I have attempted this exercise multiple times and find that there is too much for me to say in a single letter without it turning into a book (what a shock!). But I’ll focus on a single point I wish my younger self could understand.
The fear doesn’t go away.
It really doesn’t.
I know you think that the fear means that there is something wrong. That all of your worries and the thousands of rabbit trails what-iffing across your mind and taking you down dark and frightening paths require your attention. That somehow because they exist, you should respond in kind and be afraid.
But simply because you feel afraid does not mean you have to act afraid. And not every fear has to be resolved through mental examination.
In fact, I’ll just tell you upfront, you can’t.
The only thing you can do with fear is ground yourself and move forward.
If fear has its way, you will never do anything, and it gets progressively worse. Little by little, it will nickel and dime your time away. Don’t believe the whisper that it will let you live more in time.
Now it isn’t that fear is evil and wants to destroy you. It’s trying to keep you safe. And once you understand that, it helps. Because you aren’t up against the conquering dominating entity that wants to control your life but the suffocating force that whispers it just wants to protect you. It is so persuasive because it speaks some truth.
And the greatest lie it tells is that you have to wait until the fear is resolved, until it is satisfied, to move forward.
You will wait forever.
I know that’s not what you want to hear because fear can be so painful and uncomfortable. And when you take action, it may get worse.
But you have to take action.
Now, let me caveat. Sometimes your fear will tell you good things and important things (again this is why it is so persuasive). But unless you are literally in a jungle or a wilderness and there is literally something that wants to kill or eat you, inaction is generally not the right response (and even then that choice is sometimes deadly). Constantly living in your comfort zone is not going to get you where you want to be.
And deep down you know this. You don’t want to stagnate. You don’t want to hide. You want to reach your fullest potential.
So what do you do about the fear?
Well, you can suckerpunch it and jump in headfirst. I’ve found that that works pretty well for somethings. Sometimes you can even shock the fear and leave it behind. (This is my preferred method; not every situation allows such a response.)
But on those occasions when the fear grabs you and fills your vein with some sort of supervillain freezing fluid, you’ve got to take a subtler tactic. Outline what you’re going to do. Ground yourself in the present moment and counter the negative what-ifs with positive ones. Give yourself small actionable steps. Then make yourself take them.
If you’re really struggling, give yourself a reward for getting through the tasks. Something that you would like. (And for goodness’s sake, follow through on the reward. As your future self, I know good and well you don’t. You wouldn’t do that to a friend, so don’t do it to yourself. Reward and care for yourself for getting through the insane challenges you set. You’ll get even farther if you care for yourself.)
There will be a rush of adrenaline as you realize what you’re doing. That you are breaking free. That you’re moving toward your goals and not being suffocated by this friend on your back.
But more often than not, the questions are going to come. Now I know that you did press on in many cases, but you always thought there was something wrong with you because the questions and the fear didn’t go away.
It’s part of who you are. It’s part of the way your mind works. You are always questioning, and fear often speaks the loudest. And the fact that you have been pressing through the fear and pursuing your hopes and dreams is wonderful.
I just know you could go so much farther if you would stop questioning “why does my brain work this way?” and “is there something to this?” and “how can I fix myself so this isn’t part of me?”
The fear sticks around. One, five, even fifty victories won’t always remove it. In fact, fear is that frenemy who moves the goalposts all the time. Generally without much warning. But some part of it does get easier with practice. It’s not that the fear is silenced but rather that experience and your confidence grow as well, and they counter fear’s response.
What about the failures though?
Oh yes. They’ll try to encourage fear to be even more protective. And here is where you have to get even firmer.
Failure is as much a part of life as fear. If you can change your perspective to focus on the fact that failure comes and it brings with it the opportunity to learn, then that’s better. It makes the failure easier to stomach. Understand that it is part of life, do your best, learn what you can, stop beating yourself up ad nauseum.
You can do this. You know what you’ve got to do, and you’re doing it. I wish I could tell you that the fear went away. I can’t. But I can tell you that in the future you are more confident. You have so much more experience. And you have better discernment in determining whether something deserves your attention as well as the severity of a particular failure.
You’re still scared in the future. The difference is you don’t obsess quite as long before you act. And that is making a tremendous difference.