When I was 5 a boy named Steven stole my Kudos bar every day.
We were friends. We played dinosaurs together in class. But every lunch he’d hover over me and say “Give me your Kudos bar,” and I would.
I told my mom about it. She told me to stand up to him. To say “no.” I was worried about how Steven would react. I didn’t know if he would beat me up. I didn’t know if he would still be my friend.
“Feel the fear and do it anyhow,” my mom told me.
So I went into school the next day. I drifted more than usual in class. My mind was on the showdown that was coming at lunchtime. At 11:20, like clockwork, Steven was behind me saying, “Give me your Kudos”
I spun. Little hands quivering.
“No,” I said. “You take my Kudos every day. You can’t have it anymore.”
Steven shrugged and sat back down. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I ate my Kudos. It was the most delicious Kudos I’d ever tasted.
When I got home, my mom asked me how it went. I pumped my fist and exclaimed: “Kudos success!”
FEEL THE FEAR
I was more honest at 5.
I told mom I was scared of what Steven would do. I didn’t pretend it was no big deal. I didn’t posture like I was enjoying doing a good deed. I was afraid and I said so.
But somewhere between 5 and 15, we learn fear is something to be ashamed of. Worse still is caving to our fears. So what do we do? Do we face our fears down level set?
Hell no. We just pretend we aren’t afraid.
We’re not afraid to strike up a conversation. We just don’t want to be awkward. We’re not afraid to stand up for ourselves. We just don’t want to create unnecessary conflict. We aren’t afraid to try to make a friend. This event is just boring. We aren’t afraid to say hi to a stranger. We just really need to check email/Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat on our phones.
My mom taught me to feel the fear. To stop lying. To stand still, breathe deep, and say out loud “I am afraid.”
Where are you faking indifference, boredom, or absentmindedness? Stop. Feel the fear. Stand still. Breathe deep. And say out loud, “I am afraid.”
DO IT ANYHOW
It’s actually pretty simple. Once you feel the fear, you just do the opposite of what you’re inclined to do. How?
When I feel myself freeze, when my throat constricts, when my heart starts to race, I know one thing:
“You have to do this”
Most people take those reactions as signals to back off. To go home and shut down. But they’re also great signs to wake the hell up because you’re about to do something awesome.
Am I perfect? No. Sometimes I balk. Phil Jackson walked into the burrito shop I eat at the other day. I wanted to say hi, be friendly, ask him which book of his he liked best. I didn’t. I didn’t want to interrupt him (fear disguised as respect).
But I learn. And I can promise you, the next time I see Phil Jackson, he’s getting an earful ;-)
WHAT’S NOT IN THERE?
There’s nothing in there about succeeding. Nothing in there about every effort going splendidly.
Some metaphorical Steven’s aren’t so easy as the real one. Sometimes you face your fears and they don’t just evaporate. First you get punched or humiliated. I’ve written more than once how my “first kiss” ended in me getting laughed at while the girl ran away. I felt like shit. But I tried. Even when I drove off screaming at the top of my lungs there was some sense of pride that I’d mustered the courage to go for what terrified me.
So I don’t beat myself up when things go my way (which is often). I feel proud that I did what I know I should have.
My thought process goes like this:
“Did I feel the fear? Yes.”
“Did I do it anyhow. Yes.”
Then no matter what happened, I have my permission–and mom’s–to feel proud.
By Charlie Houpert