Afraid of Being Afraid

This article came across my inbox today and it caught my attention:


I don’t really care that Samsung has a new piece of technology out to combat the science of fear (though that’s kinda cool, I guess). What interests me is what Silken Laumann had to say:


“Learning not to be afraid of being afraid was pretty important for me in my development as a high-performance athlete,”

so I’m not a high performance athlete but I do understand what she means–I just spent an amazing weekend rock climbing with friends and there is nowhere that I am more intimately attached to fear and my fear of fear than when I’m climbing. I have a secret to confess: I don’t climb because I love climbing. In fact, I don’t really love climbing. There are other sports that I enjoy way more and other ways that I can find to put myself through a “sufferfest” that I will really enjoy.


So, why do I do it?

  1. I want to win against my fear complex
  2. I love the problem solving aspect of climbing
  3. I feel like a badass when I make it to the top of a route and that feeling is addictive
  4. My really cool friends like to climb and I like to hang out with them
  5. It takes you to some really beautiful places

After reading the quote from Laumann this morning, I stopped to think for a moment about my trip and what it would mean to conquer the fear complex. In the end, it’s not about not being afraid, it’s about being afraid and doing it anyway. Terribly profound? Probably not. Feels more obvious than profound but the philosophy is solid–I’m probably never going to not be afraid to climb above the bolt or take the whipper or whatever….but I might be able to get to a point where I’m comfortable with the idea of being afraid.

I can’t say that I had any wins this trip in the climbing front but I made some new friends, did get called an “upside down mountain goat” at one point (small win) and had a GREAT time playing in the sunshine and getting dirty.

We also drank wine from the bottle, so you know it was a good weekend.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about being comfortable with her fear in Big Magic and it’s a similar idea–fear is going to be there because it’s necessary as a survival tool–it’s just doesn’t always have the best timing and it certainly has no ability to judge what is ACTUALLY life threatening vs. what is just uncomfortable.

All of this goes for creativity too–I often feel like I just have no idea what to do with a piece and I’m afraid that I’m going to ruin it, look like a copycat or look dumb if I try something. Which is all quite silly but it seems to be the state I’ve put myself in when it comes to taking creative risks.

We put so much effort and glorification on people who can “conquer their fear” that we can convince ourselves that it’s only for the superhuman. Well, it isn’t. It’s for everyone. And PS–those “superhumans with no fear” are really just humans…with fear. They’ve just learned to embrace it.