April 11, 2016 – On Fear

When the Pixar movie Inside Out came out on video, we finally watched it. My kids had been begging to see it since it came out in theaters, but I’m cheap that way. Video is much more affordable (hello, Redbox!) than taking the six of us to a theater. Yikes.

It was cute. And really, really good. If for some reason you’ve avoided it, but would see it if one more person endorsed it, here ya go. Take this as an endorsement. And then come back and read this after you’ve seen it, ‘cause spoiler(s) alert. The movie shows Riley (the girl character) adjusting to a family move & doing some growing up. Everything is from the perspective of her brain, or rather the emotions in her brain. There are five – Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness & Fear. Each person in the film has a lead emotion – the one who is kind of in charge. Riley’s is Joy. Her mother’s is Disgust and her father’s is Anger (super interesting in and of itself.)  I asked the kids afterward what emotion they each thought they led with. And then let them tell me about mine.

They didn’t have an immediate response, but soon they all settled on fear. They decided my lead emotion was fear.


I wanted to disagree, and it took me a minute, but eventually I agreed with them.

My son told me, “You’re not scared of anything, but yeah…fear.” He couldn’t think of some specific thing I was terrified of, but he could sense that fear was in charge. You guys, he’s ten. That’s crazy to me.

There was no specific fear that dominated everything – but everything about me operates out of a fear lens. Enough that my children can sense it.

They’re totally right – it’s true. Most of my decision are based on what I don’t want to happen. I don’t want this to happen, so I choose that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained a decision to someone by starting with “My fear is…..” or “My concern is…” My kids have heard this a gazillion times.

All of the motivators I can remember are fear based. I want to avoid this potential situation so I’ll make that choice over there. I do want to make this choice so that thing won’t happen. In my head I don’t feel like fear is a motivator – it feels like I’m making the responsible choice. In my head it feels like I’m using wisdom. And I’m sure there’s some of that involved. The problem comes, I think, when I don’t recognize that I’m also using a heck of a lot of fear.

I use fear as a traffic signal. A ginormous bright, blaring red light. STOP. Do not move forward. WAIT. Maybe even just go another way altogether if its red enough long enough. And if it’s not there, if I have no fear, I’ve got a green light and I can go ahead. I thought that’s what everyone did.

People that were moving forward were doing so because they had no fear. No red lights. And then I learned that is not the case. I learned that people actually dealt with fear differently. People didn’t move forward only when they felt comfortable – when they had no fear. They moved forward despite their fear.

The people who are doing that thing I want to do, but am convincing myself it just won’t work because really I’m a little too scared to do it – they’ve had fear about that same thing. The SAME THING. And they didn’t let it stop them. They didn’t see an obnoxiously bright red light.

Why the heck not?

Because. Some people interpreted their fear differently. They understood it as adrenaline. As their body prepping themselves for this task, for this event. They used it as excitement, as fuel for the road ahead.

And other people didn’t feel it as excitement, but they didn’t see it as a giant red light either. They saw a road sign instead. One of those “Curves Ahead” yellow diamond signs. The ones that tell you that as you keep going, you should be aware of something. Prepare yourself and pay attention, cause there’s something up ahead you’re going to need to be ready for. So they prepare.

Fear doesn’t stop them. They use it as warning to prepare. They keep moving forward, aware of the potential problem. Man, that’s badass.

A couple months back I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert on Rob Bell’s Robcast. She talked about how she’s always been incredibly fearful (at about the 16 minute mark if you wanna listen). She grew up terrified of pretty much everything and her mother put a lot of time and effort into making sure she still did things. Despite her fear. They’d practice scary things together (like talking to a teacher on the first day of school) and she slowly learned to deal with it. Here’s the thing though, her fear has never gone anywhere – it’s still a huge presence in her life as an adult. She still deals with constantly. It’s always with her. So now she personifies it – she considers fear a friend that is something like a big dim witted bouncer type who wants to protect her, but doesn’t really have the smarts to know what the real threats are. She’ll be sitting working on something benign and fear will burst in “HEY! WE GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE!”. She’ll respond with something like, “Hi friend. Thanks so much for doing your job this morning…but this is okay. I don’t need to be scared of that – it won’t kill me. You can go back to your magazine.” She knows it’s always going to be there with her and that’s fine, but fear is not going to be in charge. She is.

Gah! I love that.

Sometimes I forget that fear is universal. I forget that everyone experiences it. No one (save for those who don’t feel emotions – sociopaths) can avoid that feeling of fear. And not just in a “The lion is going to eat me” kind of way. Everyone feels performance fear, everyone feels “Can I really do this?” fear, everyone feels the “Did I make the right decision?” fear.

I recently saw a Michael Phelps UnderArmour commercial – “Rule Yourself”. It’s a powerful minute or two – watch it here.

And then I saw a video of him & his fiancé watching what they’d put together for the first time. You know what he said when it was done? “Being able now….just to not be afraid. To understand what I’m doing, to understand that I can’t do it alone.”

Guys. Michael Phelps deals with fear. About swimming. About if he’s doing it right. Watching back how he prepares, how he gets ready every stinkin’ day, all day for his thing, for his events – it shows him he doesn’t need to be afraid. He doesn’t need to be afraid.

If Michael Phelps is afraid…who isn’t?

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