A dear friend of mine recently told me a story that inspired me so much that I wanted to share it with you:
For a while in New York’s Central Park, there was an aspiring young writer named Jacob who used an old typewriter to create short stories for people while they waited. He worked for tips, and when he started he could only make enough to buy a slice of pizza. After a few months lines of people gathered for their stories. Sometimes he would ask them to come back another day, and they would. He felt thrilled his talent could not only sustain his life in New York, but also make others happy.
This setup allowed Jacob to share his gift of creative writing and also hone his skills. Sometimes people would request specific storylines while others just wanted to see what his imagination would come up with.
Everything was going great… until the internet got involved.
One day, a well-meaning customer took his picture and posted it on the Internet. That photo exposed Jacob’s honest creative efforts to the vitriol of some internet trolls. They branded him an attention-grabbing hipster, writing some pretty hateful, threatening, and hurtful things.
Jacob was mortified at what he read. He immediately responded with posts explaining what he was doing, but this only garnered more hatred. The experience made Jacob so worked up that he felt afraid for his life each time he went to the park to write. He imagined that any passer-by might be wanting to hurt him. All of his childhood fears of being bullied came flooding back to the surface. Soon, he stopped going to the park altogether and stayed in his room for a month.
It’s a terrible thing that Jacob let a few anonymous bullies shut down his livelihood, his creativity, and his joy. But even more terrible is the fact that many of us never even make it as far as he did. We talk ourselves out of our dreams, shutting ourselves down before we even get started. Indeed, the toughest bully you will ever encounter is not on the playground, or hidden behind an internet alias. Instead, the bully is those fearful thoughts in your own mind. In a way, you are your own bully.
This bully in your mind called fear knows all of your weaknesses. It knows how to exploit your insecurities and take control of your thinking. It believes it can keep us “safe” by holding us back from new experiences, but really it hinders us from growing and maturing.
The word “fear” is best represented as an acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. Most problems with the outside world can be easily addressed with some rational problem solving. However, fear shifts the obstacles from logistical ones to emotional ones, adding complexity and knee-jerk reactions that make addressing the real challenges that much more challenging. By allowing our emotions to run the show, we put more energy into the fear than we do into solving the problem.
In many ancient cultures, young warriors would be sent alone into the wilderness to face their fears. This is because these cultures knew that the simplest way — the only way — to overcome the bullies is to embrace the very experiences they try to keep you from having. To face them head on, claim those experiences as your own, and make them safe.
Happily, this is exactly what Jacob did next. After a month of hiding from the public, his itch to write for others grew stronger than his fear. He gathered up his courage and took his typewriter back to the park. Instead of meeting a rabbid pack of potential bullies, he found those same friendly people who had waited in lines for his stories a month before. Today, Jacob is a thriving and in-demand writer.
How is fear bullying you right now? How is this agitation monopolizing the energy that you could be putting towards solving your problem? What is one step you can take today to defuse your fear and make a move towards overcoming it?
“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.” — Karl Augustus Menninger