the truth about becoming “fearless”

In the Land of Internet, life coaches claiming that they know the secret to “kicking fear’s ass” and ” becoming fearless ” and “fearless living” or “living fearlessly” or “living life without fear” (the iterations are endless) can seem almost as common as space bar key strokes.

I’m always curious when I see their sales pages: do any of their clients actually ask them, perhaps as part of the initial consult to decide to work together, the tough questions with these claims?

For instance, what if a potential client actually asked: “Are you honestly saying that you never experience fear? Never, ever? Not even a little bit? Are you truly telling me that you are ‘fearless’ and that you know how to teach others to be ‘fearless,’ and that if I work with you, I’ll never experience fear?”

Would these coaches cop to the (very human) truth, and change their sales pages?

Fearless vs. Fear, Less

In my own work, I don’t promise “fearless.”

Here’s what I can help you with:

I won’t promise you “fearless”–I will, however, avow that I can help people to “fear, less.”

There is a wide expanse between “fearless” and “fear, less.”

“Fearless” is the domain of perfectionism. It’s striving. It’s putting all of your energy towards some fantasy state.

“Fear, less” is reality. Fear doesn’t have to control your life. Fear can be understood, and the wounds that create the fear can be healed. You can learn how to “fear, less” when you embark on your next bold life move.

You cannot escape fear, entirely. It will come up again and again, in different forms, as you push against the edges of this life experience.

If you’re a life coach, you get to choose how honest you’ll be with your clients about who you are and the very human experience of working with fear. Your biggest qualification as a life coach is not a lack of fear, but rather how powerfully you work through fear when it arises.

If you’re a client, you get to choose who you’ll spend money to work with. Choosing to bypass those who make audacious claims is a beautiful first step in the direction of critical thinking and claiming your power.

Again–you cannot escape fear, entirely.

What’s more? That’s okay.

Would you want it, anyway?

Consider this: If “fearless” were even possible, would you really want to be “fearless,” anyway?

I frequently think that wanting to avoid fear altogether is a form of trying to “check out” of life. Fear is uncomfortable, but the things that are uncomfortable in life are not meant to be avoided, at all costs.

The price you pay for avoiding discomfort is that all of your energy goes into trying to control life so that you don’t have to experience the discomfort. That is its own prison.

When you start working with fear differently, fear has a curiously enlivening quality. Instead of being what keeps you down, the experience of fear becomes something that is both thrilling and terrifying. It’s terrifying because it’s uncomfortable, but it’s thrilling because it’s showing you where there’s something that you deeply desire. It’s thrilling because it makes you wake up, pay attention.

In other words–when the experience of fear controls your life? That’s a problem. And by all means, if fear is running your life, stop sitting on your hands and do something about it.

But–if fear is showing up, at all? That’s just…normal. It’s part of life. It’s part of taking risks.

If you use it as a wake-up call to pay attention? That’s enlivening. It’s cluing you in to your next big adventure.

It breaks down to this simple equation:

“Fearless” = deadening.

“Fear less” = fully alive.

From there, it’s all about what you choose.

applying core desired feelings to parenthood

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Freedom. It’s not only one of my deepest personal values, it’s also one of my Core Desired Feelings (CDFs).

As someone who finds it deeply, deeply important to walk her talk, the question of how I would live out my truest values and deepest desires as I walked through parenthood was on my mind even before I was pregnant.

Freedom. I desire to feel a sense of freedom in every domain of my life–in my relationships, with my money, in how I schedule my time, with creativity and career.

But having a kid? Every parent I ever heard talking about parenthood described things that felt anything but “free.” They described lack of sleep and barely having time to eat; epic crying sessions and every single shirt covered in spit-up.

Every person I knew who consciously chose not to have kids cited “lack of freedom” as their reason why. They wanted to pick up and travel at a moment’s notice. They wanted to pursue career ambitions. They wanted to spend money on decor, not daycare.

They knew that having children, much as they supported others doing so if that called to them, would scale those things back.

So how would I reconcile having a child with my deepest CDFs? How would I create “freedom” in that experience?

Honey, It’s Time to Walk That Talk

Before I was pregnant and when I was still contemplating children, the answer to that question was this: the idea of never having a child felt completely wrong.

While having a child might mean releasing some freedom, not having one felt like straight-jacketing my future to something that wasn’t really, truly “me.” That certainly didn’t feel like “freedom.”

Furthermore, having a child resonated with most of my other CDFs: sacred connection, sensuous delight, powerful.

So, step one: I felt grounded in knowing that of the two options, kid or no kid, I did want to have a child and start a family.

Then, as pregnancy slowly began to limit my options–drastically reduced caffeine, no more triathlon training, my entire wardrobe relegated to the back of my closet as my stomach expanded ever-bigger–I kept returning to this question of how I would integrate “freedom” into my life. Being pregnant, I was already feeling “less than free.”

On Facebook, in grocery stores, at restaurants, people followed their congratulations with a litany of all the things I’d “never” be able to do, again. I’d never sleep well, again. I’d never be able to go out for an evening without hiring a babysitter, again. I’d never get my body back. I’d never know ease.

They made having children sound like nothing but chaos and worry.

And then the baby arrived. In the first few weeks, I really never expected that I would feel a sense of “freedom,” anyway. Most of the time, I felt blissed out, excited to hold her, craving the smell of her and the feeling of her small body in my arms.

After about a month, it began to creep in: a longing for long afternoons spent writing, a leisurely evening at a restaurant, eight hours straight of sleep.

Following the longing, the flashes of resentment. Another bottle? Another diaper change? She’s up, already? But she just went down for a nap!

