Dancing with Fear
Fears and doubt often pop into my head when I work.
When I code, I wonder:
- Am I using best practices?
- Did I structure code in the best possible way?
- Am I doing it correctly?
When I write, I wonder:
- What makes me qualified to teach anything?
- Will people understand what I’m trying to say?
- THIS THING IS TOTALLY OFF-TOPIC. IT’S NOT TECH RELATED! OH MY GOD!
When I run my business, I wonder:
- Should I reply to every single email?
- Should I continue to focus on articles?
- Can I see pre-orders for courses?
- What if I can’t complete my courses on time?
- Are my products and sales emails persuasive but not coming off too sales-y?
I hate having these thoughts because they make me hesitate. And I slow down in my work.
But I love these thoughts because they tell me I’m doing the right thing.
Cherish the fear
If you feel fear trying code, to write, to speak, to put yourself out there in this world, it’s a good thing. It’s good to have this kind of fear.
This kind of fear comes up when we’re trying to do things we care about. Cherish it because it leads you to where you want to be.
You don’t feel this fear when you’re doing things that are not as important. For example, you don’t feel this fear when you decide what to eat for lunch.
Dance with the fear
Seth Godin always tells people to “dance with their fear”.
For me, this means to allow my fear to guide me as I work. The key to working with my fear is to:
- Acknowledge it exists
- Acknowledge I’m afraid
- Lean into the fear
- Continue to work
The fear always creeps up on me. I’m always unaware of it until it gets too late. When I notice it, it’s always crippling. And I pause, I stop working, and I doubt myself.
Sometimes the fear gets so overwhelming, I have to stop working to catch my breath. I distract myself by reading manga, eating, or other activities. But the fear always remains. And I still have to work through it when I begin working.
The only way to overcome this fear is to give myself enough patience to acknowledge and sit through it. If I do this, I come up with things of better quality than what I can normally create. I say the important things I need to say.
For example, this is one article where I went “I honestly don’t know what the fuck I’m doing”. I hesitated for a long time. I gave myself days to think through the article. But nothing good comes out of it. I only managed to the right words to say until I sat down and worked past the fear. The result is what you’re reading now.
If you feel fear, congratulations. You’re moving in the right direction. What’s next is the dance with it.
Easier said than done.
An interesting exercise
Take thirty steps forward with your eyes closed. Pay attention to the emotions that surface as you walk. (Disclaimer: Please don’t walk into the traffic…).
Notice what happens?
You start off confident and you take big steps.
Then, you begin to hesitate. You wonder whether you’re going in the right direction, whether there are obstacles in front of you, whether you’re still walking straight, etc. Each step you take becomes smaller than the previous step.
There will be a point where you stop. Fear shoots through your head and paralyzes you. You can’t even take one more step forward without opening your eyes.
When you walk forward with your eyes closed, you experience fear because you don’t know where you’re going. There may be dangers lurking right in front of you.
This fear is similar to the fear you feel when you work on things that are important to you. It’s of a different nature but it feels almost the same.
If you always get paralyzed by fear, you can use this exercise to get used with how fear feels. Try taking one or two extra steps each time you fear prevents you from moving forward. It trains your resistance.
An easier way to dance with the fear
It’s hard to overcome fear as crippling as the one you face when you walk forward with your eyes closed. An easier way is to walk backward.
A few things happen when you walk backward (instead of forward):
- You’ll go further
- You’ll feel less fear
- The fear becomes easier to handle
- You can navigate where you’re going based on where you went
I want to elaborate on the fourth point a bit more.
When you walk backward, you have your eyes opened. You can see the path you walked. From the corner of your eyes, you can see any potential bends you need to take.
You still can’t see what’s ahead of you, but it is easier than walking blind.
You can apply the same concept when you work. Draw strength from your past achievements and experiences. Acknowledge where you were and how far you’ve come.
This doesn’t help you see what obstacles are in front of you. It doesn’t remove the obstacles. It doesn’t remove the fear. But it makes the fear more manageable.
I hope this gives you a way to dance with fear.