling in their chest, as though their heart was too heavy to stay there. Or it could be that huge lump in your throat, a throbbing in your head, or your arms melting into jelly.
Pay attention to where fear shows up in your body and just let it stay there for two minutes. That’s all I’m asking for. Two minutes. Don’t judge it. Don’t think about how bad it feels. Don’t try to shoo it away. Just let it stay there and stay with it. It certainly won’t be the easiest two minutes of your life, but it will be worth it. I promise.
3. Treat it like an old friend.
If you’re not going to judge your fear, think badly of it, or try to shoo it away, what are you going to do with it? Say hello to it, give it a hug, and sit down with it for a few minutes of chit-chat.
Go ahead. Try it next time you feel scared. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and look for where fear shows up in your body. When you find it, say, “Hello! It’s nice to see you here.” You can say it in your mind or you can say it out loud. It doesn’t matter how you say it as long as you say it from the heart. That’s the beauty of all of life. It really doesn’t matter how we do the thing we came here to do, as long as it’s done from the heart.
And if you mean what you say, if you’re really okay with being scared, that’s when the magic happens. But how is that done, exactly?All this time, we have been so used to treating fear as the enemy that the moment it shows up, we try to squash it with rational thoughts or inspirational lines we picked up from Instagram or Facebook.
But let’s go back to one of my propositions: that there is no enemy, only a part of ourselves we refused to listen to. Fear is that part of you that you have never really listened to. Many times, that part of you is a part you have buried a long, long time ago, in the hopes that you never feel the fear anymore.
But you know what happens to those parts of us that we stop listening to? They kick, scream, yell, bang the door until it falls over, and try to grab our attention in any way they can. Time will pass—for many people, an inordinately huge amount of time will pass—but the fear will stay there, until you say hello to it and give it the time, space, and attention it deserves.
4. Listen to its story.
Our fears have their own story. They didn’t just pop up from out of nowhere to plague us all throughout our lives. Most of the time, simply letting your fear show itself is enough. Other times, saying hello won’t make it go away. It’s these times when you have to buckle down and start listening to your fear as it tells you its story.
Let’s take my fear of not being good enough as an example. Even though I’ve had countless people tell me they loved my work in the past, I was still too afraid to build my own platform and speak up. I couldn’t find the courage to do it because, somehow, I had developed a fear that, whatever I wrote, would not be good enough for other people. It took me several years of grappling with this, but it took only several minutes of listening to the story of my fear.
I sat down and asked myself, “Where did this fear come from? Why am I scared? What does it want to say to me?” And then I realized this fear came from a childhood of constantly being hailed as the perfect child.
I was the grade-A student who always took home five stars and medals and trophies. I was every high school teacher’s dream. I was the perfect child and every mom wanted to have me as their daughter.
So every time I did something that was slightly out of everyone’s expectation of me being the perfect child—like when I placed last in a poem-reciting contest in first grade, or when my mom found out I couldn’t cook a perfect egg to save my own life, or when my teachers realized I had a rebellious streak waiting to rear its beautiful, disobedient head, or when my dad found out I might or might not be pregnant right after college—the fear of not being perfect grew bigger and bigger. But me, being the spitting image of the perfect child and all, decided to shove it down where no one else can see it.
But it didn’t stop showing up. My fear still showed up all right, perfectly manicured and dressed to the nines. It showed itself up in one of the most important places of my life—in my writing.
And that’s the story of my fear. What’s yours?
5. Say thank you.
We have been taught to say thank you from the get-go. When someone does you a favor, tell them thank you. When someone gives you a gift or a compliment, tell them thank you. When anything good happens in our life, look up to the heavens and say thank you.
But have you ever thought about saying thank you for the things that come into your life that you would otherwise prefer not to have? How about saying thank you to that driver who cut you off for giving you a chance to practice compassion?
Or saying thank you to that ex-employer who laid you off for allowing you to find new doors of opportunity opening up for you?
And how about saying thank you to your fear for helping you see the parts of you that are separate from you and giving you a chance to bring them back into the fold?
Everything that happens to us happens for us. The cliché you hate to hear is true. Everything happens for a reason. And there’s a reason why fear exists. It is to tell you that there is a part of you reaching out, wanting to be heard. There is no reason more beautiful than that.