FEAR – Does just reading the word make your stomach turn? Does it conjure up images of man-eating sharks, chainsaw massacres and world domination by George W? Not so fast, let’s leave those definitions of fear where they belong – in Hollywood.
Real fear, the fear that I’m talking about is much more horrific than any director can create on the big screen and it has more victims than all the shark attacks and chainsaw massacres in the world combined.
Everyone is aware of the common fears afflicting our world: fear to take chances, fear of rejection and fear of commitment. But the most hidden and least talked about fear of all is the fear of success. How could anyone be afraid of success? Well, let’s continue on this course of madness and soon it will be smooth sailing.
Fear never launches an assault without his allies of self doubt and worry, these reinforcements are necessary to ensure his victory. Each time fear is victorious he promotes his prodigy: self depreciation. Fear’s stronghold grows with each battle, however infinitesimal it may seem until eventually the enemy, and make no mistake, we are the enemy to fear, is broken down and we become paralyzed.
For example, let’s take my friend Emily. She’s young, bright, assertive and committed to becoming a lawyer. She’s withstood the grueling effort to finish law school. The only thing standing between her and the completion of her dream is passing the Bar exam. The first time she wrote it she failed two components. The second time she wrote it she failed just one component. Now before you get judgmental about Emily you should know that failing the Bar is common and is no indication of her abilities.
The process of elimination alone and a study of her success trend in previous attempts would indicate that on her third try she will succeed. But there’s only one problem, now that she has the exam in hand she can’t write because she can’t get past the fear of failing. Or is it the fear of success masked as fear of failure that is holding her back?
She told me she couldn’t do anything except cry, she was stuck, or more accurately, she was paralyzed. She was unable to see the completion of her dream that was right in front of her – just one component of the bar exam away. She had forgotten about all the years of success it took to bring her to this place she was at right now. My advice to her was simple: tell fear to F off and write – you will succeed.
Fear is like a weed – each time you rip one out, another one pops up a few days later. That is why, like the Gung Ho gardener we must be diligent in our on-going maintenance of ripping out fearful thoughts before they can take root.
But like the covert weed, Morning Glory with its big and beautiful blooms, sometimes fear fools us into believing that it’s protecting us and without it we would perish from some horrific fate. But fear, like the vines of Morning Glory, is strangling the life out of all those seeds we previously planted that are just below the surface about to break through.
We nourish Morning Glory, watering it and feeding it and if that wasn’t enough we even perpetuate it by transplanting it to other areas of our garden and give it to our friends to propagate.
And in the ultimate act of self depreciation when we notice something small poking through the surface, that one seed we did plant ourselves that has managed to escape the strangling grasp of Morning Glory’s roots – the seed of the lifelong yearning to be a lawyer, start a business, have a baby, get married or write a book - what do we do? Kapow! We rip it out because it threatens to take away space from the weed that we have nurtured, this low maintenance, quick growing intruder that has taken over our garden, the one we never planted but are quick to accept because it’s easy to sustain requiring no work from us.
Eventually the blooms disappear and we are left with an ugly, twisted and gnarly mess that we don’t even recognize as the garden we once envisioned and we wonder how we ever allowed it to reach this state.
And just as some will argue that Morning Glory is not a weed and that fear is not bad but a necessary human emotion to keep us safe - one only needs to look at the definition of this treacherous weed for understanding.
“This weedy vine will twine all over your garden, covering your plants to the point of smothering them. It is usually introduced by stray seed or invasive roots from under a neighbor’s fence. Its success as a weed lies in its thick fleshy roots which travel long distances just under the soil surface. The real trick is to get at it early or it can be very hard to control. Control lies in complete removal of the root system. Hand weeding can remove large quantities of roots, but any broken pieces are capable of sprouting new growth. Repeated, persistent digging as the new growth sprouts can deplete the food reserves. Eventually this weed will die and your garden will be returned to its most natural, fertile state capable of sustaining life for the seeds you want to cultivate.”
The true art in gardening – as in overcoming fear is to recognize what is a weed and rip it out consistently and persistently until there are no stragglers left behind to take root again. Action will obliterate fear every time. And by the way, there is no such thing as a man-eating shark, only shark-eating men.
Follow up to this article: Emily passed her bar exam