Life,  Medium

You Don’t Need to Get Over Your Fear, You Need to Learn to Live With It

Fear is inevitable, but letting it control your life is not.

Something I’ve heard my entire life is that the best things happen when you “get over” your fear. When I was younger and crying because I didn’t want to call the movie theater and ask about a show they were having (true story — I’ve never liked talking on the phone since) I was handed the phone anyway. My parents weren’t the type to step in unless I really needed help, and in that particular instance, the help I needed was to get over the scary task I had built up in my mind and just make the phone call. And I did it. I guess you could say I “got over” my fear (and lived to tell the tale — turns out that person on the other end of the line wasn’t so scary.)

I’ve learned since then that there’s a bit of a misconception when it comes to conquering your fears. I don’t necessarily think you can ever “get over” your fear. Fear usually doesn’t magically disappear. It’s not something that goes away the second you make that scary decision, or make that stressful phone call. I now know that I can make phone calls I don’t want to make and come out on the other side relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t mean I always head into a conversation I know might be unpleasant without fear. Sometimes it’s still there — a tiny sliver of trepidation that makes me question if there’s a way out that doesn’t involve the phone — but my experience has taught me that I can do it. I’ve survived every phone call I’ve made so far, and that helps me pick up the phone, in spite of my fear, not instead of it.

Sometimes, you have to bring your fear with you.

I wish I could leave it behind and go out into the world without any trepidation, but alas, that is simply not the case. At times it seems that everyone around me is capable of getting through mundane or extraordinary tasks without so much as a second thought, while I seem incapable of the stresses that come with day-to-day life.

Does that mean everyone else is bolder and braver than I am? In some instances, the answer might be yes. In other instances, the answer is surely no. Some of the very people I might characterize as brave and bold are in fact wondering the same thing as me. Perhaps they are wondering how I could ever have the courage to send my thoughts out into the world via writing when they get tied up over sending a text message. At the same time, I might wonder at the amazing way that same person moves through a room crowded with people and manages to appear so confident. We all have our own shortfalls, or rather quirks, that we project onto ourselves, even those we perceive as exuberantly nonchalant.

I’ve learned in recent years that the key is not getting over your fears, it’s bringing them along for the journey. Fear is not always a hurdle we must run towards at full speed in order to clear, but a companion through life. Fear doesn’t need to take center stage, but it’s likely to be there in your back pocket when you least expect it — and least want it. Nevertheless, we all keep on living. We can’t leave fear behind but we learn to live with it.

Fear is the stage fright of your life, and you’ll be alright.

I liken fear to stage fright — that feeling of butterflies fluttering around in your gut before a big presentation or a stage debut that won’t go away. When I starred in some of the one-act plays put on by my high school’s theatre department, I often felt so nervous beforehand that it felt impossible to walk on stage. I’d feel sick to my stomach and scared to death of forgetting my lines, yet somehow manage to get on stage anyway. The instant those blinding spotlights were shining in my direction, the butterflies disappeared and my lines popped up vividly in my memory, ready to roll off the tongue.

I performed with my stage fright, just like life must often be performed with my fear and anxiety.

If you’re baffled by the seeming fearlessness of others you encounter, know that they likely aren’t living in absence of fear like you might think. Fear propels us onward and forward, whether we like it or not, and much of the greatness from those admirable artists, entrepreneurs, and quality human beings all around us came about in spite of fear, not without it.

So, how can you actually live with your fear?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? There’s unfortunately not a good answer. Living with your fear means doing just that — continuing to pursue the things that make you wake up every morning, even if those things also have a tendency to pop up in your nightmares overnight. It means figuring out ways to trick your own mind into moving forward with that terrifyingly exciting new opportunity while still untangling the many knots in the pit of your stomach that sometimes have a vice grip over your pursuits. It means repeatedly telling yourself you can do the thing you’ve been anxious about all week, working up the courage to do it, and then telling yourself you can do the next big thing on your metaphorical to-do list.

It means showing up for yourself in the best way you know how to every day despite the setbacks, missteps, and fears.

You don’t need to get over your fear, you need to learn to live with it. And what a gloriously scary experience it will be.

Previously published in Curious

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