If we wait until we are ready, we will be waiting the rest of our lives. — Lemony Snicket
Let fear be a counselor and not a jailer. — Tony Robbins
The most important things is this: to be able — at any moment — to sacrifice what you are for what you will become. — Eric Thomas
We all fear failure… it’s one of the most basic human fears. But recently, the actor/comedian Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of Maharishi University, in which he painted fear in a whole new light for me.
Carrey moved the audience by addressing fear, risk, and the pursuit of your dreams. Some content may have seemed stereotypical, but there was one anecdote in which Carrey managed to strike a nerve of originality.
Carrey spoke of his father. According to the comedian, his father was a very funny person and — in Carrey’s opinion — was more than talented enough to make it as a stand-up comedian. But his father abandoned that route for a more traditional career that would ensure the well-being of his family.
This sounds all too familiar — but instead of leaving it at that, this is where Carrey’s anecdote kept going. After several years as a loyal accountant, Carrey’s father was fired — and was left to struggle with his family’s financial conundrums.
Wow… did not see that coming.
It had never occurred to me that failure was a universal risk. I had been perceiving shelved and dusty dreams as a type of failure in itself — but Carrey made me realize that that which you gave up your passion for is not omitted from the risk of failure.
So in Carrey’s words, “You can fail at what you don’t want — so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
See Carrey’s whole speech here.
I’m beginning to notice that Fear is a common thread in my writing. This isn’t because I feel I’m somehow above it… rather, it’s because I contend with it everyday. Addressing it directly is how I fight it and reading my own writing has revealed to me just how often Fear and I come to blows.
I’ve only just now realized my perception of fear might be a bit strange. When I think of Fear, I see a dark figure – featureless, faceless. But still it manages to communicate its standoffishness. It reminds me of Peter Pan and his shadow: separate but the same, apart but undivided. But my dark shadow isn’t friendly… and certainly not as rambunctious. It stalks my every step and darkens all that it glides across.
I hadn’t realized how anthropomorphic my perception of fear had become until writing this.
So today, I want to explore Fear from a different perspective. I want to put aside this dualistic view I’ve constructed and try to remember that Fear is a part of me. It originates from me… it presents itself within me… it is within me that I experience it. Fear is just one of my faces.
Accepting this gives me an added power over it. Instead of constantly having to battle with it, I can turn my back on it. How?
You can either live reactively or proactively.
If you’re living reactively, you’re only ever responding. You receive a stimulus… you react. Another stimulus… another reaction. You aren’t really in control – it’s the stimulus that’s in control; it’s the one that determines what you do.
This is a part of our nature. The fight-or-flight response is deeply engrained and way past the bounds of conscious control. And our fear response – pupils dilated, heart and respiratory rates increased, blood redirected toward the muscles – that is best for these situation because it puts us on the defensive. It makes us ready to react. So living reactively is really embracing fear and telling it to take the reins.
But, you can also live proactively. You can be the stimulus to which you react. This puts you in the driver’s seat, this gives you some amount of control over your situation. From this side of living, it’s hard to be fearful… it’s hard for the fight-or-flight response to take over… that is not the reaction your body has to itself. When you live proactively, you put fear aside.
I’m not saying you can have complete control. But I think you can get a handle on your fear… just enough of a grip to not let it control you. You just need to be proactive.
I originally wrote the letter below for a friend graduating from high school, but after revisiting it several time over the past year, I’ve begun to wonder if I didn’t actually write it to myself. So here it is, after a few minor changes, just for you. Please keep a copy for yourself and revisit it as often as you like…I do.
There is so much I want to say, but frankly, there are not enough pages to hold the words I would give to you if I could. I’m not much of a gift giver, or receiver for that matter; I think that’s just because I value something different from most people. So this letter is your gift–it is an attempt to give you a taste of what I value, something I hope you’ll be able to understand and that will remain timeless.
When I sat down to write this, I thought I might write about my own experiences, about the lessons I’ve learned, what I might tell my younger self. During that reflection though, I realized how important those experiences are to me, how important they were to my growth and development as a person. So instead of writing some crappy lecture on life, I’m going to trust you to figure out that stuff on your own. Humans have the capacity to learn from the successes and failures of others, but that doesn’t mean we should give up first hand experience. We can only experience our own lives, so go out and take risks, make mistakes, do something you might consider regrettable later. Live passionately.
My friend, it truly is incredible how many people not only let fear govern their lives, but also let it downplay their passions. But you have the gumption most people do not; please don’t lose it. It will become more valuable as you pursue your passions and inevitably meet the resistance of the doubters who will try to impose their own fear on you and on the way you lead your life.
I do not believe fear should be discounted. It is an important experience in itself, but not one that should influence your choices. Cliché? Yes. Easier said than done? Absolutely. So let me get to your “gift” which is nothing more than a simple idea.
Time is a misconception. Neither past nor future actually exist. The past is just a collection of memories which you experience in the present and the future is nothing more than a present daydream hiding in the empty spaces of your consciousness. This means there is only one moment that exists, the only moment you ever live: the present moment. Keep this in mind when you think about what you want from life, because now is the only chance you will ever have to achieve those goals. Now is the only chance you have to define yourself as a child, parent, sibling; as a friend and teammate; as a student and teacher; as a partner and as a lover. Never let a chance to define yourself pass.
And fear? Well, we are creatures of habit. We tend to stick with a decision once we have made up our mind (even if it’s a bad decision). So, when faced with terror that stands between you and your passion, realize it only takes a split second’s worth of courage to decide you are going to stand up to that terror. Facing fear head on is not nearly as difficult as deciding to do so. Remember, now is the only chance you have to define yourself.
I hope this bit of philosophy isn’t too much for you, Friend, but I hope you hold onto this letter and glance back at it every now and then, if for nothing else, as validation of your potential, of which you have an abundance. So surround yourself with like-minded people, read inspirational quotes and anecdotes every chance you get, and remember that what you see is not necessarily as important as how you see it. The way in which you view the world will determine how you live your life.
Now let me close with one of my favorite quotes: “life begins where you comfort zone ends.” Always explore and remember that mistakes are inevitable, as are regrets. But it is better to regret something you did than something you did not do and when you do err, it may as well be on the side of passion. Welcome to the rest of your life.