This statement by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, is often misquoted as “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Either way, he nailed it.
The thing I’m afraid of never turns out to be as bad as I imagined. It is the fear itself that is my undoing.
I consider myself somewhat of a fear expert because I have so much of it.
I once heard a guy say he was afraid of everything and so he acted as if he was afraid of nothing.
This fellow and I could not have been more different.
He was a biker, an ex-con and known to be violent. Yet I related to him 100 per cent.
Where does fear come from?
Why do we have it?
Marilyn Manson has some ideas.
That’s right, the shock-rocker may be the self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar” but he gives an intelligent and articulate interview.
In Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine Manson shares his thoughts on the shooting tragedy and his philosophy on fear.
He suggests that every time we watch television we’re being “pumped full of fear” by the media.
Advertising keeps us afraid, he reasons, so we’ll buy more stuff.
To be happy — to be accepted and loved — I have to have the sleekest car, the smoothest skin, and the whitest teeth.
What Manson says may be true.
Whether it’s stocking up on toilet paper and canned goods for the impending apocalypse or buying one more fleece blanket and flannel sheet set for the already overstuffed linen closet, we are a culture of fear-based consumers.
Whatever happened to ‘money can’t buy happiness?’
How did we come to equate having stuff with being free?
The simplest answer is fear.
I once narrowed all my fears down to one big fear, the mother of them all: Death.
I came to the conclusion that the millions of little fears plaguing me on a daily basis were actually this one great big fear in disguise.
I’m afraid of not getting what I want, of things not going my way, of not having enough.
These fears are about control.
Or, if I’m brutally honest, they’re about not being in control.
And the ultimate thing over which I have no control is the fact that I do not know when or how I am going to die.
There is a book out there called Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers.
Jeffers is in the unfortunate position of having come up with a title so good you don’t need to read the book.
It’s sound advice, straightforward and easy-to-follow. Unfortunately, feeling the fear is something many of us do not want to do.
Fear allows us to stay in our comfort zone.
I’m afraid of bears so I don’t go camping.
I’m afraid to quit smoking so I ignore my cough.
Fear prevents us from living the fullest life possible.
It hinders our ability to enjoy what it means to be truly alive. And the sad part is, most of us are OK with that.
Complacency is understandable.
It’s a whole lot easier to stay afraid than it is to confront my fear.
You mean, I have to change?
Change is uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good. In fact, it’s excruciating to start practicing a new behaviour.
Not to mention it takes a certain amount of faith. There’s nothing worse than not knowing the end result of a situation.
There’s that nasty control issue again.
If I change, I don’t know what will happen to me.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the great humanitarian and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife, promised a positive outcome.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
I accept her theory.
When I was 19 years old, I developed a case of crippling stage fright.
Somewhere between playing the Good Angel in a community theatre production of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and an audition for the theatre program at the National Theatre School of Canada I became terrified of performing.
The thing I was born to do, that I’d been encouraged to pursue my whole life, was now my enemy.
The very thought of getting up in front of people would start my heart banging against my ribcage.
Despite the obvious limitations this placed on my life as a performer, I was prepared to live with the fear.
I had no desire to do anything about it.
It’s not hurting anyone. I’ll become a director. A playwright. Who needs acting?
But the fear was hurting me. It was affecting my life.
Even as a director/playwright I had to get up in front of people and speak.
How I would dread those awful moments!
I came to know the horror about which Eleanor Roosevelt speaks. The more I tried to ignore the fear the stronger it got.
It became clear that I needed to do something about my situation.
The pain of remaining the same had become greater than the fear itself.
I had to change.
I began to seek out new opportunities to get up in front of people.
I would force myself to perform and speak publicly.
It was terribly nerve-wracking at first, but I didn’t die.
I only felt like I was going to.
And the terror began to transform into a new sense of freedom.
I had increased self-esteem. And I had one less fear to worry about.
Something unexpected also came out of that experience.
The passion I had known previously as a performer, the joy that comes from that marvelous connection between text, actor and audience came back to me.
By walking through my fear of performing I had re-discovered my calling.
I later developed a fear of flying in airplanes.
As a child I had enjoyed seeing the heavenly world of sun, sky and space above the clouds but as an adult I became obsessed with crashing.
An intense fear took hold of me during takeoff and landing and I was certain my life was going to come to a fiery end.
I decided to follow the fear through to its natural conclusion.
So the plane crashes and I die.
People grieve, there’s a funeral and life goes on.
The planet keeps right on spinning. I realized that no matter how much worrying I did, no matter how tightly I held on to the seat, I could not control the plane or what was going to happen to me if it went down.
I became willing to die, to let go of my life, to say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew and loved.
I accepted my death as inevitable and a natural part of the order of things.
I found myself hoping I could be of use somehow, that I could help someone else during the crash.
I prayed for the ability to go to my death with courage and grace and peace in my heart.
I felt grateful for the life I’d been given and surrendered to the inevitable.
Eleanor Roosevelt believed that if we continue to do the thing we think we cannot do we’ll get a record of successful experience behind us and conquer our fear altogether.
I believe she was right.
Flying? Piece of cake.
Celia McBride is facilitating an inspirational workshop called Walk Through Your Fear on Saturday, April 19th.