#12 - On Irrational Fear | Seneca
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
- Quote by Seneca
When I was young (like 10yo), there is this one weekend I distinctly remember.
I was out and about with my friends, and at some point we came to this tower.
A massive structure, terribly high. It had wet steps and seemed to reach up into the clouds.
We looked at each other and debated who'd go first.
Everybody was quiet, squinting up at the top of the tower.
Someone pushed me from behind, "You go first!”.
"What?! Why me?”
"Come on! Or are you a little pussy?"
Blood rushed to my face and my heart started pounding.
Of course, I wasn't.
"You are the pussy!”, I said with a slight crack in my voice, while I gripped the old handrail that seemed a little less sturdy now compared to a minute ago.
I took the first step, slipped, and hit my knee.
My friends chuckling behind me.
Slowly, I made my way up against the pain in my knee.
'Don't look down, or you'll fall’, I told myself, Adrenaline rising high.
This was even worse than walking by the big, bad dog on the way to school.
I crawled out at the top and leaned against the railing.
My friends – tiny spots at the feet of the tower.
I slid along the railing to look over the edge on the other side.
"Holy shit!”, that was steep.
I looked down, what seemed to be an eternity.
Then I took a deep breath – no turning back now.
Three quick steps to the edge and my feet left the ground.
I rotated my arms to stabilize me.
I hit the water and spread out arms and legs to slow me down.
Quickly I came up for air, the sounds returned to the pool we were at that my brain had filtered out until now.
With a big fat grin on my face, I ran back to my friends to do it all again.
This is just an anecdote from my life. I could tell you dozens of other times when I was afraid to talk to a girl, apply for a job, try a new sport, go to a particular party, … the list goes on.
The tower just perfectly represents the obstacle in our way, and we proceed to make up some story why it's freaking scary, then we obsess over it and make the thing bigger than it is. We need to step back and relax, then make an appropriate decision – often just doing it help to break the ice.
Ever got a vaccine shot or your blood taken? I freaking hate it! I force myself to look every time.
Like spiders? Disgusting animals! I forge myself to at least face each one, and ideally touch it. That took me a long time, but now I am less weirded out by them.
The point is: Each time I overcame myself as the ultimate obstacle, I grew from the experience, made new friends, or created new opportunities.
Especially while failing, bouncing back, and trying again – the virtue of Wisdom encourages us to not judge ourselves, just as the principle of Amor Fati (accept what happens to you that you cannot control). In any circumstance, I should not remain disappointed or mad at myself, but accept I screwed up, as I cannot change anything after the fact.
In Stoicism, there are 4 fundamental virtues: Courage, Temperance, Justice, and Wisdom. As an aspiring Stoic, I should seek to embody those at all times. Even when the heart is racing, and I feel the fear of failure and rejection gnawing at my heels. Especially then.
Nothing worth having is free, and every time irrational anxiety comes over us, we should do exactly what scares us. Only when we face the fear and stop flinching can we improve and combat the irrationality that is holding us back.
Often, I felt the fear of failure and rejection, but in the end NOTHING happened, but GROWTH! It was all in my head.
Try to seize the opportunities that are revealed to you, and are in alignment with whom you want to be.
Anything beyond that is outside your circle of influence.
Now we'd love to hear from you.
What situation have you dealt with where you got stuck in your own head and missed out on an opportunity because of it?
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