I really like Will Smith. If he’s in a movie, I’m probably going to watch it. And even if the movie is bad, I may still enjoy it just because he’s in it. This is true of the movie After Earth. It didn’t do well at the box office and it was not received well by critics. But I don’t care. I enjoyed it and the honest way it dealt with an important theme: conquering fear.
There is a particular scene where Will Smith’s character explains to his son (played by Will’s real life son Jaden) how he came to a new understanding about fear. His words resonate truth with me.
“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist… Danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story.”
I have adopted this as sort of a mantra as I work to shed my mind of the fear that has existed there for so long. Most of my life fear has been a constant companion to me and its ever present voice has been there during each of my life decisions. I’ve wasted so many of the finite years I have been given running away from doing the things that I love only to later suffer the consequences of the poor choices I’ve made out of doubt and apprehension rather than logic or even desire. Long ago I thought of pursuing a career as a writer but decided against it almost immediately. The steely voice of fear made it very clear that I was not nor would I ever be good enough to write anything that anyone would ever want to, let alone pay to read. Surely there were millions of people in the world who were better than me, smarter than me, infinitely more talented than me and if they were not publishing, why would I ever entertain the idea that I could? Without exception, fear told me with supreme confidence, only the best and brightest ever succeed. And I was not among the elite. Better to resign myself to my proper station in life: mediocrity.
You see, it was the fear of failure, the fear of rejection and humiliation that kept me from even trying. I couldn’t bear the thought that that the voice in my head was correct. I reasoned that if I never tried, never even attempted to do what I loved, I could avoid having to face the notion that what my aprehension told me was true, namely that I just wasn’t good enough. No, better to avoid trying and run away from my dreams so that at the very least, I could soothe my aching regrets by telling myself that I coulda been a contendah than to allow failure to confirm the validity of my doubts.
I should have taken the words of Churchill to heart. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Fear is a dictatorship; it’s rule is absolute. Fear is the killer of dreams and the master of regret. It is a ravenous beast that will consume us entirely if we let it. And with every failure in my life, I fed my anxiety and it grew strong and powerful. But then I realized another truth. A better truth. Fear is an illusion. And more importantly, it can be controlled. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, I can free myself from its control. Once that was clear to me and I was able to believe it, my life began to change.
Fear is the path to the dark side ~ Yoda
This realization that fear was my greatest obstacle came about not so much as a bolt of lightning striking a tree, but rather as the ocean waters rise with the tide. I began to see the light of truth in every darkened corner. I wondered why so many others around me, many of whom I was certain were less intelligent and less talented than I, would succeed where I continued to fail. Eventually I realized that they did not fail because it never occurred to them that they would and so they just moved forward with their goals and dreams. I slowly began to see that the door that was in front of me, blocking my way was open. Eventually I realized there was no door.
I started to write again. As I did, I recalled some bit of advice I’d heard or read or been told or… Well I’m not sure from where I had the words in my head, but they were there: Speak the truth. When examining my writing I knew that it was best when it was brutally honest. When I laid myself bare for the world to see and never stopped to worry about what others might think, I realized that finally I was putting down words that were worth reading. I opened myself to scrutiny and exposed my flaws and in doing so my fear slowly, every so subtly began to wither and crumble away. My chains of bondage were breaking.
Ironically, it was through comedy that I put the last pieces of the puzzle together. I’d toyed with the prospect of performing stand-up comedy for years and people often asked what was holding me back. My response was that I was too embarrassed to go on stage because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. For a long time, the absurdity of that was lost on me. Eventually it became very clear that being afraid of looking stupid was utterly stupid. I was considering a career where success comes entirely from having people laugh at me.
I imagine my life now without fear. I wonder how things might have been if I had done this so long ago. I truly believe I would be in a much better place. But I still breathe and I still move and so it is not too late. What time is left to me is now starting to feel like my own again. I’ve started to replace my doubts with enthusiasm, my lack of confidence with positive action.
I still live with fear, but it is no longer a Master/Slave relationship. I now think of it as that obnoxious roommate that is always late with rent but won’t move out. I hope someday to serve eviction papers on it but for now, it’s a manageable arrangement.
So gentle reader if anything in my words sounds familiar to you, then ask yourself what is really holding you back from pursuing and realizing your goals, your dreams? Is the slippery cold voice of fear whispering in your ear? Is it shouting? Then stop listening. Enjoy the silence. Free yourself from doubt. Let go and stop worrying about the judgement by others. Remember that each pair of eyes that stare at you are not judging you or wishing for your failure. They are shielding their own fear… of you.