How To Be Fearless

(2114 words)

Business writer James Altucher said something I had to listen to.  He said anger doesn’t exist.  He said it’s a fake emotion; just fear in disguise.

It was 2015 and I was in-between careers.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was afraid.  I didn’t know what would happen.

I’d just googled “reinvent yourself.”  James came up first in a blog post.  He said life is fear.  But James had done so much in his life.  There had to be more to the story.

Just then I remembered what I had learned.  That the definition of courage is being afraid but going anyway.

I learned a few things:

I was trying to figure out what to do.  I was paralyzed by indecision.  Should I move across the country?  Should I date that person?  Should I take that job?  It was all blah.

The worst thing fear (and rejection) does is keep us from doing what we know we need to do.  Why?  I didn’t know.  So, I read some more. 

Writer Steven Pressfield, told me why.  He calls it “the resistance.”  Author Seth Godin calls it the reptile brain.

It’s our inner voice giving us excuses not to pursue the idea that excites us.  It lies and tells us it’s for our own good; that the idea was a bad one anyway.

There are really only two parts to execution of an idea.  First there is the “what.”  Then there is the “doing.”

Without clear guidance as to the “what” some people cannot get to the “doing.”

But here is the incredible part.  For others the “what” is easy.  They simply cannot “do.”

But now, they must be combined.  In the new economy they have to be brought back together, in one person.

For a century we’ve been told “what.”  We just had to “do.”

The Economy Changed

But everything has shifted.  I had to figure this out to survive.

They say 50% of success is just showing up.  Or maybe 100%.  I can’t remember.  I remember wanting to believe it, though.

But that’s not enough anymore.  For 100,000 years humans had to either hunt for food or sell their produce in a market.

Or maybe they just had to trick animals into traps.

This all took massive creativity.

We were creative because we had to be; to survive.  Deep down we’re all still creative.

But now, once again, we have to be.  Showing up is no longer enough.

Seth Godin says that during the industrial revolution, Henry Ford told us that everything was going to be ok; come into the factory, he said; it’s safe in here.

So, we took the jobs; because who wouldn’t?

Now factories and corporations are closing and we don’t know what will happen.

So much of what we’ve been doing the last century has just been one section of the assembly line.

We have to figure out the big picture again.  We have to recognize where we’ve become reliant on a system beyond our control.

Maybe this is inevitable.  But awareness of what is beyond our control and what is within our control is the starting place.

I agree with Joe Rogan.  He said when the electricity goes out he sits in a chair.  And waits.  Electricity powers his phone.

He has no idea how his phone works.  Me neither.  There are many others.

Do Work

We know in our gut what our “work” is.  It’s whatever excites us while also helping others in some way; not your “job” but your “work.”  What Seth Godin calls art.

But “resistance” convinces us, with logic, that the thing keeping us from our work is real—that there are actual barriers to action.

There are none.   I am the only possible barrier to my work.  The sooner I see this the sooner I win.  And I have to see this everyday.

If resistance was hot air, then I’m the saxophone.  I’m making the noise.  It works through me.

Kids act out.  Adults self-destruct.  Resistance is when I complain or blame anything other than my own choice not to do my work.

I’ll crack my knuckles, bite my lip, whistle no discernable tune, feel pain in my back.

Resistance is Everywhere

Life is rejection followed by fear.  If we stop at fear we never get back to rejection, which eventually leads to breakthrough.

Whats the solution?  More rejection, please.

But it can be easier to forget.  Politics is a favorite distraction of mine.  I’m a news junkie.  Maybe I’ll get better one day.  Someone please block the news.

But my reptile brain loves distractions.  Maybe the Tigers played last night.  So, I was up late and now I can’t do my work.

Now I can’t fail.  Because I won’t do.  I’m safe.  And, for now, the resistance is happy.

Resistance is part of our DNA.  Seth Godin explained it in his book “Linchpin.”

There is an ancient part of the brain called the brain stem.  It evolved millions of years before the neocortex—where we have ideas and form language.  Its where the fear lives.

There is nothing wrong with fear.  Without fear there is no courage.  But we need to notice fear, understand it’s perfectly normal and do our work anyway.

Godin says, if you want to know what your reptile brain looks like in action, watch a squirrel.  All it cares about is food, predators, and other squirrels.

Don’t be a squirrel.


Steven Pressfield wrote a great book.  It’s called “The War of Art.”  

In it I read how to overcome “resistance.”  It’s hard and I fail every day.  But it’s what we do after failure that determines the ultimate outcome.

We’re free to choose what we do after failure.  But freedom, we’ve heard, is not free.  Being told what to do, the opposite of freedom, is a drug.

For me it was excess school.  My form of busy work–my drug of choice.  I stayed in school too long.

But I can choose to overcome resistance everyday.  Not by fighting it, but by noticing it.

Acknowlege where the seductive drugs of resistance are in my life and avoid them.

