I always thought this was the stupidest advice. It usually comes with examples like “Jump off a plane” (with a parachute) or “swim with sharks.” I always think “You’re supposed to be afraid of sharks!” That’s why the human race has made it for so long. That’s why have the Darwin Awards.
Do one thing a day (month, year…) drips with self-indulgence. The bucket-list variety of fear-facing is often costly, self-centered and just plain counter-intuitive. When someone pays a small fortune to indulge in a one-shot deal, the cynic thinks the money would have been better spent elsewhere. No greater good is advanced when the affluent takes navel-gazing to a dangerous level. When it’s not dangerous, it tuns into a long Eat, Pray, Love -style insult to decency, an ode to emptiness.
And yet, heroism is made of the same willingness to overcome fears and obstacles, to face the insurmountable, to push the limits of intuition and self-preservation. Oddly enough, the self-centered and the self-less share the strength to push through: one outward, the other inward. It breaks my heart when I think about the wasted potential for greatness sunk in a dark hole of egotism.
Fear facing is what places us in front of our limitations, allows us to look at them in the eye and walk over them. But more often than not, the biggest growth happens quietly, discreetly, in a whisper rather than a bang. When we choose to give of ourselves past the point where it hurts. When we find meaning through challenges and difficulties. The fears that paralyze us through our ordinary lives are not the big ones, like sharks and heights, but the smaller fears of failure, judgement, discomfort and pain. The limitations we need to overcome are not physical obstacles but self-imposed, dictated by the demands of comfort, affluence, predictability. The real hero doesn’t shop which fears are worth overcoming. Real heroes face the fears that are thrown at them with grace, dignity and strength.
I have no desire to swim with sharks, jump-off a plane or sink my family’s hard-earned money into some international adventure tourism attraction. I just pray that I will have the courage to overcome the insurmountable when it shows up at my door. When fear will choose me, instead of me choosing it. And I also pray for the courage to overcome the molehills that my fear of failure make into so many mountains. Because what is the use of swimming with sharks when I’m still afraid of high school science?
What are your scary monsters?