There is a force in life that propels us. It persuades us with clear and convincing evidence. It twists our arms until we cry uncle. It's scary. It's mysterious. It's a huge motivator for why we do what we do at any given moment.
Its name is fear and it lives in all of us.
Fear manifests itself in many ways. Whether it is the fear of failing, of being wrong, of being alone, of being hurt, or of losing a close friend, lover, or sense of self, we often find ourselves at the crux of any decision asking ourselves not "Is this what I really want?" but rather "Could this decision potentially leave me with regrets/hurt/alone/embarrassed, etc?"
I recently attended an event at the Landmark Theatre in downtown Richmond in which Anderson Cooper, journalist and anchor of CNN's AC 360*, spoke about his domestic and international journalism experiences. Cooper, a graduate of Yale University, discussed the obstacles he faced breaking into the news media industry.
When asked how he was eventually noticed by bigger media networks, Cooper explained how he borrowed a video camera from a family member, had a friend make him a fake press credential and flew to Myanmar to film Burmese students protesting the government.
The reason I bring up Cooper is that he is a good example of someone who does not let fear dictate his life or his career. He puts himself in harm's way with most of the assignments he covers. Most recently he was punched in the face by an enraged pro-Mubarak Egyptian citizen. This was only hours before he and his crew had to barricade themselves inside a newsroom with nothing but a sofa to prevent more acts of violence from pro-Mubarak protesters.
Cooper also told the Landmark audience that he didn't intend on doing many more speaking appearances. He explained that the sole purpose he had for doing the lectures was to conquer his fear of speaking to large audiences. He said he was no longer afraid of public speaking and thus felt no need to continue doing it. "I just hate not addressing my fears," he said.
Fear is not solely created in the face of grave danger. After all, fear is not selective. It creeps into one's psyche over any decision, whether you're deciding whether to join the Peace Corps or not because you're worried you'll be put somewhere dangerous, or because you're deciding whether or not to speak to someone who speaks the foreign language you're learning for fear of sounding stupid. Fear comes in many forms. It takes many prisoners.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Always do what you are afraid to do." Emerson, who is best known for his essays on Transcendentalism and individualism, promoted the idea of ruling your fears rather than letting them rule you.
I know very well how hard it is not to let fear dictate some of what we do. However, we shouldn't let fear limit our desire to do or say something. I think it is important that we continually challenge ourselves. With every doubt that we are able to face and overcome, we vanquish fear.
So the next time you're questioning whether or not you should take an acting class because of your fear of being on stage, my advice: take it. Because the worst thing that could happen is you've memorized a monologue from The Miracle Worker. You may not have conquered your fear completely, but at least you're pretending to be someone who did.
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