I have a running joke with my family and some of my friends about how much of a hipster I am. Drinking my cold brew, prepping my Blundstones with the arrival of fall – check. One of my latest acquisitions? One of those trendy black and white letter boards (oh wait – did I just destroy some of my hipster cred by using the word trendy and admitting that I own something trendy?).
…but I digress. Anyway, with the end of summer and arrival of fall, I was searching for a new quotation to grace my letter board for the upcoming season. And I remembered that, somewhere in the depths of the notes on my phone, I had a list of various quotes I liked. So I scrolled down, and this one from Donald Miller (author of Blue like Jazz among others) popped out at me:
Fear tricks you into living a boring life.
Whoa. Mic drop.
Yep – as you can see, that one went right on the letter board. I’ve known for a while, and lately have been realizing to an even greater extent, just how much I’ve missed out on in life because of being afraid. I often say to others that my greatest regrets in life are not about things I’ve done, but rather about things I haven’t done. And, for the most part, I haven’t done these things because I’ve let fear get in the way.
On a small scale, the little things I haven’t done (or don’t do) because of fear are almost comical. They include, but are not limited to: not going to the bathroom when I’m at someone else’s house I don’t know well because I don’t want to ask for it, not booking appointments because I don’t want to talk on the phone, not dealing with stuff that’s broken because I don’t want to find out what’s really wrong…and so on.
In and of themselves, these acts (or lack thereof) seem fairly harmless. And even kind of funny (just ask my sister which one of us always called for takeout growing up). It’s when it gets to the big stuff that I start really missing out, or as Donald Miller would say, being boring.
Each time you say no to an invitation and choose to stay home, because you think you won’t know anyone, or the event seems a bit out of your comfort zone; you get a little more boring. Each time you choose the easy route, because you fear you won’t rise to the challenge; you get a little more boring. The path of least resistance might be easy. It might feel comfortable and safe. But what it certainly is not is exciting.
You know what else can be scary? When you dare to be different. When you speak up when others are silent. When you dare to resist the temptation to sink into negativity despite the fact that everyone around you is doing it. So you stay scared and silent, and same. There is a reason why the expression is dare to be different. Because that act in of itself requires daring, aka courage, aka the opposite of fear.
Daring to be different can look, well, different; depending on who and where you are in life. It might like saying yes, accepting and invitation or taking on a project when your first instinct is to say no. It might mean trying that new gym even when you won’t know anyone and it’s different from what you’ve done in the past. It might mean having the courage to leave the conversation at work when it dissolves into gossip. It might mean asking for help even when you fear others might see you as weak.
And you know what – doing things you’re afraid of won’t always be easy. In fact, quite likely, it probably won’t. But I heard on a podcast once that easy doesn’t always equal good and hard doesn’t always equal bad (or something along those lines). And that has stuck with me.
Just like when I look back on my life and regret all of the things I didn’t do, in a similar vein, when I think about the best things in my life, my biggest accomplishments – they were some of the hardest things I’ve ever done. They were out of my comfort zone. I felt scared sometimes. But boring is not a word I’d use to describe those moments.
So how do you do it? How do you get past the fear that is holding you back, that might be keeping you safe but is also making you boring? How do you say yes when you’re just used to saying no? How do you get out of a comfort zone that is so damn comfy?
I am still figuring this out. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, hopefully you’ve realized that I don’t have all the answers (and if you’re new – well, you had to find out sometime). But I have some thoughts, some ideas.
First off? Get your fears outta the darkness. Shed some light on them. Don’t let them be a secret anymore. What this looks like is up to you. If you want to start small, you don’t even have to tell anyone else. You can just write them down in your journal. Or just say them out loud, even if it’s just to yourself.
But better still, tell someone else. Confide in a friend or two what you’re feeling. And you know what I’ve found? More often than not, my fears are not based in reality. And by hearing them out loud, or seeing them written down, I can see that more easily. And I can laugh at myself. I can also ask myself “what if my fears came true?” Just putting that out there can quiet the fears. Yep, the worst might happen. And it might suck. But probably I’d be ok.
You just gotta give those fears some air time. Because fear loves darkness. When it’s hidden in secret and shame, it can grow out of control. It can thrive, and grow so thick until it clouds your judgement so badly that it becomes your reality. Even if it’s based on lies.
One of my favourite achievements of this past summer was reading the Harry Potter books for the first time. In the Harry Potter series, almost no one calls Voldemort, the Dark Lord, by name.He is shrouded in mystery, and a lot of fear. I love what Dumbledore tells Harry:
“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
Again, it’s giving fear air time that will suck the life out of it. Name it out loud and it becomes less powerful. And once you’ve deflated the fear, you can get on with living your definitively non-boring life.
Once you’ve named and shared your fears – what next? This is my biggest “easier-said-than-done-but-if I could master it, it would solve a crap ton of problems” takeaways of late. Ready? Stay in the present.
As someone who loves planning ahead, this one is super challenging for me. I love getting organized, having a game plan and being ready. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, if I’m not careful I’m all of a sudden down a rabbit hole of worst case scenarios, and am so consumed with planning the next thing that I am completely missing the great things that are right in front of me.
I don’t have the answers on how to master this either, but awareness is the first step in the battle. I am trying to avoid doing too much multitasking if it’s taking away from being present where I am. I’m being careful about social media and how I use it. And when I falter and do my dire forecasting? Take a deep breath, notice what I’m doing, and see what healthy diversion I can find.
One more quick note. Fear’s evil twin/BFF is shame. And it’s shame that creates the darkness that allows fear to grow. And often it requires some vulnerability to get yourself outta this space. If you want to learn more, go pick up some Brene Brown – she has done a ton of work on shame and vulnerability and I find her writing fascinating and really helpful.
So, as we head into a new season, and I head into a new school year; let’s be done with being boring. Let’s crawl out from under our blankets. Let’s push ourselves to do new things. Because it might be scary. We might be afraid. But isn’t that part of being alive? And it sure beats the alternative…