“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”
The Lucky Ones
You, dear reader, are one of the lucky ones.
Of all the untold billions of intrepid souls who have trod this ancient Earth, you are among the most privileged. You were blessed to be born at a time of great opportunity and awakening. You were blessed to be born into circumstances that would nurture and encourage your development, yet also provide challenges and contrast to sharpen your spirit; and provoke from you an ever greater vision and desire for a better world.
You enjoy social, economic and political liberties the likes of which your ancestors would not have dared dream. The basic necessities of life: clean water, food and medicine are always in plentiful supply. You have access to the finest minds alive today and the greatest minds that have ever lived. The entire body of human knowledge is at your fingertips.
You have the freedom to travel wherever you wish. To live and work from anywhere that pleases you. You can reach the most remote, secluded pockets of the globe, and traverse its immense radius faster than the Earth itself can complete a whole revolution.
You have wealth too, sufficient to realize any vision you can imagine no matter how fantastic or grand. For in thousands of vaults the world over lie mountains of capital, impatiently waiting to be put to work in the pursuit of a worthy cause.
And the means for their attainment exists as well. At this very moment untold millions are fervently working to make new scientific discoveries, to invent new technologies and solutions, to build new infrastructure, to develop new goods and services and ideas—all with the soul purpose of making your life better.
How the kings of old would have envied your privileged position.
You live in an age where the blind can be given sight, the deaf can be taught to hear, and the maimed can be given new limbs. And as you read these very words, brilliant and determined medical geniuses are even toiling towards a cure for death.
In over ten thousand years of human civilization there has never, existed a better time to be alive… then right now.
You have all you need and much more besides.
You are as free as anyone who has ever set foot upon this Earth.
And yet… You still feel trapped.
Even in the midst of such wealth and opportunity and potential, we still find ourselves bound; not at the hands of other men and women, but in cages of our own making. The cages forged by the demons of mind called Fear.
Make no mistake: these captors are very real. Though you cannot see them with your eyes they hold you as firmly as any bars of steel.
They blind you to your potential.
They prevent your glorious unfolding.
And they deny you of your birth right.
Be denied no longer.
Rejoice, dear reader, for salvation is at hand. While fear has long been your unwelcome companion; you must know that you are its master. You have the power to overcome and to let go.
This article will teach you how to free yourself.
The pursuit of freedom
“He whoever is arrested in the name of fear is not free.”
My highest purpose in life is to be as free as I possible can be. I’m not satisfied with a “reasonable” amount of freedom. That is, the kind of freedom others would declare is appropriate for me. My definition of freedom is absolute and uncompromising. But I don’t demand this freedom be given to me by others. That would be dis-empowering. Rather, the freedom I seek is in my own heart and in my way of looking at the world. I seek freedom from my own impulse to worry and doubt. Because it is only this impulse that keeps me from living a richer, fuller life. Thus, my definition of freedom:
“Freedom is when there’s no gap between what I’m wanting to do, and what I’m willing to do.”
There’s an old saying along the lines that he is free who has nothing. I think of it in slightly different terms. I say: he is free who fears nothing. For it’s not the possession that binds us, but the fear of its loss. Wherever we fear loss, or perceive limitation, we are chaining ourselves.
The truly self actualised person acts always from his desire, his vision and his calling—never from his fear. For when we are motivated by fear, we are shrinking from what we might be. And to shrink from your potential, is to deny yourself and your happiness.
You may argue that a certain amount of fear is justifiable and even healthy. But that is arguing for your limitations. You may further argue that such is the human condition and there are limits that human beings cannot transcend. That is a claim that demands to be tested.
I seek freedom from all masters, be they men of flesh and blood or my own inner demons. That’s why I resolved to challenge my fears. And everyday practice seeing myself as the man capable of defeating them.
And one day—maybe this day—you will as well.
Finding the root of fear
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
In Fear Smashing 101, I outlined my process of Epic Reinvention by first identifying fears and then designing personal challenges to provoke you into outgrowing them. Part of that process involves searching yourself for the root of your fears and putting names to them. This can take some doing.
At first you just clutch at the superficial and the circumstantial. You look for justifications in your environment; or perhaps you just deny actually wanting to engage with it in the first place. This is the most dis-empowering thing you can possibly do because it places the solution outside of your control.
