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Warning: Are you running from the wrong thing? (I was.)

[ 14 ] May 9, 2012 |
overcoming fear: standing on the edge of a cliff

Image by epSos.de on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

One night, I saw a car wreck about to happen. From the west, a rollerblader wearing dark clothing, flying down the hill toward the road. From the east, a car going a little too fast, about to turn onto the same road.

With all my being, I wanted to stop it from happening. I wanted to reach down with the hand of God and knock the skater safely into the grass, or make the car go straight instead of turning. I wanted to stop time and make the car come along 2 seconds later, or shine a spotlight on the skater so the driver would see him.

I wanted to scream, but there wasn’t even time for that. There was nothing I could do but watch the crash.

That happened years ago, but it’s still burned into my memory. I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

A few weeks ago, I had the same feeling again. I could see something about to happen, and I wanted with all my being to stop it, to prevent it. Only this time, I wasn’t powerless, and this time, it wasn’t something terrible.

The big scary thing I wanted to keep from happening? Falling in love.

I’m afraid of lots of things: car accidents, getting mugged, running out of money, being laughed at, getting rejected, failing. I’m kind of used to those fears. But this…

I wanted to run away. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted so badly to flee, far and fast.

Of all things to be afraid of, why was I so afraid of falling in love?

I didn’t want to be stupid. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to get hurt again. I didn’t want to get sucked into an all-consuming passion. I didn’t want to lose myself, and I didn’t want to get distracted from my business. I was already having a hard enough time concentrating on that.

I also didn’t want to destroy what was becoming an invaluable friendship. In my experience, the more intense the feelings, the greater the flaming crash-and-burn at the end. I couldn’t bear the thought of that.

The intensity is really what scared me the most. It started feeling like my first love, back when everything was rockets and stars and I believed in true love and soul mates, and I hadn’t really been hurt yet. Then it eclipsed even that.

I thought nothing this dramatic could be real. It had to be some love potion delusion, where I was falling in love with a projection, and later I’d get to know the real person and the spell would be broken. Misery and angst would follow, everyone would be hurt, and he’d probably end up hating me, at least for a few years. That’s how the intense ones have always gone, and this was setting up to be a world record for intensity.

I didn’t want any of that, so I tried to prevent it from happening. I knew fighting against my feelings or denying them would only make them stronger, so I tried blowing them off.

Oh this? Just a silly little crush. Nothing important. It will blow over in two weeks.

It didn’t, though. It just kept getting stronger and more irresistible.

We all have times in our lives when we have to make a decision.

Take the risk, make the change, follow the passion? Or stay tucked away at home, where everything is known and safe?

In business, my greatest successes have come from following the pull of my most outrageous ideas. Things got good when I stopped believing my passion was way out there and should be restrained, and started believing it was awesome and should be harnessed.

Was I ready to do the same in my personal life? Sure, I always say life is short, live like you were dying, make your best days a common occurrence. But this?

In the end, it was words of wisdom from my sister that got me off the fence.

It’s not just fools who rush in. You don’t have to overthink and try to control everything. Let yourself feel and enjoy your feelings. It’s ok.

Why am I so afraid to live?

It’s big and scary and I don’t know what I’m doing and I might screw it up.

That’s the arithmetic of fear. All you see are the tigers and monsters and defeat and pain you might face if you try. Fear never lets you see the other side of the equation: the part where you live your dreams, do great things, flow, soar, love. Live fully, deeply, truly, richly. Become your best self.

Life is risk. When you do your calculations, don’t forget to figure in what you’ll miss if you don’t try. It’s usually far greater than what you risk if you do.

Oh, the irony.

I know all this stuff. I’ve spent enough time learning and writing about fear. But it seems I still have to keep learning it over and over, more deeply each time. The good thing is, every time this happens, I get to do something even bigger and cooler than before, and my life exceeds my vision of what was possible–again!

I know I’m not alone in being afraid. I can’t tell you how many people have written to tell me that the biggest obstacle keeping them from happiness is fear. We know it, and we all struggle with it. That’s why I created Beyond Fear last fall.

The response was overwhelming. And that’s why I’m getting ready to do it again. I can’t believe I almost cheated myself out of love, just because I was scared. I don’t want to see you miss out on any of your dreams or passions because of fear, either.

Fear is part of our biology. We never completely leave it behind. But we can learn not to let it control us or torture us. We can learn the courage to act in the face of our fear. We can learn to listen to its wisdom but decide for ourselves what we’ll do. That’s when we become the rulers of our own lives.

That’s what Beyond Fear is about. We’ll be launching again soon.

Meanwhile, I’m re-releasing What’s Stopping You? in a few days. It’s a completely free guide to facing your fears and finding out what’s holding you back.

This guide will show you:

  • how to figure out what’s really holding you back
  • how to get control of your own life
  • how to get clear on what you want
  • how to know whether you should take a risk or listen to your fears (they are right some of the time!)
  • what to do to make your efforts more likely to succeed

If that sounds like something you want, sign up now, and I’ll make sure you get a copy. Anything that’s worth doing is going to scare you. You don’t have to let that stop you. Life is out there, and I’m going for it. What about you?






