Be afraid, do it anyway

How do I overcome my shyness?

How do I conquer my fears?

I want to take a big leap, but I can’t bring myself to approach the ledge… what do I do?

These and similar questions fill my inbox on a regular basis. Many of us long to overcome fears and limiting beliefs, because we think that these are obstacles in our way.

And here’s the thing: it’s not about overcoming. If you’re shy or introverted by nature (I am, too) you don’t “get over” these things. In fact, they aren’t things that you’re supposed to “get over.” They’re part of who you are, and they can be weaknesses or strengths depending on what you do with them.

The same is true with fear: you won’t necessarily “conquer” every fear you have. Some fears are there to protect you. If you have a fear of snakes, do you really need to conquer that fear? Snakes are dangerous. Newborn babies and other animals are innately afraid of snakes for a very good reason.

Some fears you just have to learn to accommodate. People who are afraid of flying don’t usually end up becoming pilots. If they do manage to make peace with their fear, they may be able to get on a plane whenever they need to, but it doesn’t mean they feel no anxiety or discomfort. The ability to accommodate is usually good enough.

During the past year I’ve been learning a lot about acceptance. I’m no expert in this department—in fact, I’m essentially starting from ground zero—but so far I think that acceptance begins with acknowledging that we don’t have control over everything. I don’t think, however, that it’s about letting go of everything. Where we have the ability to change a situation, we should act.

On the book tour I’ve been talking a bit about the roles of luck, circumstance, and privilege in our lives. Clearly, these things matter. If I was born in Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa where I lived and worked for a time, my life would have been very different and the opportunities far fewer. In other words, I’ve clearly been lucky—and since you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably been lucky as well. Nevertheless, it’s also clear that we have the ability to make choices, and those choices matter, too. There’s no single element that shapes our journey.

So the next time you feel limited by fear, insecurity, inhibition, shyness, or any other quality you perceive as negative, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think there’s something wrong with you or that you need to change. Well, maybe you do need to change—but if so, it’s not necessarily because of those characteristics.

Instead of thinking of yourself as deficient, think of all you want to do, achieve, and become. Those limitations may or may not be present as you go along. You might not be able to pack all of them away in a box, out of sight and out of mind. But chances are you can still do, achieve, and become all those things you dream of.

Accept and acknowledge and fight the good fight however you can. Sometimes there’s more than one way to win, and more than one path that will lead you to your destination.

 

 


A version of this article originally appeared on Chris Guillebeau’s website