The Other Side of Fear
Most people like to know what to expect, and they especially like knowing that it won’t be scary. Many will avoid an activity if even one of the possible outcomes is frightening or uncomfortable.
But here’s the rub: all growth, both literal and metaphorical, happens under stress. It happens in precisely the situations that force one away from what is comfortable and toward what is challenging; away from familiar and toward uncertain; away from safe and toward the unknown.
The fears that hold people back are many: discomfort, embarrassment, loss of money, loss of esteem, and the existential void of the unknown are a few. And there are some pretty fundamental evolutionary reasons for that: for tens of thousands of years, straying from the group literally meant risking death. And going off on your own at night? Forget about that, there could be monsters with claws and fangs that will eat you if you walk into the darkness!
People spend months, years, and decades waiting to make decisions or attempt their dreams because of fear. Some people go to the grave having never attempted the one or two things that they truly desired. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: at the end of life, people tend to regret what they did not do more than what they tried to do and failed.
About a decade ago, I happened to find myself in Auckland, New Zealand, with an evening off. From all over downtown Auckland one can see the Sky Tower, a telecommunications tower which happens to be the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. One can also see people rappelling from the top in what at first appears to be a near free fall attached only to a wire.
“Not in a million years,” I thought. “Not for me.” And I was certain of it. I’m afraid of heights, why the heck would I intentionally jump off the top of a building?!?
But the idea germinated in my mind all night. I could literally confront one of my biggest fears, if only I would let myself. And once it was phrased like that – how could I say no?
The next morning I walked to the Sky Tower as soon as they opened and was in the first jump group of the morning. As luck would have it, I went last in my group of 3. All of that sitting and waiting and thinking about how truly scary the full-view elevator ride up had been, how terrifying it must be to actually be on the jump platform, and then to exit the platform the hard way?!? Holy smokes!
When it was my turn, the instructor led me to the jump platform. He explained how the main cable attached, how the safety cable attached, how safe the whole thing was, and checked my harness. He walked me to the edge of the platform, told me where to place my hands on the guard rail, to let my toes hang off the edge, to lean over slightly to see over the edge, and he probably said some other stuff, too. I can’t be certain, it was super scary.
The last things he said, which I do remember, were, “I’m going to tap you on the back as I count to three. When you feel the last tap, you’re going to jump. Right?” I replied, “I don’t know.” I really didn’t. It was kind of terrifying.
Then he said “One [tap], two [tap], three [tap]” and … I let go. I surrendered to the choice to confront my fear and left the platform in more of a 'leaning forward fall' than a jump.
And then the strangest thing happened: I stopped being afraid. Literally a fraction of a second after leaving the platform, all of the fear was gone. I left all of my fear on the precipice and none of it remained on the other side.
The significance of the metaphor didn’t sink in for a while. At first I was pretty amped, and plus I had to get back to the hotel for checkout. But over the following months and years I developed a policy: when faced with an important decision with one possible outcome leading to what is known and the other potentially leading to an improvement or expansion of my reality, there is no choice. Once I’ve even recognized the question, the answer has to be to choose the unknown but potentially life changing path.
I’ve certainly failed along the way, and spectacularly so! But it hasn’t been boring, and occasionally I have been lucky enough to witness the points where Possible and Actual intersect. It’s a kind of beauty that only happens when one is at the precipice of meaningful change.
I hope you move through the coming weeks with a spirit of openness, honesty, bravery, and adventure.
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”
- George Addair
Iseler Financial, LLC | Registered Investment Advisor | Durham NC