The concept of fear has been on my mind lately, most likely because it forms the foundation for my yearly themes the past couple years. In both the gambling and the “doing over thinking” themes, the emphasis has been on getting out of my head and exposing myself to real risk and possibility of failure in the real world, which has always been a critical fear of mine. I’ve been trying to reframe my relationship with fear—to temper the beast that rears its ugly mane whenever faced with a formidable trial.
As a child, fear’s grip over my actions was even more exacting. Anxiety crippled me the night before exams or presentations, rendering me restless. Panic seized my innards in the critical moments of social interaction, drawing out awkward gaps. Fear paralyzed my muscles when I witnessed wrong being committed and told me to save my own skin. In essence, fear made me a bystander—both to negative formative moments in others’ lives and my very own life. I was a audience member, experiencing and living the world through how an actor in the shape of me performed on the stage, following the automatic motions that the environment imposed. Fear told me there was a hard script for me to follow, that deviating from the script meant certain failure, a sure way to give up everything I had built thus far.
This pessimistic scarcity mindset, one focused on negative possibilities like sunk costs and survival rather than positive possibilities like opportunities and dreams, drastically shapes how you view what’s possible in the world. In the former, every new thing is a potential threat to take away all the happiness that you’ve built—life is a series of trials and obstacles that must be overcome for the sake of what you hold precious. In the latter, life is a series of opportunities for growth and expanding your perspective of the world—every new encounter is a gateway to a new story, a new chapter to add onto the vast ever-growing record of your being. Your core mindset and belief system is often self-fulfilling. If you believe in a bleak future, you will find it, and if you believe in a bright future, you’ll find spots of brightness even in the deepest darkness. Fear is the force that pushes you into the pessimistic mindset, to distrust the world and fight for survival, instead of having any hope of your dreams to come true.
I’ve talked before about the importance of decisiveness and taste, which is the first step in being able to achieve your dreams—actually knowing what you want. The next step is being able to actually follow through. Following through is where your relationship to fear is crucial. When you have to translate your thoughts and opinions into action, it requires courage to ward away the fear and do what you say you want, to align your actions with your words in a reality where the risks are very real and not theoretical scenarios.
Even though I’ve set this intention to bet on more risks and translate thought into action, it’s still incredibly difficult to actually act in the moment on instinct—there’s always a hesitation that I need to force myself through. I’ve been able to short-circuit this obstacle in a lot of cases by committing myself to scary things in advance in order to avoid that critical moment, like signing up for writing workshops and dance classes, scheduling calls or emails to be sent in the near future, or publicly commiting myself to some goal (like this 100 mini-essays experiment). However, this cheat gets me out of really practicing being able to execute on instinct alone in critical moments where you can’t mull or waver over whether you’re going to do it or not—you just need to do it.
Now that this theme has been on my mind for a while, I’ve started to see it all over popular media. In Dune, there’s a Litany against Fear that the Bene Gesserit teach to calm your mind for action when it’s seized by fear in high-tension moments. Dune also touches on the theme of fear in the presence of the a drug that grants ability to predict the future unreliably and how the Guild, which always chooses the clearest safe path, is stuck in stagnation because they don’t want any risk. They waver on decision and as a result, lose their control. In jujutsu kaisen, Megumi is fearful of stretching beyond the limits of his skills because he has a surefire way to sacrifice himself and take anything else with him. When he finally lets go of his fear and trusts his instinct completely, he’s able to reach an entirely new level of skill and defeat a powerful opponent. The most recognizable instantiation of this theme is in the slogan “Just do it.” Condensed to the most basic components, the solution to fear is to push past it and just do what you want to do and acclimate yourself to that feeling of conquering your fear for the sake of your desires.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to tpsass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” — the Litany of Fear from Dune
Fear is the poisonous belief that you aren’t prepared for what lies ahead. Courage is trusting yourself to get through whatever obstacle presents itself to you, to believe that you won’t give up in the face of any adversary for the sake of what you want. Courage is doing yourself and what you value justice by fighting to carve space for it in the world.