Note: continue reading below for a video of my fear-inducing bungee jump!
Happy (belated) new year! I’ve been meaning to write a new years post, for oh, the last 6 weeks or so, but the last month and a half has been jam packed with finishing up my geriatric psychiatry rotation and then taking off to spend the better of my glorious two-week vacation in Whistler, B.C., shredding it up on the slopes.
I like the new year because it’s a time of goal-setting and fresh starts. If you know me, you know how much I love goals. The new year is a time when we’re likely to be the most enthusiastic and vigorous about pursuing change and improvement.
But why is it, then, that most people’s well-intentioned new years resolutions end up drifting to the side within a few weeks or months of the new year? Some people may say it’s old habits that hold us back, but I would clarify to say it’s actually old fears. Habits are hard to break, but fears are the most deeply rutted tracks you’ve ever tried to climb out of.
Which brings me to the above photo, taken a split second after I jumped off a bridge into a 160 foot gorge about 15 minutes outside of Whistler, BC. I like to pretend I’m a badass, but to be honest, it was f’ing scary. Hurling yourself off a perfectly good bridge isn’t exactly in line with evolutionary biology.
I’ve been tandem skydiving before, and this was far, far, scarier. There’s something about falling without the safety of an expert strapped to you that makes the whole thing pretty nerve-wracking.
I was afraid when they were buckling the harness in. I was afraid when they instructed me how to jump off the platform. I was afraid (and, begrudgingly amused at their sense of humor) when the last thing they asked me before I jumped was if I signed the waiver. I was deathly afraid when I jumped, and even still afraid after, when I was hoisted back up and standing safely at the top of the platform.
On the drive home, though, fear and relief turned to excitement. I was afraid, but jumped anyway. I acted in spite of my fear. I felt empowered. If I could jump off a bridge, who’s to say I couldn’t any number of things I had been putting off due to fear?
To be honest, fear keeps me from acting just as much as anyone else. Ever since I read The 4-Hour Work Week a year and a half ago, I’ve had this crazy dream that someday I’ll implement my own lifestyle design, subscribing to the “work less, live more” motto. I want to create a “lifestyle” business- that is, a business that, once I invest in the time and money to create it, will reward me with enough passive income to make my monthly loan payments a second thought while I still have the means to travel around the world and spend money on the hobbies and activities I love.
I dream of being unconnected from any particular place or job, and free to do what I want, when I want. I’m tired of the bureaucratic nonsense involved with working for someone else- in my case, a hospital. (“Oh, you need me to fill out three different forms so this patient can get an EKG? Sounds efficient”).
Two things scare me: 1) staying stuck and unhappy in residency for the next 3 and a half years, and 2) not being able to enact the changes I want to make. Despite my overwhelming motivation to create a business, I’ve pretty much been spinning my wheels over the last year or so. I’ve done a lot of reading and research, and learned some important new skills, but have yet to take meaningful action.
It made me think more generally about fear, and how it insinuates doubt in our mind so we don’t try things we’d be capable of doing if we just went for it.
I would break it down and say that these are examples of the two basic types of fear:
1. Fear that we can’t handle what life throws at us.
2. Fear that we aren’t capable of making change that we want to make.
In the first case, fear comes a lack of faith in our ability to handle the unavoidable negativities of life, such as loss, injury or sickness, death, etc. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to, despite our best efforts to the contrary. This type of fear leads up to try to control our circumstance and the people around us more than we should. Some amount of control is good, because it shows us that we have the power to influence and improve our lives if we want to.
On the other hand, when we care too much about the outcome of things that we really can’t control- such as as accidents, the stock market, the behavior and actions of people around us- it leads to stress and anxiety. What if, instead of feeling the need to control all aspects of our circumstance, we could be confident in our ability to handle whatever happened? Everything feels much lighter.
The second type of fear is the opposite (in as much as one type of fear can be the opposite of another). This type of fear leads to inaction when, in fact, we do have power and influence over our circumstance. What do you want for yourself that you’re afraid to go out and get? A different job? A new relationship? A better body? What do you tell yourself as an excuse for not trying? That you’ll fail? That you need more information first? That it’s not worth the effort? This type of fear leads to inaction when action is the answer. If you wait until you’re no longer afraid to act, you’ll be waiting for a long time. In this case, action is the cure for fear.
When you realize that you can handle anything that comes at you, you no longer feel the need to control your circumstance and the people around you. Instead, you’re able to react wisely and effectively to whatever situation gets thrown at you. At the same time, you feel empowered to take action when change is necessary. This internal sense of strength and power comes from acting in spite of fear, and realizing you are capable of handling whatever happens.
Let me tell you, acting in spite of fear is a learned skill. The most exciting, life changing and dramatic results from come from taking the hardest steps. The more often you challenge your comfort level, the more capable you will be of doing things you previously found difficult.
Action is the antithesis to fear. When you act in spite of fear, you realize that you’re never going to get what you want if you don’t take life by the balls and get it for yourself.
So… we’ll see how I do with conquering any of my fears this year. Now that I’ve jumped off a bridge, I’m inspired to try a whole bunch of new things in 2011, especially getting one of my business ideas off the ground.
Oh, and in case you’re interested, here is the video of my bungee jump: