Living Through Fear Versus Fearless Living.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always… So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” ~ Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Last year, my wise and beautiful friend, Laura, confronted me about why I’d never written that novel I’d always talked about writing someday.
I gave her the list of excuses that had been running like a broken record in my own mind:
“I don’t have time!”
“It’s too hard to get published these days.”
“What if it sucks?”
“It won’t make money. So what’s the point?”
“I’m happy enough with my life as it is.”
Luckily for me, instead of accepting my excuses, Laura said something that struck me:
“I bet a lot of people can write a better novel than you. But they probably aren’t writing. They are probably making excuses like you are, avoiding their fears. I think the main difference between the people who pursue their dreams and those who don’t is that they actually do it. They are afraid, but they do it anyway. What’s really stopping you?”
What was stopping me was my assumption that people who pursue their dreams were a different class of human: the fearless.
The possibility that even the bestselling authors are humans like me, who have fears about their writing but write anyway, was liberating. It was inspiring to think that at one point, these authors were likely struggling with the same fears I have. So I took up Laura’s challenge and I wrote the book.
In the process of writing, I learned some important lessons about fear:
1. Some of my fears were products of my own imagination.
For example, the fear of never getting published is no longer real to me. Writing helps me understand myself and makes me feel happy, and these reasons alone make it worthy of my time and energy. I now know that writing is necessary in my life, even if I write only for myself and no one else.
2. I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.
My fear of imperfection in my writing prevented me from writing at all. By accepting that my writing will never be perfect but doing it anyway, I’ve finally been able to put my ideas out into the universe.
3. Most of my fears are related to self-doubt.
When ideas, sentences, and words exist in your head, it’s impossible to know if anyone else will think they are good enough and worthy of reading. However, I’ve realized that doubt, like perfection, is crippling. Who cares what anyone else thinks? My thoughts, words, ideas are worthy because I am worthy. They are enough because I’m enough. Period.
4. Detaching from identity has given me courage.
I used to dream of being a writer. I wanted an identity that I believed required certain credentials and experience that I didn’t have. So instead of writing, I did other things like coach, teach, travel, and play sports. I’ve discovered that all of these life experiences, all of these elements of me, have informed my writing. It wasn’t until I let go of become a writer and focused instead on being myself that I was actually able to start writing.
5. Fear itself never goes away.
In fact, it seems like the more truthfully I live, the more fear grows. The risks feel greater as the layers of excuses are shed and I become more and more exposed. But I’ve also realized that allowing myself to be vulnerable has made me stronger and more resilient to setbacks. So as fear grows, I grow too.
I’d been spending years burying my dreams, making excuses for all the reasons why writing was an unrealistic venture, and it was eating away at my soul.
By recognizing that no one is fearless, I’ve finally been able to live through my fears and truly be myself.
Shannon Mullen is a high school teacher and writer based in Toronto, Canada. She has previously taught in London, UK, the Canadian Arctic, and Colombia. On weekends and holidays, she makes every effort to get outside, and explore new places on foot or on her bike. These experiences have allowed her to meet interesting people, travel to various corners of the globe, and gain wisdom on life that she hopes she can share with others through writing. Her first novel, See What Flowers, a contemporary fiction about love and mental illness, was published in May 2017. You can find more of her writing at her website.