Run At The Fear

When I was much younger, I spent the majority of my time running away from fear. I was perpetually afraid of doing the wrong thing, appearing out-of-place, or being unprepared. In the 7th grade, I was at a new school with hundreds of people I didn’t know. I didn’t wear the right clothes, talk the right way, or even give a damn enough about my appearance. And then I had bullies to deal with so I spent a lot of time figuring out intricate methods of avoidance. I’d walk out of my way to avoid place I knew they’d be at. I spent so much time rocked back on my heels that I really felt on the defensive for a majority of the time.

I finally realized something when I was about fifteen years old: I didn’t like how my life was unfolding. Being forever tied up in knots of anxiety is not a pleasant way to go through the day – and even as horrible as puberty can be, I was making my own excursion through that time even more hellish. I spent a lot of time looking for some miracle solution that would remove all the fear from my life. I wanted to be bold. I wanted to let troubles bounce off of me. But I didn’t know how to find real courage, or – for a while – even where to start to look for it.

I’d always been intrigued about martial arts. I’d seen the all the Kung Fu flicks of that time. And so I started training – first with friends and then with actual instructors. I still remember walking into my first martial arts school, halfway terrified that I was going to get the snot beaten out of me and never be able to recover. But that didn’t happen. And as I trained, I grew more confident in myself. I was less risk-adverse than I’d ever been. I wanted to test myself under duress. The primal satisfaction that comes from trading punches and kicks or grappling with an opponent and then emerging from that test weary but still alive; sweaty and exhausted but toughened up. I still love that feeling and yearn for it even all these years later.

But at the same time, martial arts didn’t remove fear from my life – and I realized nothing could ever take fear away. Indeed, nothing should take fear away.

Instead, martial arts changed my attitude toward fear.

As I grew more aware of my surroundings and what my body was capable of doing to another human being, I started enjoying the idea of being tested more and more. There’s a certain primal exhilaration in stepping on to the dojo floor and testing your technique. Sometimes, things go well. Sometimes, you find mistakes that need to be improved upon. But that fear that once crippled me, now assisted me in learning to truly live my life and take control of my personal destiny.

I know many people who have dreams. But fear of failure, or of self-sacrifice, or of some perceived notion that society has pounded into their consciousness of what’s appropriate behavior for someone at a certain age…it ensures those things remain just that: dreams.

As a result, these people do what I used to do – they run away from the fear. They go out of their way to self-sabotage their success using excuses or rationale that overrules their desire. They squander bold opportunity in favor of the comfort of mediocrity.

There are precious few who adopt the opposite response and actually run at the fear. These are the people who act in the face of adversity. They are the ones who acknowledge their fear or insecurity but go for it anyway. They refuse to let fear be the crippling entity it can be. Instead, they use it as a barometer of how well they’re steering their destiny toward the success they believe they deserve. If they aren’t afraid, then they’re not trying hard enough – they’re not taking enough risks to achieve their dreams.

This isn’t to say that if you’re afraid of sharks that you should chum the waters and go swimming. Instead, what I’m suggesting is you look at the things you want from life – goals or dreams or what have you. Then honestly look at what might be holding you back from achieving them. Are you afraid? If so, the only way to achieving your goals is to blast through the fear. Run at it. Go through it. Don’t stop. Never quit.

One of the scariest situations I’ve ever found myself in was when I was walking with my wife and one of her relatives through Chinatown. Ahead of us were two men walking slowly and taking up the majority of room on the sidewalk. I made the decision to move ahead of them, but as I did so, I realized that we were being set up for an attack. The two men were the funnel and ahead of them were three more men situated in such a way as to form a half circle perimeter. The realization was one that happened in nanoseconds – only in looking back at it from the safety and comfort of many years later can I even describe it. But I knew – even in that split-second – that if I hesitated or tried to avoid the situation, it would be catastrophic for the three of us.

Instead, as the attack unfolded and the lead man drew the knife he’d been concealing and tried to distract me by asking, “Hey, you got a problem?” I moved through and beyond the arc of his cut and checked his shoulder so he could not cut back, while simultaneously pushing my wife and her relative ahead of me and out of the ambush, all the while repeating, “Nope, no problem. There’s no problem.” I kept us moving – always moving – until we were well clear of the attackers. And thanks to my training, the incident was over so quickly that the attackers simply turned and walked the other way. I don’t know if they were even fully aware of what had just transpired. I was still fairly confused myself.

But I knew one thing: I’d run at the fear.

I moved forward when any other choice would have meant my downfall and possibly that of my wife and her relative. Backpedaling, circling, even engaging – all of it would have been wrong. I would have been trapped in a circle of five armed attackers (I only saw one knife, but you *always* assume the attackers are armed) with two innocents to protect as well as myself. It would have been disastrous.

I use that example to illustrate the need to always keep pushing ahead when it comes to achieving goals. Yes, there will be setbacks. Yes, there will be failures. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and you may spend a night or two worrying about the future. But the payoff – that same visceral exhilaration that I get when I test myself in the dojo – of finally reaching a goal is so worth it.

Whatever your dreams and goals, I hope you run at the fear and never let it cripple you. Be bold, move ahead. Don’t let fear – yours or that of anyone else – stop you from realizing your true potential.

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