Everyone is afraid of something. For my mom, it’s tight spaces. For my friend, Eric, it’s sharks. Studies have shown that the fear of public speaking is ranked higher by most Americans than their fear of death. Rational or not, we’re all afraid of something. Me? Well, I was afraid of almost everything: bees, spiders, rollercoasters…
It hadn’t always been that way. As a child, I was downright fearless. By the time I was ten years old, I had been draped in vipers at a snake temple in Penang, taken a midnight hike through the Daintree rainforest, and ridden an elephant in Thailand. I was so determined to use the backs of our living room sofas as makeshift balance beams that my mom ultimately had to make a mattress moat around our couches. Somewhere along the way though, I lost my sense of adventure. It didn’t happen over night; in fact, it was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it had happened until my mom pointed it out. After watching my world get progressively smaller, she sat me down, looked me square in the eye, and said, “I think you’re living a small life, and I want more than that for you.”
Prior to that moment, I had never thought of my life that way. But, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. I was allowing far too much of my life to be dictated by fear, and I was bound and determined to do something about it.
I decided to start by making a list of all of everything I could think of that scared or intimidated me. I was astounded to find that, in less than an hour, I had compiled a list of nearly forty things. It occurred to me that, if I could come up with forty things, it probably wouldn’t be that hard to come up with fifty-two things. It also occurred to me that if I could come up with fifty-two things that scared or intimidated me, I need this project significantly more than I had initially thought. So, I came up with the idea for My Year of Living Fearlessly.
For the next year, I did one thing every week that scared or intimidated me. Suddenly, I found myself swimming with sharks, taking fire eating lessons, and learning how to escape from a straitjacket. I spent the night alone in a haunted hotel, won a standup comedy competition, and held a Madagascar hissing cockroach. I made crepes from scratch, went bareback horseback riding on the beach, and learned to pull hot glass. Whether I was scaring myself senseless or just pushing myself slightly outside of my comfort zone, every challenge made me a stronger, braver person.
Since completing My Year of Living Fearlessly and writing the corresponding book, many people have asked me for suggestions on how to start a similar journey of their own. Whether you have dozens of fears to face or you just want to live a slightly bigger life, the tips below will make facing your fears much easier and much more pleasant.
Here is how you get started.
1. Start small. This allows you to get used to experiencing and overcoming your body’s fear response.
2. Tell someone. If you don’t, it will be far too easy to chicken out.
3. Be creative. When facing my fear of knives, I decided to forgo the traditional knife skills class and take a knife-throwing class instead. After chopping celery from six feet away, chopping some on my cutting board is a breeze. More importantly, it makes for a much more interesting story.
4. Bring a friend. Everything seems more frightening when you have to do it alone, and you’ll want someone around to help you celebrate your victory when it’s over.
5. Take pictures. If you’re facing a number of fears, you can even compile a fear-facing scrapbook. It’s a great way to remind yourself that you’re braver and stronger than you think. Plus, as I can tell you from personal experience, no one is going to believe you wrestled an alligator unless you have photographic evidence.
Here’s to making 2012 your year of living fearlessly!