I can be aware that my brain can trick me into thinking I’ve beaten resistance when I haven’t; when I made an “A” on a test for example.  Usually the “A” only proved I could follow instructions.

How different this is from having and idea and following through.

The Illusion of Safety

The resistance is like a warning sign saying, “I dare you.”  The irony is we know that’s where the growth is.

When we were kids this was a magnet to our curiosity.  Because kids are smart.  They know they need to learn.

Kids are always scared but they experiment anyway.  We unlearn this as we age.

We unlearned it in schools built for industrial workers, Godin says; where following instructions was a virtue.

In grade school we got two grades.  One for discipline and one for academics.

I still remember the first time I realized academic grades mattered.  I was in first grade and I couldn’t believe it.

Instinct told me discipline was an invaluable skill; one I was horrible at.  It was called “conduct.”  I’m still terrified of that word.  I knew I would get in trouble for a lack of discipline; for an inability to rule my emotions.  That made sense.  I could not sit still and I could not stop talking.  

But the idea that I would be judged by my ability to follow instructions given to me by others–almost all of academia–was incomprehensible.  Anyone can do this.  But rule yourself (true discipline)?  Now that resonated early.

This academic model was set up to help kids prepare for an industrial society where you could get a job at GE, work for 40 years and retire on a pension.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We’ll have to relearn what kids know; how to embrace fear; embrace criticism.

Why?  Because the means of production have changed, again.  Agriculture, media, politics, law, accounting, medicine, manufacturing are all changing.

It’s a New, New World.  And in it art and creativity is essential, not your ability to follow instructions.

Godin’s version of art is what is going to distinguish you; what will allow others to benefit from your gift.

Wake Up

Why is it always at three in the morning?  I wake up with the doubt.  It’s always five hours after I go to bed.  Maybe that’s when the big cats hunted after our ancient ancestors.

We descended from the ones who weren’t asleep.  The ones that randomly, for no reason, woke up afraid.

Maybe they’d started some rock art the day before.  They popped awake in self-criticism.  That three in the morning doubt.

But they woke up; and saw the big cats; just in time.  They ran out of the cave and into the darkness, screaming, surviving.  The big cats ate everyone who was sound asleep, comfortable and self-satisfied.

War Requires a Superior Approach

Creativity is a war against your internal resistance.  First recognize the fear, before it becomes anger.  The state of the union is this:  constant rejection followed by fear, then anger, if you resist the fear.

The state of the union address is:  acknowledge the fear, accept it, and do your work.  Fighting it produces more anger, more resistance.  In 2015 I was neither “doing” nor getting rejected.  I was avoiding.

Likely the worst thing of all.

The word “literally” gets thrown around a lot.  But this is, literally, a battle to the death because resistance ends only at death.

The resistance wants to save you but it can’t.  Nothing really can.

But it can keep you nice and quiet, until you die, your gifts gone ungiven.  Dead long before.

Resistance will say you’re too tired, too jittery, too poor, too rich, too religious, too godless, too sad, or too happy to do your work today. 

You can do it tomorrow, it will say.  But tomorrow, as we all know by now, never comes.  There is only now. 

As Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day, “What if there is no tomorrow?  There wasn’t one today.” 

No Really, It’s a Choice

Social-media mogul Gary Vanyerchuck, says if he had a choice between giving his mentees self-awareness or talent, he’d choose awareness every time.  It’s more important.

I have to be aware of regrets.  There is this saying:  “no regrets.”  But that’s like saying don’t have pain.  But, instead, don’t focus on the pain.  Choose not to focus on the pain.  Choose to start.

Experiment With Everything

Why do scientists experiment?  Because they know that they don’t know.  That’s how smart they are.  James Altucher said that in both life and business experimenting is essential.

You are your own business, is one way to look at it.  Every moment is a new opportunity for experimentation.

If you could erase all your past wins, losses and ties you’d still be standing, sitting, or lying where you are right now.  So use the moment to experiment.

A new baby and an old man have the same exact thing in this life.  The present moment.  Nothing more and nothing less.  There are no guarantees.

If you are a baby you are mad right now.  If you are an old man you are happy.

Time Yourself

I’ll sometimes start the day and begin work.  A groove starts to appear.  Then boom, an intruding thought arises.  I forgot to return that phone call…to my internet provider.  I hope they aren’t canceling my service, I’ll think.  Did I forget to pay?  I need to stop what I’m doing and return that call.

Is this urgent?  Your work is urgent.  You are urgent.  Giving your gift to others is urgent.  Is that what this is about?  A phone call. Can it wait?  Or is it a an excuse to put your work aside, because it’s a threat to safety, to cave security, and may actually lead to something unknown.

As if that is what they’ll write on my gravestone.  “He called his internet provider back…that day….R.I.P.”  But I call anyway and the crisis is averted.  Next thing you know its noon.  And now I’m managing the day rather than making it.  The only day I have is nearing extinction as time slips away.

Time is not money.  That’s the big lie.  It’s way more important.  Even one minute is more precious and is enough to tell someone you love them one more time.