Fear is a huge deal in our lives sometimes. It can stop us making progress.
I recently had an email conversation with Julien Smith, one half of Trust Agents and all round cool dude. We talked about fear and how to manage it. He had some wise words for us:
Chris: In your blog you say you have to “have balls“. Do you think you face life with “Balls” and is having balls the absence of fear?
Julien: There is no such thing as having ‘no fear,’ no matter what marketing campaign slogans want to tell us. There is only the habit, which you either have or not, to feel it and move past it. If you’ve got this, you can take risk (have balls as I say in the post) with an understanding that you’ll be fine on the other side. That one piece of information, which you really understand only through experience, is what you need to get past your hurdles.
Chris: You recently wrote “Fear means it isn’t happening”. Can you share a bit about what a difference that made to you in your work and day?
Julien: This expression comes from Gavin de Becker, who wrote the book The Gift of Fear (recommended to me by Chris Penn). He studies stalkers, assassins, and other betrayers of trust to see what their patterns are, and he also sees what happens to people when they fear things around them needlessly. First, you get paranoid about everything. Second, you stop trusting your actual instincts (what’s really valuable about fear), and rationalizing them away.
So when he says “fear means it’s not happening,” what he means is that it isn’t necessary to fear things that aren’t happening. If you’re on the subway and some guy is creeping you out, you think he’s going to attack you or whatever, then clearly you aren’t being attacked– you’re just fearing it. If you just move instead of freaking out, you’re dealing with what’s going on instead of hypotheticals. You’re dealing with the present instead of the future. You can have an impact.
Chris: People often talk about the “fight or flight” response but in my experience it is not as simple as that. I have always behaved differently. Instead of running or fighting I turn to paralysis, denial and massive bursts of energy. I am experiencing all of these right now with everything involved in moving my family to a different country. How does fear manifest for you and what do you do about it?
Julien: I’ve spent my whole life having fears of any number of things. I used to have seizures when I was young, so that meant I was always afraid of having them (instead of just when they were happening). I also have 50+ hours of tattoos where, the day before a session, I go “is this a really stupid decision?” The next day, of course, I feel fine– I was just afraid of making an irrevocable decision.
So I’ve learned to have an attitude as a result that is a little bit like “oh, the hell with it,” and just go ahead and make decisions easily without freaking out about them. To contrast, I’ve known people who sit there with an email for 15 minutes trying to craft the perfect message.
I don’t care about perfect. I only care about progress. You should too. Later on pretty much everything turns into just “a good story”– the kind of thing you laugh about later, or learn as a lesson. Very rarely do we regret the things we actually do– it’s more the things we don’t do. I take this and follow it to its logical conclusion: don’t trust your present self, only your past and future self.