In Stories

How to Do Anything That Scares You

I’m only brave when I have to be. -Mufasa, The Lion King

The most baffling thing keeps happening to me lately. People keep calling me “brave” and asking for my advice on how to do brave things. While I’m flattered by this, it’s laughable to me because I’m scared of everything.

I’m scared of driving across train tracks (what if I don’t see a train coming?); I’m scared of eating poached eggs (what if the raw yolk gives me Salmonella?); I’m scared of publishing blog posts (what if people hate my writing?); and yes, I was terrified to move to California. But I still drive across the many train tracks here in Silicon Valley because there’s so much to be seen on the other side of them; I still eat poached eggs because Eggs Benedict is pretty much the best breakfast food (next to cupcakes); I still write blog posts because I enjoy writing them (and I think at least a few people enjoy reading them); and here I am in California, and moving here is easily in the top 10 best decisions of my life. Overcoming little fears adds up to a life full of wonderful things.

While I may not know much about being brave, I know a lot about being afraidAnd knowledge of fear is just as important as knowledge of bravery when it comes to doing something that scares you.

So here it is, how to do anything that scares you:

    1. Consider the alternatives.

      Imagine yourself in the future as someone who did not take that chance because you were too afraid. Are you happy as that hypothetical self? Do you wonder what might have been had you just gone for it? A few days before I moved to California, I had dinner in my hometown with some friends whom I’d known since elementary school. One of them is a talented artist, and she told me she dreams of moving to New York to pursue a graduate degree in art, but she’s gripped by the fear of moving to a big city, without knowing anyone, and worst of all, being so far from her family. But she loves art; it’s her passion. I asked her to consider the alternative, to imagine staying in our small, Southern hometown, a town almost completely void of art when compared to New York City. What if she didn’t go? I know she will. Because as scared as she may be, chasing her dream will be more important than any alternatives to it, as safe as they may be.

    2. Look to those who have gone before you.

      Ninety-nine percent of the time, the thing you are afraid of doing has already been done by someone else. Follow their example. Take heart in knowing that others have gone before you. If they can do it, you can too. Consider asking them for advice on how they did it, if you can.

    3. Just accept that what you are about to do will be difficult, maybe even painful.

      When I was a cross country runner in high school, I did this mental exercise before every meet: instead of being afraid of all the pain I would feel during my 3.1-mile run across rough terrain (those darn hills!), I just accepted that it would hurt. That’s it. I simply thought to myself, “This is gonna suck. But then, it’s gonna be awesome.” It sounds silly, and maybe even counterintuitive, but it helped me more in mental preparation than any pep talk ever did.

    4. Don’t think–just act.

“Conscience does make cowards of us all.” -Hamlet

The “don’t think, just act” philosophy is not the most prudent in some cases. But if there is nothing morally wrong with the action, and it’s something you’ve been wanting to do, don’t ruminate over it! You’ll lose conviction if you overthink it.

People often ask me, “How did you move all the way to California without knowing anyone here?” I always respond with, “I seriously just didn’t think about it.” Because if  I allowed myself to think about it extensively and imagine all the things that could go wrong–I wouldn’t have made it here.

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened. -Mark Twain

Notice this blog post is not titled “How to Be Brave.” You don’t have to be brave to conquer your fears.

What advice would you give on doing things that scare you?

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  • Candace
    February 5, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Great post and inspiring advice!

    Sometimes, the best you can do is not listen to what other people tell you, which is also somewhat counter intuitive. I went ahead and did my study abroad in Japan right after the big earthquake in 2011, despite my whole family telling me not to go and saying I wouldn’t be able to have kids because of the radiation. I still went, and the place I went to and most of Japan was perfectly fine! I also had the time of my life! The worst choice I could have made would have been to listen to all those naysayers.

    • Amy
      February 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Hey Candace! Thanks for your comment. I admire you for going abroad, even if your entire family didn’t want you to. What’s strange is, I sometimes find that people telling me I CAN’T do something is a great motivation to prove them wrong. ;)

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