How to Live Boldly When You Are Scared as Heck
This is a guest post by Lisa of Privilege.
Hello. My name is Lisa, and I write a blog called Privilege. It's mostly on style, with some rapture and anxiety thrown in for good measure. Barrie did me the great honor of asking me for a guest post about, of course, how to live boldly and without fear.
I have no idea. Seriously.
I'm afraid of so many things. Flying. Heights. Losing my memory. Wearing the wrong shoes or too short jeans. Telling a complete stranger my life story in an inappropriate manner.
The Real Story Behind A Bold-Sounding Life
It's possible to live a bold life, even when you're beset with fear.
For example, I started college in 1978. I know, I'm old. I'm over it. Only 5 years after Princeton went co-ed, I took my little California girl self to the land of Topsiders. A guy asked me why I was wearing a bandanna. I was too terrified to ask him in return, “What's up with the whale belt?” Culture shock.
After graduation, I moved to London and got a job with Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the man known for CATS, Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miz. In those days he was just Cameron. Then I moved back to New York , and wrote 17 unsolicited letters to theatrical producers, asking for work. I was terrified. Wound up at Circle Repertory, off-Broadway.
Sound brave? Wasn't.
Onward. Traveled to India for 3 months, alone, at 25. Wrote an article on Indian film censorship pre-Bollywood, which the Los Angeles Times was kind enough to publish. Then I got an MBA. The MBA sounds not-too-scary except I am so bad at math I never even used to balance my checkbook – back when we had checkbooks. Don't mention accounting or I'm going to hide under the bed.
I wound up selling expensive liquid nitrogen contracts to semiconductor facilities managers. I tried to understand the chemistry of it all, but the only thing that stuck was if you freeze roses you can break them on a parking lot pavement. One day I made 13 cold calls, door after door after door slamming in my face. I was really terrified.
Then I switched to software, despite the fact that my degree had been in Comparative Literature and I knew nothing about high technology. I don't even understand batteries. Became a vice-president, despite all those other people competing for the job. Not always fairly.
So. If I tell you that I rarely go a day without fear, would you believe me? I hope so. It's true.
I'm even afraid that writing all of the above will make me come across as a jerk. If I have, I apologize. My life history only matters inasmuch as it's an example.
How To Live Boldly When You Are Scared As Heck
As it turns out, living boldly doesn't require that you feel no fear. It mostly requires that you act as though you feel no fear. One can reduce fear to the whine of a hungry pre-schooler in the back of a car. Noise. Uncomfortable, irritating, hard to ignore, but just noise.
I believe we all know that already, in theory. But in a world where everyone's always telling you, have no fear, I only wanted to let you know that fear's OK. Lots of us are afraid. We stick our fingers in our ears and say, ” La La La La La. ” I used to do that, when my kids were driving me nuts with their whining. Of course, there was the one time we got home and I opened my van door and threw all their gear into our cul-de-sac. I don't recommend that strategy, just to be clear.
Pretend you don't hear the whine of fear. Take a deep breath. Speak kindly to yourself. Just as you would to your pre-schooler, once you are back home, and eating goldfish crackers at the counter.
Then take the next step, wherever it takes you, in this moment where your fear is on time out. Oh, it'll be back. If you're like me. But by then your tracks will look bold. Living a life that seems bold is almost enough, because the path you take will show you what the truly brave see.
One Big Risk
There is one huge risk in this strategy. I'd be remiss not explaining. In this effort to act boldly, to ignore fear, you may misdirect your efforts. You may ignore the fears that don't matter, and do a lot of apparently brave things to overcome noise, any noise. Leaving what really matters undone. This is the part where you have to listen to yourself.
I always wanted to write. I was terrified. And I was so busy doing other stuff that scared me I almost didn't notice that life was passing by and I wasn't writing.
One day, despite myself, most of the other opportunities to confront fear moved on. I lost my job. My kids went to college. All that was left to do was write. Then I started a blog. If that doesn't sound brave, you bloggers know, one day someone hates you for being too right-wing, the next day for being too left-wing, and finally for wearing red shoes. Now I sit on my sofa every day and write.
In this situation, fear uses different weapons. Fear gets trickier in smaller fights. When I was making cold sales calls, I could tell I was afraid, as I sat listening to the radio in my car, trying to use the song rotation as a fortune teller. Tom Petty? Bail right out of there. Don't Come Round Here No More. Bruce Springsteen? Knock on the door. It was 1986. In those days I could defeat fear with my feet. Or by crossing the country, or big, big oceans.
For the subtle bravery required by some life goals, you have to keep yourself honest. It's hard. We devote a lot of time and energy over the years building up a self that can protect itself from danger. Breaking down those mechanisms is tough. Here bold just means truth. Find an internal beacon that helps you push Send, or Publish, or Yes. Something true.
The best knowledge I've found is this. There isn't a trick.
Ask yourself, do I really want to do it? If the answer is yes, go ahead.
Yeah, I know. You'd think after 50 years I'd have learned something more spectacular. I'm telling you, getting fear to quiet down in the back seat took a long, long time.
Lisa is an executive and mother, raised in privilege. Read more of her bold and witty writing on her blog Privilege.
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