Then you begin to rationalize your fear. To enumerate all the reasons why the challenge is too hard, why you probably wont succeed and why even trying is a bad idea. You chalk it up to fear of failure.
But failure is just a red herring. No, your true fear is much deeper than that. Your true fear is so deeply threatening that you are afraid to even acknowledge it. You are afraid to examine it. So you bury it in justifications and excuses and denial.
But if you can muster the courage to plumb the depths of your soul and step into its dark recesses. Eventually, after exhausting all other options; you resort to your last available recourse: honesty. You finally admit:
“I’m afraid that I’m inadequate.”
Not just inadequate in some specific task or attempt. Ultimately, absolutely inadequate. Unworthy of greatness. Undeserving of abundance. Doomed to a life of mediocrity. You feel small and limited, and it terrifies you. It terrifies you so much you don’t go there anymore.
The good news is that when you’re able to acknowledge and engage with your true fears, you’re closer than you think to turning the tables on them. When all is said and done, fear is a feeling. It doesn’t exist in the world outside. It doesn’t exist in your rationalization. It exists in your heart, and that is where you must face it.
Naming the Five Fears
Actually, Inadequacy is just one of the fears. There are five. At least, that’s what I discovered when I took this journey for myself. I looked back over my entire life: at every moment of anxiety or failure or doubt. And what I found was, every time I’d every felt afraid, every time I’d ever been paralyzed; and held myself back, it came down to one of these five fears.
Of course, everyone is different and has unique experiences; but I suspect these five themes will ring true for you none the less. My thesis is that the person who can master each one of these fears has complete and unconditional freedom.
Are you ready to find out what they are?
The First Fear: Mortality
This is a no-brainer. You scared of death, right? Actually, chances are you don’t think about it all that much. It probably doesn’t play into your day-to-day experience a whole lot. But when people are forced to face their mortality, or the mortality of their loved ones, it becomes pretty overwhelming. If someone close to you has been diagnosed with terminal illness, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Events like that bring into sharp focus an aspect of life that we usually like to remain oblivious to: the frailty of your body in the face of the overwhelming power of nature and the relentless march of time. Therein we find the limitation.
Mortality is the fear that stops you from taking risks with your physical body. Even those risks which are more thrilling then threatening. Fear of heights: mortality. Fear of open water: mortality. Fear of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane… Yup, you guessed it.
Yet, in another sense, this fear is also your ally because it reminds you of what it is to be alive and that your time here is so precious. Too precious in fact to allow fear to govern you any longer.
The Second Fear: Scarcity
If mortality is the most visceral of fears, scarcity is the most insidious. Many people suffer this fear their entire lives without seeing it for what it is. It’s the fear that keeps people in jobs they hate, and it’s the root of every human conflict: the belief that there is not enough, that survival is a struggle and that we have to compete fiercely for resources and opportunities. Scarcity turns generosity into cynicism and gratitude into debt.
This fear is incredibly destructive and alarmingly common. In fact chances are good much of your life has been directed in deference to this fear. But isn’t it crazy? When we look at all we have. When we appreciate all this world has to offer and how much it cries out for what each of us has to give; doesn’t it blow your mind that we waste so much of our lives wallowing in scarcity thinking?
The Third Fear: Inadequacy
Inadequacy describes all beliefs that begin with the words “I’m not” and end with “enough”; be it “smart enough”, “pretty enough”, “wealthy enough”, “talented enough”, “popular enough”, “confident enough”… but most essentially of all: “worthy enough”. In fact, at the end of the day, all those other labels are just justifications for our deep seated sense of unworthiness. Inadequacy: the perception that something in us is fundamentally lacking; that we are basically no good. Tainted or sinful. Inadequacy is by far the most personal fear, and in many ways the most painful as we feel it in our heart of hearts. It is at the basis of the fear of rejection, but of course rejection—like failure—is a misnomer. What we’re really scared of is facing inadequacy.
The Fourth Fear: Condemnation
While inadequacy is essentially self-directed judgement, condemnation is anxiety over what other people think of you. It’s the fear of disapproval, criticism or alienation. One context in which this fear can be particularly acute is in the public arena. The fear of being judged by the crowd, or having ones work or ideas ridiculed. The ever popular fear of public speaking falls mostly under this category as do other varieties of stage fright.
