12. One More Point About Fear

In my experience, many people, and especially many men, are ashamed of their fears. They see them as disgraceful and as a sign of weakness.

I disagree. As humans, we are subject to death, disease, disappointment, injury, loss, heartbreak, natural disaster and human-made disaster, among many other afflictions. Fear, in my view, is an entirely reasonable and understandable response to this reality.

Then there are the many hardships, risks and rejections of the activist life. These give you even more reason, in my view, to be afraid.

In other words, to paraphrase the old activist quip about outrage, “If you’re not afraid, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

So stop blaming yourself for your fears and start asking yourself this question instead: How should I respond to my fears?

Steven Pressfield tells how the actor Henry Fonda suffered from extreme stage fright throughout his long career. In fact, he got so nervous before every stage performance and film shoot that he threw up. That’s forty years of throwing up.

And after every episode of throwing up, he proceeded to give his performance.

The proper response to fear is not to let it paralyze you, and not to waste time blaming yourself for it, but to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly.

Exercise

Experiencing Fear Without Shame

Take three tasks you have been procrastinating on, and for each one, write a list of the negative consequences of accomplishing it. If, for example, you’ve been procrastinating on visiting a doctor, your list could include “It will cost $100,” “She’ll give me a shot,” and “She might discover something seriously wrong.”

Take your time with this exercise, and you will probably come up with a long list of negatives for each task. Two things might then happen:

• You might find yourself becoming more understanding about, and forgiving of, your procrastination. (“No wonder I keep putting this off!”) This is a much better response than criticizing or blaming yourself.

• By writing down the negatives, you may defuse them, so that they seem less scary. You may even feel motivated to go ahead and do the task. (If that’s the case, go for it!) But don’t feel bad if you don’t experience that motivation, or if it quickly goes away and you’re back to feeling stuck again.

Whatever you do, do not put yourself down for having fears and anxieties. Everyone has them, including highly successful people, who often consciously or unconsciously develop skills and strategies for coping with them. That’s what you’ll learn to do in the remainder of this part of The Lifelong Activist.