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Your Fears Are Boring

FearWhen she was eight years old, Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love) was so upset by the ocean that she begged her parents to get everyone out of the surf and back onto their towels, where they belonged. She was, by her own admission, afraid of everything—the dark, the deep end, babysitters, board games, grass, you name it.

I can relate. When I was eight, I didn’t like swimming in the ocean, and didn’t love the pool, especially with lots of other people in it. I was afraid of amusement parks and diving boards and going anywhere without my mother. I was terrorized by bees, and bugs, and dogs. When urged to go out and play, I famously responded, “What good is a house if you can’t stay in it?”

In her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert says that despite all the attention we give fear (and we give it a lot), the real turning point for her was when she realized the fear not only didn’t define her, but if it did, she was a real snooze:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note–only one word…and that word was ‘STOP!'” My fear never had anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one emphatic word, repeated at full volume on an endless loop: ‘STOP STOP STOP STOP!'”

Not only that, she writes, but what’s worse is that fear was not only one-note and predictable, but it was just like everyone else’s. There’s literally nothing interesting about that. And yet for years, she says, she fixated on her fear as if it were the most interesting thing about her. Fear isn’t the most interesting thing about anyone.

Part of what I do, for a living, is to help other people make themselves and their messages more compelling. And yet, people fight me on it, try to convince me of why they can’t do it, and it’s because of fear, of course. Often it feels as if I’m a personal organizer and their fears are a set of broken beach chairs they simply won’t part with. I know they think I don’t hear them or don’t understand, but in fact I do. I know it too well.

Fear is not a problem to be solved, because by design it never will be; fear has its own survival tactics, dirty ones at that. At its most extreme, it can paralyze us, and at lower levels, it worries at our edges, making us more and more dull.

Here’s the truth: Fear doesn’t make any of us stronger, better, or more lovable. But what if instead of clinging to fear as a life preserver, keeping our heads above the unknown, we saw it for what it is: A millstone around our necks, dragging us to the very depths of boring, to the lowest common denominator of our personalities. Because that’s what it is.

So, no, you don’t want or need to get rid of fear entirely. You can’t, and you shouldn’t. When Gilbert embarks on a creative journey, fear comes along for the ride, but it does not get to drive. It doesn’t even get to touch the radio. But if you wait for your fear to stop doing its job so you can do yours, you’ll be idling there a long time.

 

Why You Shouldn’t Believe My Instagram Feed

Team

How fun! We won! What you don’t see is how stupid and scared I felt stepping onto that field.

Don’t believe what you see on my Instagram or Facebook page.

Because it doesn’t tell you the truth. Not all of it. I’m a straight shooter, honest, direct to a fault. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I pull no punches. Shit, my whole brand is built on helping other people be authentic.

And yet, lately when I sit down with friends and colleagues, they’ve been saying things like, “Well, you’ve been busy!” and “Business must be great, right?” and I wonder where they get that information from. And then I remember: ME.

It’s not that I purposely mislead or lie. The stuff that I post is true. Things are going well! But there seems to be this outsized idea of what I’m doing compared to what I really am. To what anyone really is.

So you can’t believe what you see in my feed, and here’s why:

1. I only post pictures where I look halfway decent. My face looks fug in many of them, and you don’t know that because I don’t show you.

2. I post my own successes and usually say nothing about the other shit. OK, so I had a piece published here or was interviewed there. You don’t know the things I didn’t get or was afraid to try for.

3. You think I’m out all the time. But I’m not. In fact, I’m often right here, in my studio apartment. I like being here. Sometimes it takes great effort for me to go out, and when I do, I usually am so thrilled I’ll take pictures of whatever I’m doing.

4. You assume that because I’m single in NYC, I’m really happening. Lest you think life in NYC is a non-stop carousel of craft cocktails and sex, let me tell you: It’s not.  I spend more time doing laundry. A great Saturday is a run through the park, a visit to the farmer’s market or Sephora, followed by a nap. There are no photos of these things. Lots of times I’m home, feeling I should be out, and sometimes I’m out, and wish I could be home.

5. I’m about to go on a vacation. THIS is where things are about to go off the rails, because for many sad, stressed, or boring weeks this winter, you heard nothing from me—you didn’t know I had a breakup, or that I was lied to by an old friend. You don’t know that I look in the mirror and wonder what the hell I’m doing with my hair or my life.

But in two days, there I’ll be, waving photos of the Mediterranean at you, shoving a cocktail umbrella up your virtual nose. I’ll be on a cruise through the Greek Islands, so you can expect close-up shots of olive oil, wine, pictures of me and some friends posing on cobbled roads or laughing at something no one remembers. There will be the fancy food arranged like a still life and sunsets over the water.

Promise me you won’t turn around and chastise yourself for what “other people” are doing. Or submit to this fantasy that everyone else is footloose and fancy free while you’re trying to get ketchup stains out of a T-shirt. For years, I never took a vacation, not one. So don’t extrapolate and think that “everyone’s doing cool stuff”; they’re not. In fact, there have been plenty of times I’ve seen you running down the beach or eating a perfect picnic lunch (remember that), or looking flawless and happy and content.

We haven’t been altogether honest, have we.

Let me tell you what I’m afraid of right now as I finish packing:

  • I will bring the wrong shoes / forget a charger / run out of underwear.
  • I will miss out on something big while I’m away.
  • My cat will die while I’m away (it has happened once before).
  • I’ll suffer horrendous diarrhea. Or be constipated for days.
  • I’ll have to be airlifted out of somewhere in Croatia due to some horrible injury.
  • I’ll lose my passport / my phone / my travel companion and be crying and no one will speak English.
  • I will not be able to relax, won’t be or have any fun, and have to lie to everyone about it later.

By now you’ve likely read the absolutely heartbreaking story (“Split Image” on ESPN) of Madison Holleran, the Penn freshman and athlete who, on January 17, 2014, took a running leap off the ninth floor of a parking garage and ended her life. The fact is, Madison didn’t have some horrible secret (addiction, crime). The point the piece makes is that the too-bright artificial light of social media made her life seem darker than it was or should have been. The evidence she left on her feed shows us little but the yawning chasm between what we see and what is.

You hopefully will NOT do something so drastic as to end your life (please God no), or pick up a dangerous drug habit, or any of those things. But you may, like many, suffer despair by a thousand cuts, if you allow yourself to be seduced by what you see.

So promise me you won’t.