Fear in today’s world has a negative connotation. Those that experience fear are often considered weak or incapable. Well, I beg to differ with that. Fear is a normal, healthy human emotion that we all experience. The true test of our strength or weakness comes from our reaction to that fear and willingness to either accept it and push through, or to deny it and run away.
Right here, right now, I will share with you my greatest fear that I have had as long as I can remember. I fear failure more than most anything in this life. Ever since I first started playing sports in 3rd grade the thought of losing and being considered a failure just terrified me. I could have easily decided to not play sports, then I would never have to face the possibility of failing. Instead I decided to use this fear as fuel. I practiced and worked relentlessly and eventually earned a scholarship to play basketball in college.
There is however one time when fear almost got the better of me. I was getting ready to do my first bodybuilding show and was pretty self-conscious about being too small. I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of how big everyone else was going to be.
The day before the show I went to take my polygraph test. As I was walking in, Kurt Weidner was walking out. For those that don’t know, Kurt is an absolutely massive professional bodybuilder. At the time I did not know this and thought he may actually be competing against me the next day. I tried to stay calm during my polygraph. As I was walking out from my polygraph the next person waiting was Martin Daniels. Martin Daniels is a former WNBF World Champion and an even more massive human being, both Martin and Kurt tip the scales well over 200 lbs on show day while I was a measly 158 lbs. I thought there was a chance I may be stepping on stage against both of these guys the next day, not knowing at the time that both of these men were already pros. The thought of standing on stage with a bunch of guys that look like these two was an absolute nightmare!
I went back to my hotel room, sat down on the bed, and told my wife that I think I made a huge mistake by deciding to compete. I told her that I thought I should just not do the show the next day. My wife had been by my side as I fought like hell to get to this point. She knew me better than anyone and knew that it was not like me to back down from a challenge. She looked at me and said, “You fought for 4 years to get here. I know you can fight for one more day. Regardless of how it goes, I’m proud of the work you put in to get here.” In that moment I snapped out of it and remembered just who the hell I was and what I was about. This timid attitude was just not me. I was never that guy that gave in to my fears and I was not about to start now.
I set aside my fears, decided to own it, and get out there. The next day came and I took 2nd place. My worries weren’t even warranted in the first place. I did quite well. The worst of it was simply in my head.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all experience fear on different levels and in some form or another. Fear actually has many forms- dread, anxiety, worry. All of these are simply different forms of fear.
Humans have evolved these feelings as a primitive survival mechanism. During primitive times when mankind was in the wild, fear was a tool used to keep us from danger or life threatening situations. When these life threatening situations would arise, our fear response would invoke the fight or flight response. Some situations would require early humans to fight to survive, and in other situations it was more prudent to run away. Those with a greater fear response would be more likely to survive.
This evolutionary adaptation is leading to a problem for modern day humans. For us modern humans, we don’t often experience life or death situations daily, yet feeling of anxiety and dread still rear its ugly head in our daily lives. Our brain does not have the ability to separate a life or death situation from a non or life or death situation. We still experience fear for matters that are trivial in the grand scheme of things. When I was afraid to compete at my first show for fear of failing, what was the worst that would have happened? I could have taken last and then I would have gotten right back to work the next day making improvements. That is it. I wasn’t going to die, I wasn’t going to be seriously injured. Life would have gone on. No harm done.
No More Flight!
Why do we run when we are scared? In more primitive times there were instances where the best option for humans was to run away. This was a useful tool to keep us alive. Unfortunately now that we don’t experience life or death situations we still have that instinct to run from what we fear. Well, I am here to say STOP RUNNING! We no longer deal with life or death on a daily basis. Many of the things we are afraid of do not warrant running from. It is time to stand your ground and fight! In life as well as bodybuilding the tendency to run from the things we are afraid is the numbers one thing that holds people back from their goals. If you truly want something but don’t go for it, then it is simply fear holding you back.
I firmly believe that the flight response is the reason for many people’s lack of accomplishment. Almost all excuses can be traced back to a fear of something. Those that don’t train hard or heavy have a fear of pain or injury. Those that don’t diet long or hard enough have a fear of getting too small or a fear of hunger. Those that don’t even try often have a fear of failure or hard work. I’ve got news for you, none of these things will kill you, so STOP RUNNING!
Avoidance is never the answer, denial not the answer either. It is okay to have fears, it is not okay to run from them.
Much More Fight!
If you look at those that are most successful in life they are not always the smartest, the biggest, or the strongest. They are the ones that are willing to fight for everything and anything they want. These people appear to have no fear as they relentlessly pursue what they desire and let nothing stand in their way. The truth is that they do have fear. The truth is that most successful people actually fear failure more than most, but they have a clear understanding that failure and anything else that is typically feared, is only temporary.
If you want to accomplish anything great in this life, you are going to have to fight. I can’t think of one situation where a person achieved something great by running from their fears. The flight response is no longer useful in our daily lives, it is time to less flight and more fight.
Own Your Fears
The first step toward owning your fears is identifying them. Every lame ass excuse you tell yourself and others is likely traced back to some sort of fear. Determine what your fear is, and face it. It is much easier to avoid things that you are afraid of and convince yourself that you fear nothing. It takes a bigger man or woman to admit that you are afraid of something. Fear is not weakness, it only becomes weakness if you let it own you, but if you own your fear, it can become your strength.
My decision to compete that day at my first show was one of the best decisions of my life. The decision to go through with it has changed my life. I now make my entire living off the sport of bodybuilding and I have a job that I love. I almost missed out on everything that I have now because of my own senseless fear. I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. I wanted to compete so badly, but I almost changed my mind because I was scared of failing. What I didn’t realize is that failure only lasts until your next success, but the failure of never trying will last forever.