Avoiding Fear

Over the weekend I was listening to an interview with Seth Godin, incredible author and a savant of all things marketing, and he said something that immediately gave me pause:

If you believe that your job is to avoid fear, then staying in your comfort zone is a brilliant strategy. Because that is the best way to avoid fear.

He was speaking about the importance of getting outside of your comfort zone in order to accomplish anything remarkable. Rarely is the road to success paved with stone after stone of activities that don't induce some level of fear.

Seth went on to say that we need to understand that our approach to getting outside our comfort zone must happen WITHOUT adding that asterisk of "How do I get out my comfort zone, without fear?" As that's like saying, "How do I run the Boston marathon without getting tired?" No one who runs the Boston marathon asks that question.

This got me thinking....once we, as humans, understand that concept, like really get it, then the things we avoid committing to because of fear or insecurity suddenly become way easier to do.

People avoid all kinds of things due to fear: changing careers, asking a special someone out on a date, requesting a raise from their employer, public speaking, starting a new business, beginning a workout regimen, etc.

So my question to you is, what do you fear? What have you been putting off doing because it would involve something outside your comfort zone? (note: if you're currently not even considering something out of your comfort zone, I suggest you reexamine your list of priorities.)

I'll tell you what my fear is: fear of failure.

I hate it. Absolutely hate it. Small or large scale, doesn't matter.

I beat myself over the head when I fail, and a piece of my soul dies every time another person (God forbid) ever sees me fall short.

This has caused me to tumble down all kinds of rabbit holes of irrational thought. I've avoided playing pick-up games of sport because of it. Made excuses not to do all kinds of things in my teen years and early twenties. In high school, when my guidance counselor told me partway through senior year that I was in the running to be valedictorian, I nearly stopped working hard in my academic work, because if I failed in achieving that accolade, I didn't want to do so knowing that I had actually tried in the process. Absurd, right? The list goes on. All sorts of crazy stuff that I'm surprised hasn't landed me in an insane asylum.

Fortunately, I've had a number of people come alongside me and challenge me to do the things I was avoiding. They helped me to see that if I was resisting something due to fear of failure, that meant all the more reason to jump in with both feet and try it.

And with each iteration of jumping into things despite the uncertainty of success (and frequently not succeeding), I've become psychologically freed to begin jumping into these endeavors on my own, rather than having to be shoved into the deep end as I kick and scream in protest. And you know what? It's actually been fun!

Public speaking engagements, playing sports I suck at, attempting a difficult intellectual challenge, all sorts of stuff.

This doesn't mean I've learned to enjoy failing or losing, as that leads to its own host of drawbacks. But I've learned, slowly, that a risk of failure cannot prevent a person from stepping forward and giving it their all.

Which leads me to the final thing I'll say about getting outside your comfort zone: you have to try your hardest.

This is something that Josh Waitzkin explores in his book The Art of Learning. He hammers home the point that there will be nothing learned from any challenge in which we don't try our hardest. We have to put ourselves out there, give it our all, and reap the lesson, win or lose.

People obsessed with maintaining a perfectionist image (something I've battled my entire life), really struggle with that. Why? Well, if you don't give your full effort with something, then if you lose or fall short, you can always shrug it off as "well I wasn't trying my hardest."

So a portion of the recipe for excellence then, includes not only getting out your comfort zone and embracing fear, but to also try your hardest in the process; to understand that painful losses - and they're only painful if you've truly tried - may very well be much more valuable than wins in the long run; to gain a love for the value and beauty of the process itself, whether it is "good" or "bad;" when the fear sets in, to view the endeavor as an opportunity for growth rather than a crisis, to not only hold on to the roller coaster and scream, but to throw your hands in the air and have some fun.