What Are You Afraid Of?

That was the question (or perhaps the answer(s) to this question) that tormented me for the last several weeks.  So, I started thinking and reading a lot about fear—what it is, why it arises, why it paralyzes, and how to keep it from paralyzing.  We know that fear and danger are different.  Danger is real; it’s external.  But fear lives in us, and we can keep it in check.

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.  It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.  That is near insanity . . . .  Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.” ― Will Smith’s character in After Earth

Personally, fear has stopped me dead from trying new adventures, big and small.  Why?  Sometimes, it’s just the fear of failing at something new.  Maybe it’s being afraid of finding out that I wasn’t as good at something as I thought I was in my mind?  Or maybe it’s the fear of others seeing me fail and being judged?

Most recently, fear almost kept me from even trying to realize a dream.  I’d dreamt about visiting cacao farms in Central America for years to see first-hand how the cacao tree is grown, how the cacao pod is harvested, and how the cacao bean from the pod is transformed into chocolate.  I also had a deep desire to better understand the history of cacao, including its historical uses.

cacao pod on tree

And I knew I had to make that vision a reality before much longer, or I’d have regret.  As a small business owner, making that dream come true also meant figuring out a way to fund it.  The idea to rely on crowdfunding to subsidize an educational journey to Belize struck me as the best way to fulfill this dream.

But I was afraid of launching a crowdfunding campaign.  In fact, I toiled about whether to do it for weeks.  What held me back initially?  What was giving me pause?  Was I afraid that the goal wouldn’t be reached?  And if it wasn’t reached, did it make me a failure?  Of course not.

As some people suggested, crowdfunding was akin to public begging.  Was I afraid others, too, would see it that way?  Did I fear that others wouldn’t care about the significance of this dream?  Was I afraid of putting my hopes into the public domain and having others mock or ignore them?  I think my fears were found in some of all of the above.

You see, to a large extent, I feared events and reactions outside of my control.  Once I poured myself into writing and filming the crowdfunding effort and spreading the word as far as I could, the rest was no longer in my hands.  And perhaps that’s what I feared as well—that I no longer had control once the campaign launched.

But none of my fears materialized.  I’m thankful to have so many who responded kindly—family, friends, and those I’ve never met embraced the dream and supported it in their own way.

I learned that many times, our fears have no merit, are never realized, or in other words, have no teeth.  For instance, fear reminds me of a story Les Brown tells about a man who was terrorized by a bulldog that chased him every time he walked through a neighborhood until the man became fed up and decided to face the dog.  As he approached the dog, he realized the dog had no teeth.

I’ve learned that when you articulate and share your hopes, people—even near strangers—will ask you how they can help.  And I don’t necessarily mean help in the financial sense.  It’s the sense of community you build.  For example, in the crowdfunding effort, even my UPS business representative, whom I’ve never met because he lives in another part of the country, called me to talk about Belize.  It warmed my heart.

On the other hand, if the goal had only partially been met, that wouldn’t have meant that the dream wouldn’t be realized; rather, it would have meant that this might not have been the best way or only way to fulfill the dream.  But you don’t know unless you use your fears to push you to try.

Here, the dream will be realized.  I head to Belize late next week and will return with so much to share.  And I will always be grateful to all of you who made this journey possible.

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