What’s holding you back?
Sign up to get the free guide.

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About Cara Stein: I'm a writer and dreamer with a PhD in self-reinvention. (Or was that computer science?) Whether you're stuck, lost, or just looking to enjoy your life more, I want to help because I've been there!

Comments (14)

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  1. Ben says:

    Hi Cara,
    I can definately identify wanting to run away from something that could really be something positive. I’ve realized this tends to be mostly because of alot of experiences I had growing up and certain things I learned that I was holding onto.

    And interestingly as I started working to let these fears and past experiences go, my relationships go alot smoother. Before none of my relationships would last longer than 3 months, but after doing alot of work the last few have consistently lasted alot longer and have still been pretty passionate near the end. I still have alot more improvement to do, but it’s helped alot. :)

    -Ben

    • Cara Stein says:

      Awesome, Ben–good for you! I hope things keep getting better for you! It is amazing how much smoother things get when you let go.

  2. Sean says:

    I love your site. I actually did my death day and it was 17,000 days, so I put that in google and I saw this site as a google suggestion and I thought that was SO crazy. (and cool) and perfect and good timing and everything all at once. I subscribed and I am not sure why more people dont. :)

    Thanks

    Sean

    No really thanks!!

  3. sarahwaldin says:

    Great post – love it. congrats on letting yourself fall… it takes a huge amount of courage and I am reminded by your post that I have tightened my grip on the cliff in an attempt not to fall hard – its time to let go again.
    love and light.

  4. Millicent says:

    Hey Cara,

    Thanks for writing about this. I’m also currently in a mode of struggling with being afraid of fully falling in love and letting myself be open and open to the potential of hurt.

    Other posts of yours have been a bit hit and miss for me – useful, but not “zomg I have to keep reading.” This one hit the mark for me.

    Except… no closure! What happens/ed? How are you doing? Are you still friends with the person in question, did you make it past your fears? Cliffhanger…!

    Pray tell =)

    & thanks for writing! <3

    • Cara Stein says:

      Hi Millicent,

      I’m glad this post struck a chord with you!

      As for the outcome, I decided to go for it! So far, it’s 100 kinds of awesome and I’m ridiculously happy.

      I concluded that it’s worth the risk. What is life for if we’re going to hide from the best and richest parts? I hope you decide to go for it, too. As one of my friends advised me: embrace life! Throw your whole self in and live like you mean it. :)

  5. Laurie says:

    Once again, Cara, I so appreciate your honesty and transparency!

    I’ve struggled a lot with intimate relationships, too; I made so many poor choices in the past. I can’t even enjoy a harmless crush without feeling overwhelmed with dread. But something happened a few months ago that made me smile…my Inner Being, tired of my fear, said “hey, just enjoy it! What a blessing that your taste in men has improved so much!” That really helped me to lighten up :)

    It’s the key to so many things…just RELAX and ALLOW. Thanks for reaffirming that for me!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Laurie! I’m glad (but sorry!) it’s not just me with this love/dread thing! You’re exactly right: RELAX and ALLOW. It’s contrary to my control freak nature, but it sure feels good when I do it.

  6. Diyana says:

    Hi Cara!!

    I just subscribed to 17,000 days and so far love your posts. Keep it up 😀

    Like you, when I had my first ever intense, freewheeling dive into love, I was terrified and fought it with everything I had.

    Recently, I fought my phobia of the open water (ironically acquired while taking my diving license) and threw myself back into diving.

    What do they have in common?

    I think I’ve figured out why I fear things: helplessness. I’m a bit of a control freak, and falling in love or diving in open water both have elements beyond my control. And that scares the shiz out of me!

    But once I acknowledged my fear and just LET GO, I was able to enjoy the experience. I’m so glad you gave in.

    I married the guy I fell in love with 😉

    Now if I could only conquer my final hurdle: making my big audacious dream happen…

    Love and light,
    Di

    • Cara Stein says:

      Thanks, Di! I’m definitely with you on the control freak tendencies. About helplessness,exactly! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

      When I do manage to let go, I’m generally amazed at what better things the universe had waiting for me than I would have envisioned in my little white-knuckled perspective. Yet, the next time, I’m back with the tight grip and attempted control. Oh well, practice practice. :)

      Best wishes for making your big audacious dream happen!

  7. Beth says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve heard a ton of people talk about fear stopping them. I even remember listening to Tony Robins and thinking, “that’s kinda dumb. I’m not scared of making money.” And of course I’m not scared of making money, but of doing my own business. I’ve crashed and burned on 3 home businesses and couldn’t figure out why! Your post and a great talk with my other half last night, made it all click! It’s not that I’m bad at business or can’t sell something others are. It’s my fear stopping me! I’m in a wreck of a financial situation and now I see that the fear of doing my own business seems medeocre and pales to the prospect of being homeless!

    • Cara Stein says:

      Great insight, Beth! Isn’t it funny the weird contortions our thoughts sometimes take on? Recognizing it helps a lot. Best of luck with your business–I hope it goes great for you now!

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