Notes on fear

Fear is a peculiar thing. At one point in human evolution fear was a very necessary response in order for us to survive. You needed to feel fear when looking into a dark ominous forest, because chances are if you entered it, you may not exit. However today, the vast majority of the times we feel fearful of something, this fear serves no purpose. We have become scared not only for the purpose of preventing death, but also to prevent any bad outcome that we can conceive. Some examples of this useless fear would be a fear of commitment, fear of doing something outside of the norm or fear of failure. The downside to this, is that when trying to prevent all possible bad outcomes, we miss many opportunities for great ones.

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.” — Plato

I recently decided that I would drop my life in Montreal, Quebec and move across to country to Golden, British Columbia, Where I would work at a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve skied on and off since I was a child, but at the time of this decision it had been a year and a half since I had last “hit the slopes”. In late October I packed up a couple of bags along with my skis and kissed the safety of my parents house goodbye. This in itself was a very fearful experience, at first full of loneliness and uncertainty and then full of new experiences and new people, but this is a story for another time. The lessons I want to talk about here are the lessons I learned about fear, and taking action from skiing.

Upon my arrival in British Columbia, my skiing ability was low to say the least. There are few words to describe the fear I felt standing atop runs which I knew I was not prepared to handle, runs that gave a new meaning to the word drop. They were not only steep, but narrow and riddled with trees and rocks and other hazards. The first few times I skied some of these runs I had 2 major realizations. The first was that even if I fell, I wouldn’t die, hell I most likely wouldn’t even injure myself. The second and most important realization was that the longer I stood at the top of the run, looking down, the more my fear would build, and ultimately the more scared I would be when it came time for me to go.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

After much thought I began to see that these realizations applied to all aspects of life, not just skiing. Whether it be relationships, entrepreneurship or any major life decision. If you fall you won’t die, if you take a chance, it’s most likely that even the worst case won’t put you in worse spot then before any action. The longer you wait the worse off you are and the lower the likely hood of you actually taking any action, so just do it, jump right in, figure it out on the way down. It doesn’t matter if you fall down the first 10 feet, as long as you get up and keep going down. After a while you won’t even remember the time that it made you fearful.

Don’t let your fear control you. When unsure about the outcome of a possible action, just go for it, press on and figure it out on your way down. The longer you stand at the top looking down and waiting for the decision to make itself, the more the fear will build and the harder it will become to start. The hardest part is always starting, once you start the path ahead opens up, ideas start to come easier, and you realize the obstacles aren’t as big as they appeared from above. When you’re standing at the top there is only one way down, so I urge you to just ignore your fear, seize every opportunity and just start. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be surprised by what can be achieved by just starting.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” — Marcus Aurelius