One of my favorite quotes is by author Elizabeth Gilbert. She says, “Your fear is the most boring thing about you. […] Because fear only says one thing and that one thing is ‘STOP’”.
At first, this may seem harsh. Especially if you are a sensitive person, as I am, this can feel like an un-empathetic attack on what we are going through and how hard it is. “But my life is hard and my fear is real!” – we might exclaim internally. Right?! I totally get that. However, what this quote is highlighting is so vital to living life fully that it is worth telling our defensive inner voices to be quiet for a minute so we can explore this deeper.
In my own life, I struggle with fear. I have fear around not being good enough, not being as good as others, not being a good enough therapist, not fitting in or belonging, not looking ‘cool’ or ‘good’… the list goes on. And when these kinds of thoughts get loud and strong, they bring me down into a place of fear and it feels like shit. It feels contracted, alone, pathetic. It feels like I’m the victim of my life and have no power. But all based on what? There’s nothing out there attacking me, yet these fears feel so real and leave me so disempowered.
So what is the function of this fear for myself or for anyone else experiencing similar fears in life? Why is fear and anxiety so prevalent in the human experiences? The answer is that the function of fear is to protect us and keep us safe. Fear evolved in the human brain as a way to keep us away from dangers such as predators and other potentially harmful situations. “Don’t go into that unknown dark cave – could be dangerous. Stay away from that fire, it will burn. Don’t get too close to that animal – it could hurt you.” And these fears were critical to survival in primitive times.
In current times we no longer need to worry about things like predators (Thank goodness! Imagine adding running away from lions to our to-do list) and other such primitive threats to our basic survival. However, our brains still have the same fear center, the amygdala, and it is just as active as ever. So when we imagine things like stepping out into the unknown or showing vulnerability to the world, even though these are not an attack on our literal survival, our amygdala lights up with fear to tell us to stay safe! Stay protected. Stay in our small comfort zone where we know what to expect.
The thing is, we won’t actually die of vulnerability. Going outside of our comfort zone and stretching ourselves to try something new will not literally be a threat to your survival. In fact, moving through fear and doing the scary thing is often actually the key to unlocking a life full of meaning, love, satisfaction, and connection. Being vulnerable in spite the discomfort means showing up as your authentic true self, imperfections and all. Doing the scary thing means putting yourself out there into the unknown, making connection and speaking truth.
So how do we move past fear when we feel like we’re stuck in that icky place of feeling not good enough? To answer this question, I draw wisdom from one of my new favorite quotes from Gestalt therapy. “Anxiety is excitement without the breath.” When we feel afraid of doing something big, meaningful, scary, and out of the comfort zone, take a deep breath, remember that we are not going to die, and take a step forward. Fear often points to the thing that deep inside we know we most need to do.
Wishing you courage,
Further reading on creativity and fear:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Danielle shares thoughts, insights, and musings through blog posts here. Topics relate to mindfulness, spirituality, and healing.