an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Or put more simply, that feeling that stops you for doing what you truly want to.
I’ve lived most of my life in fear – fear of not being handsome enough, a good enough partner, not being good enough at my job. Fear of being physically and emotionally hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being inadequate, just debilitating fear. And for a long time I let that fear rule my life. A few years ago I started a process of systematically letting go of the things that made me scared because I knew…really, I hoped that on the other side of that fear would be redemption, a life of happiness, a life worth living.
The first thing I had to let go was the safety and comfort I’d had in my previous job. I was extremely successful in what I did and had a bright future in front of me and when my then partner brought up the idea of moving for grad school I panicked. What would I do? Would I find a job? Would I make new friends? Could I move to a city where I didn’t know many people? I took the leap and applied for a promotion in my company and after I got it I breathed a deep sigh of relief. “This is working.” But shortly after I moved to Sacramento another fear had made itself readily apparent, that fear of being alone.
Even though I’d sensed my near 3 year relationship coming to an end I didn’t want to let it go – I didn’t want to face being alone and even though I tried to put it off – she had the courage to end it. In an instant I was alone. I remember sitting in the parking lot for no less than 30 minutes sobbing because one of my worst fears had come right up in front of me and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it. I was alone.
After that experience I began to numb my feelings – eating and drinking to dull the deep pain I felt. Here’s the thing though, from the outside, you couldn’t (or really hoped you couldn’t) tell that I wasn’t happy because thanks to my performance background, I could put on a real good show. This façade of “it’ll be ok,” the “I’m fine”s, and the “what’s meant to happen will happen”s because I wanted to prove that I was strong enough.
And I remember one of my first yoga classes when my teacher said “everything we want is on the other side of fear and pain.” And that resonated with me because then I felt a lot of both and I couldn’t see what was on the other side. I buckled down at work, started to do well, devoted more time to my yoga practice, and spent more time building a deep network of friends. But I have a confession – a lot of THAT came from a place of fear. Fear that I would lose my job, fear that I wasn’t skinny enough, fear that no one would like me and I attributed all the progress I was making to my yoga practice. I would say to friends and colleagues, “I wouldn’t have been able to get through x situation if it wasn’t for my yoga practice.” I’m scoffing even at the thought of my pretentious self saying that but you know what? I believed it and that’s what matters. I’d hit an amazing groove at work, I lost close to 80 pounds, and my connection to my community was at an amazing height.
Until that morning.
That morning that I woke up to a slightly sore knee, that got progressively tighter, with some pain. A knee that over the course of 2 hours would swell to unimaginable proportions and hurt worse than any physical pain I’d ever experienced. Within a few more hours I was on crutches and pain medication, and in a few more days, I was ordered to stop physical activity and not go to work.
I was devastated. Those fears that I’d masked with my practice were all of a sudden right there. Unavoidable. I went from an independent guy to asking everyone around me for help with the slightest tasks, like picking up my prescription from the pharmacy, or grocery shopping. And through this process of incredible vulnerability I started to recognize the absolute strength of the community I’d surrounded myself with and the tenacity of my character.
After 8 weeks of 2 hospital admissions, countless doctor’s visits, copious amounts of blood draws, acupuncture sessions, tears, pain, blah blah blah, I came out on the other side. Stronger. Different. Authentic. Those 8 weeks taught me that no amount of fear or pain is too much to endure because what was waiting on the other side was me. The fullest version of me that I’d ever seen. A man who is kind, funny, generous, thoughtful, hardworking, dependent, and strong. This was who was waiting. On the other side of those 8 weeks was a phenomenal community waiting to support me, an organization I love, my partner (who fell for me while I was hobbling around on crutches.) I wouldn’t have experienced or acknowledged any of these things if I didn’t go through such deep fear and pain.
I told this story (in a much more abridged version of course) tonight in class and after I talked to a student who really connected to this idea of moving through fear and pain to get to what’s on the other side – greatness, power, strength, authenticity. Hearing his story taught me a lesson that I’ve been on the edge of facing for a long time; you must know who you are before you be anything for anyone else. If you don’t, you’re just pretending.
I’ve still got a long way to go, more fears to conquer, more pain to endure, more fights to fight, more battles to win (and lose) but I know that I’ve picked the right path. This path of telling my story to help others understand theirs. This week has been an incredibly humbling one but I wouldn’t give it up for the world because it’s my time. It’s my time to push through my fear and move into my power.