Focus on the Freedom

You might have found yourself in this sort of situation, before: you tell yourself, “Here’s how I want to live. I’m going to [be more patient; be more compassionate; focus on gratitude; etc.].”

Then a frustrating day happens, or a series of them. You’re feeling pushed to your absolute limits. You’re exhausted with the very process. You’re asking yourself, “When is this going to get easier?” and sensing that the answer to this question is, “It won’t. This is what it is.”

In those spaces, it feels as if there really are no options. You want to reach for something different, but everything that seems to be available is something really, really challenging.

That’s the point I hit, when my focus became noticing the freedom inherent in what I already had.

In my pre-baby days, I could “create freedom.” I could look at my multitude of options, and choose the one that felt most aligned with my CDF of freedom.

Having a baby, I find, requires a slightly different strategy. I have lots of options, sure, but most of them are not really compatible with where my daughter is at, right now. Ditching diaper duty to dine at a Zagat-rated restaurant, for instance, is a wholly incompatible choice with the love that I have for my daughter and my commitment to demonstrate that love through giving her truly impeccable care.

But I can focus on freedom, to amplify the freedom that already exists.

In other words, it’s all there. Instead of waiting for “freedom to happen to me” so that I could appreciate it, or instead of trying to “create” freedom out of thin air, there’s this twist: freedom is here, it’s just about whether or not I’ll notice it.

For example: Every time I do feel well-rested (and there are days where that happens), I can celebrate that. I can notice how freeing it is on that particular day to feel “well-rested” in my bones, as opposed to going to the future and wondering how I can jerry-rig the situation to see if I can make that kind of night happen, a second time.

In other words: when life is tough, and you’re going, “Whatever it is that I want to cultivate just isn’t something I can orchestrate, right now,” chances are good that if you get creative, you’ll find some little sliver of what you desire that’s already here.

Once you discover that sliver of delicious desire, you focus on it. By focusing on it, you amplify the good feelings associated with it.

Then you feel more of what you desire to feel.

The Most Powerful Choice

Really, this is the most powerful choice that we can make. It’s more powerful to look at what’s already showing up and make something beautiful out of those circumstances, than it is to tell ourselves the old story of happiness arising when all of the planets align.

The reason this is such a powerful choice isn’t just that we get to live beautifully, which is your birthright. The reason it’s powerful is because the locus of your power is centered solely within yourself when you make that kind of a choice, not something external.

In The End

I dislike “happily ever after” stories told by self-help types (and I’m an admitted self-help type). This is not a “happily ever after.” This is a day-to-day-to-day. Sometimes, it’s really hard.

But other times? Many times? More and more and more often? It’s getting easier. When you look for what you want to find, you often find it.

Stop hoping that what you desire is looking for you. Get crackin’ on looking around and opening your eyes a little wider. You might be stunned into ecstasy by what you discover.

the slippery slope of apologizing for your joy

People: I had a baby. A baby!

I’m pretty excited about her. Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows this, because since she was born, it’s been baby-baby-baby. And color me biased, but: I think she’s reallllllly freaking cute.

But–

as the baby pictures began to accumulate on my feed, typically accompanied by me gushing about this kid’s overall downright cuteness and my penchant for adding the hashtag #WhatACutiePatootie, I noticed something started to happen:

I started to feel apologetic for my joy.

Apologizing For Your Joy

When you feel apologetic for your joy, you start to:

  • Shrink from letting your joy be on full display (cue the cool girls in middle school and high school who rolled their eyes and said, “Oh my god–like, calm down!” when I was ecstatically excited).
  • Feel guilty for your privilege (thinking of all the people who don’t have what you have, who deserve it just as much as you).
  • Worry that maybe you’re “too much” for other people (will people think that I’m weird because I keep posting all of these pictures of my kid; people will get tired of all of these kid pictures and not like me anymore).
  • Downplay your joy, for fear that the “other shoe will drop” and that something about loving your life will mean that life will even the score–this is a fear of letting life get really, really good.

This is all rooted in caring what other people think.

The Joy Cannot Be Contained

I was marveling at my daughter’s feet, and I took a picture. They are so exquisitely tiny, and soft, and the little bones that make up her toes are so slender and elegant. Her heels kick out, in constant motion whenever she is awake; her toes curl under if I give them a gentle tug.

I marvel at her motion: she is alive, she is breathing, she is an actual human being! A human being with her own soul, her own life’s path, her own way of looking at the world that will be different from mine, yet influenced on some level by my point of view!

It was precisely this kind of thinking that reminded me: if her point of view on the world might in any way be influenced by my own, then I was very clear that I wanted her to have a model of fully embracing her joy.

That’s when I posted this photo and its accompanying note:

apologizing-for-joy-photo

Perusing my feed a few days later, I saw this picture, posted by Kate Northrup:

kate-northrup

That’s when I realized: this is something that we humans just do, this apologizing for joy. Our work is to catch ourselves and remember that it’s our birthright to live this human experience in joy. That’s why we are here.

The Courage to Embrace Your Joy

It’s an act of courage to fully embrace your joy. We live in a world that does contain hard things; it does contain suffering. There are people who don’t have the resources that they need, whether material or emotional. There are people who have all the access one could imagine, and they live in a personal hell of hating themselves.

It’s important to understand that when you fully embrace your joy, you’re making a choice to walk into divine consciousness, a sort of communion with the Universe and every other being who walks the planet.

It’s vulnerable and thus an act of courage.

Despite the naysayers, despite the fear that you could lose it all, despite the fact that we live in a world where it is true that people suffer–choosing to fully and ecstatically embrace your joy is actually what amplifies you, gives you energy and reserves to create something that ripples out to others.

That’s what’s so divine about this choice: when you fill your own cup with joy, more becomes available for others.