Flex your fearless muscle.

fear

So much of success comes from stepping beyond your comfort zone, reaching out to others, trying things a new way, taking risks. Some of us were born natural risk takers, but for the rest of us, it helps to challenge yourself to try new things, speak out, push yourself. The more we do, the more we can do.

Facing fear.

thatthing

Standing up to fear changes a person. It helps you to put matters in perspective. Where once fear loomed over you, insurmountable, now you can honor the courage it took to move past it into unfamiliar territory.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a courageous woman. Despite her husband’s attempts to placate the South, she regularly bucked segregation and was a vocal proponent of civil rights. She was able to call out racism and force others to see it for what it was:

By 1939, ER decided to attack the hypocritical way in which the nation dealt with racial injustice. She wanted her fellow citizens to understand how their guilt in “writing and speaking about democracy and the American way without consideration of the imperfections within our system with regard to its treatment . . . of the Negro” encouraged racism. Americans, she told Ralph Bunche in an interview for Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma, wanted to talk “only about the good features of American life and to hide our problems like skeletons in the closet.” Such withdrawal only fueled violent responses; Americans must therefore recognize “the real intensity of feeling” and “the amount of intimidation and terrorization” racism promotes and act against such “ridiculous” behavior.

You can’t clearly see a problem before you if you are too scared to look at it and call it out for what it is.

Sweep it out.

broom

There is something about organizing closets or sleeping floors that is therapeutic. Where once there was a mess, now there is order. And when done to soothe your mood, the activity brings a sense of calm. Short, angry jabs of the broom become slow graceful sweeps, until what was once dirty becomes clean.

Sweeping dirty floors is a great metaphor for tackling most any problem, including anger and fear. Anger tells us where the work needs to be done; activity gives us a place to put that surge of adrenaline, and focusing on the task turns our attention away from fear to the project at hand.

Face the fear.

fearbridge

The monster’s threat in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is chilling: “Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.” What might the monster do to exact revenge if he is truly fearless? Yikes.

But the statement taken out of context can also apply to non-monsters, people hoping to do good but paralyzed by fear to reach out. Fear gets in our way, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Fear can keep us safe from danger– falling, catching diseases, getting broken bones. But fear can also keep us from speaking out against injustice, reaching out to help a neighbor, defending a bully victim, or any one of an endless list of situations where our fighting that fear will result in a greater good. These situations stir us to act and to lay the fear aside because deep down we know the right thing to do, and we know that we are the one who needs to do it.

We are far more powerful than we know.

No worries.

halfface

It turns out artists make a lot of mistakes. We only think they are wonderfully talented, with perfect products immediately dripping off their paintbrushes or keyboards, because we see the finished product and not all of the drafts and abandoned projects along the way. So when we sit down to write or draw or craft or hum out a melody, we can set aside the worry that we aren’t up for the task if our first efforts are less than perfect. Mistakes are the training ground. The more the better because each teaches us what doesn’t work or how something could work better. It is all practice making us more perfect. What’s a failure is being scared to start.

Walk in the direction of your values.

walking

It takes courage to be authentic. It is so easy to stay disconnected from our emotions, afraid to listen to the messages they give us, to put on a happy face, constantly, to be afraid to buck the crowd or disturb the status quo. But the things that upset us are clues, really, to what needs fixing. They are data points that we can take in and consider what needs help–in ourselves, in our relationships, in the world. And tuning in to the full breadth of our emotions juxtaposed against our values can help us discover how we can make contributions in our society–to unmask wrongdoing, to stand up on behalf of the vulnerable, even to advocate on behalf of those society is only too willing to throw away. Authenticity helps us find our voices and the courage even when we are afraid to put on our work boots and start walking in the direction of positive social change.

A time to grieve.

grief

 

This hurts. A physical, mind-numbing ache for what has been lost, not just the lives, though that is staggering, but also for the world we hoped for. A tragedy reminds us that the world is not peaceful yet, that there is so much work to be done, so much hurt to soothe, so many wounds to bind. Some turn to anger and lash out because this grief is heavy and painful. It is hard to bear. We are afraid. But even in the midst of our fear and our anger and all of our grief, there is beauty. The sun rises again. The birds sing. There is hope for a new, better day, yet still. Yet, still.

Redemption Song

by Kevin Young

Finally fall.
At last the mist,
heat’s haze, we woke
these past weeks with

has lifted. We find
ourselves chill, a briskness
we hug ourselves in.
Frost greying the ground.

Grief might be easy
if there wasn’t still
such beauty — would be far
simpler if the silver

maple didn’t thrust
it’s leaves into flame,
trusting that spring
will find it again.

All this might be easier if
there wasn’t a song
still lifting us above it,
if wind didn’t trouble

my mind like water.
I half expect to see you
fill the autumn air
like breath —

At night I sleep
on clenched fists.
Days I’m like the child
who on the playground

falls, crying
not so much from pain
as surprise.
I’m tired of tide

taking you away,
then back again —
what’s worse, the forgetting
or the thing

you can’t forget.
Neither yet —
last summer’s
choir of crickets

grown quiet.

SaveSave

Err away.

portal

Children are born discoverers, unafraid to make mistakes. Everything is new. Around every corner, a new adventure.

Somewhere along the way, though, we are taught it is wrong to make mistakes, and we avoid them at all costs, even, sometimes, by sticking to what we already know well rather than venturing out to try new things.

But what’s so bad about making a mistake? Is it even a mistake, really, if we learn from it?

Many medical breakthroughs and inventions came from mistakes. Post-it notes, microwaves, penicillin, artificial sweetener, chewing gum, x-rays. On and on. Things discovered by mistake.

When we get afraid to try new things or do things differently, we fall into a rut and diminish our ability to create and see new points of view. Our one way of doing and thinking wears a groove in our brains. In short, we turn into old, rigid people.

Getting out of those ruts, can re-engage our brains and creativity and cause us to make new connections, see new perspectives, discover new things. But first, we need to abandon our fear of mistakes and replace it with curiosity.

What is right there, just outside your normal way of doing and seeing, waiting to be discovered?

 

 

Step into the arena.

fearwrong

There’s always a critic. Someone to point out what you did wrong, how you should have done it, what you missed. That may be just a fact of life; they’re everywhere. Sadly.

But if those critics stop us from creating, from expressing our opinions, from being unique, that’s unacceptable. We each have our own song to sing, our own art to create, our own way to play. And we must be unwilling to have that creative spirit smothered.

How empty it must be to spend all your time on the side line criticizing someone else instead of creating yourself. Why listen to those sad unfortunate souls? We need to step into the arena and let our creative spirit take shape instead.

As Teddy Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Yes, you will err. Yes, you are subject to criticism if you try. But just stepping into the arena is a success. Let your gifts see the light of day.

Shine.

Fear as motivation?

fearwilson

What should we make of fear? Of course, fear is often what helps us exercise caution and keeps us whole. But what of the fear that makes us give up before we try? Fear of failure, or success, or looking like an idiot, or putting ourselves out there just to be rejected–what of these?

Perhaps those types of fear should just be viewed as motivation for the next life stage to enter, another step on the journey. Perhaps, even if our ultimate fear is realized, it won’t be half as bad as not stepping out and trying.