But public performance is not the only circumstance in which the fear of condemnation is at at play. It is active in any moment we feel pressure to allow the expectations of others to overrule our own guidance. This happens when we’re afraid of suffering the disapproval of an employer, peer or family member; or for that matter, the expectations of society at large. Indeed, a feeling of burden or obligation at having to behave contrary to one’s own desires is likely to be a symptom of this fear.
The Fifth Fear: Liberation
Most feel that the name of this fear is counter-intuitive. Liberation is synonymous with freedom, which is the opposite of fear. So how is it that we fear it? Isn’t this contradiction? Don’t I mean the fear of bondage? No. You heard right.
Bondage you know. Bondage you are comfortable with. Bondage is safe and familiar. What is not safe or familiar is complete and uncompromising freedom.
True liberation is engaging the fear of taking responsibility—for everything. The fear of leading an unconventional life. A life inspired by passion and purpose and bliss rather than the safety of the well-worn path. The trepidation of stepping boldly into the unknown and forging a new path and a new world. It’s the fear of instability and the fear of the unfamiliar.
At its most developed level, this is a spiritual question. The counterpoint to the fear of mortality from which we engage with the most profound and vexing questions of life:
Why am I here?
What did I come here to do?
Only you can answer that question for yourself. But this much is absolutely certain:
You didn’t come here to regurgitate the old.
You didn’t come here to be the puppet of the status quo.
You didn’t come here to whittle away the days of your life in pursuit of anything less than that which you are capable.
You came here to create a new world.
Engage with your fear, it is the window to your actualization.
Do it now.
Which fear is most active in your life?
Where are you at right now relative to each of these fears?
Ignorance, denial, rationalization, engagement or mastery?
Make no mistake: if you’ve ever wanted to do something but failed to take action, fear was doing its nefarious work. If the threat of undesirable consequences overruled your desire for freedom—regardless of how well you justified them—fear had a hand in your decision.
There are probably a host of things you still want to do—things you think about everyday—but from which you keep holding yourself back. If not, you’re either extremely well self-actualizing, or you suffer from a tragic lack of imagination.
Think over those things now. Which fear (or fears) are most prominent in your resistance? Which particular fear keeps showing up time and again to thwart you? How do you justify your inaction? Is there one that seems especially dominant in your past or your current situation?
That was the case for me.
For most of my life, the thing I was most afraid of was inadequacy. I was terrified of relationships, of my body image, of saying the wrong things. And always felt like a bit of an outcast. Like there was some hilarious joke that the rest of the world was in on, but which I didn’t get. I felt alienated in common social situations which others seem to handle quite naturally but for me were always extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t understand how to relate to people, and was always terrified of being rejected in some way.
This fear plagued me throughout my schooling, my teen years and (though I learned to hide them better) into my early adulthood.
Since then—I’m happy to say—I’ve made some pretty big shifts. I learned to value myself and see myself as worthy. I learned to engage with others and to feel comfortable in my own skin; I learned that many of the rules and perceptions I used to have were downright silly. And I learned that other people are actually not so different from me after all.
Theses days however, I have a new fear. I’m older now and have greater responsibilities: a family, expenses, people who depend on me for their livelihood. The fear that is most prevalent in shaping my decisions, sadly, is scarcity.
Scarcity is a lot less painful for me than inadequacy was. But it’s just as debilitating, only in a less personal way. It works more slowly, more covertly than the other fears. It doesn’t stab you in the heart; it slowly asphyxiates your passion.
On the flip side, there are also those fears which we are more willing to stand up to. More than any other fear, I’ve been willing to brave condemnation. I’ve been willing to say what I think whether or not people are going to like it. I’ve been willing to take a stand, to lead, to make a mark. In fact: I’ve craved it. That’s not to say it hasn’t been scary. At times the fear of being scored and criticized are just as intimidating as personal rejections. But for the most part, I’ve always known I can rise to be bigger than that fear.
Is it possible to be completely fearless?
Perhaps. But that’s a state of mind quite far from the one we usually know. An enlightened state. A godly state. The kind of state that Siddhartha found in his long meditations.
I’m not sure you can live there. But then again, I’m not sure I would want to. Because that would mean the end. The end of growing.
Fear is the sign that you’re flirting with the former limits of your imagination; about to make a break through. Those limitations are not static and fixed; they are forever expanding. And our willingness to test them is what forges the frontiers of the universe.
We may never dispense with it entirely; but the work is to be continually raising the bar on what is fear worthy.