“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”
– Japanese Proverb
Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger.
I’m experiencing fear now as I write this article. And that fear is the fear of rejection – not being “good enough” for acceptance.
This fear is the cause of the fear of public speaking which is the number one phobia in the personal category according to a 2016 survey by Chapman University.
I can definitely relate to this because I’ve always had a fear of public speaking. My first experience with the fear of public speaking manifested when I was six years old.
Growing up as a poor peasant, I believed that education was the only route to “success.” Fully embodying that belief, I excelled in school and ranked at the top of my class for all academic subjects. As a result, I would receive many awards for my achievements.
But as I later realized, there was a negative side to all the positive.
The student who finished at the top of the class for each grade level must retrieve the awards from the principal in front of the entire school!
This ceremony was held twice annually.
As soon as the principal called my name, I felt an extremely unpleasant feeling running through my body. Making my way towards the stage, I felt piercing stabs from my neck all the way down to my lower back. The stares from everyone in the audience caused these dreadful sensations.
Loathed this distressing feeling, I sometimes purposely made errors on exams just to avoid having to go up to stage.
My fear of rejection didn’t get any better after I moved to the United States.
When I was nine years old, I remember having dinner with all of my relatives. My uncles, aunties, cousins, brother, and parents were all present that night.
For some reason, my skill in using chopsticks during dinner was inept. After three failed attempts at trying to pick up the dumplings with my chopsticks, I moved on and picked up a piece of broccoli instead.
One of my aunties saw that and said this to me at the dinner table.
“If you go back to China and can’t use chopsticks, everyone is going to laugh at you.”
As soon as she said that, everyone at the table started laughing, including my family. Overwhelmed with an immediate sharp and unpleasant sense, I created a tunnel vision for myself.
All I could see was everyone laughing at me. This included everyone who I knew back in China. My teachers, friends, and everyone in the rural village were all there laughing at me.
With uncontrollable anxiety and emotions, I started crying and tears started pouring my face.
For the rest of the night, I held a feeble position with my head facing down. By the end of it, my hands had a full puddle of tears. My neck was sore from holding it in that position.
Now reflecting back, the fear was inane and I can’t help but laugh about it.
But at the time, the fear felt real.
Wanting to be accepted by my peers, I created an illusion in my mind that I believed to be true. My sense of reality was distorted.
That’s the power that the mind has.
The fear of rejection links back to tribal times when human lived in groups for the sake of survival.
Because that type of lifestyle isn’t too distant from now, that part of thinking is still ingrained in your mind. When you’re ostracized from the community, you have to fend for yourself which decreases your chances of survival.
In some severe cases, you’re sentenced to death, something that all humans fear.
Causes and Effects of Fear
The fear you have is developed during your childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.
Typically your fear is linked to a petrifying event or stressful situation.
When you feel fear, your body experiences those similar to life and death situations. Increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, fainting, and the inability to think clearly are symptoms of anxiety caused by fear.
Master Your Fear
The solution to dealing with your fear is self-awareness.
Most times when you feel fear, it’s not real. But rather an illusion you have conjured that seems extremely real. You can distinguish the difference between real and fake fear by the immediacy of life and death.
When you feel fear, be realistic and ask yourself.
- “What’s the worst that can happen?”
- “Can I handle it?”
Chances are it doesn’t involve you dying.
What are some of your biggest fears?
It might be walking up to that attractive woman and starting a conversation. But the fear of rejection stops you in your track.
In your mind, you already have played out many scenarios that she will reject you.
Because you can see them in your mind, you believe it to be true because your mind can’t distinguish from what you imagine with what you actually see.
Your perception becomes your reality.
- But what if you saw scenarios in your mind that the conversation went well?
- Wouldn’t you want to go talk to that attractive woman?
On the contrary, real fear has its own functionary role in keeping you alive.
Because of that fear, it has preserved the human race to this point.
Instead of hunting for food, humans hid in their caves for safety instead of risking their lives eaten by a saber tooth tiger.
But when the time came to choose death either by starvation or risk eaten by a saber tooth tiger, they choose the latter because it has the higher chance of survival.
For example, I was at the Grand Canyon National Park in April 2017. Standing at the edge of Plateau Point, I can see the Colorado River right below me.
If I were to take another step towards the cliff, then I could serious injury myself or die by falling thousands of feet to the bottom.
But the fear prevented me from taking another step because I wanted to live.
In the case of public speaking, there’s nothing life-threatening about it. To become more comfortable with public speaking, I joined Toastmasters to speak in front of others.
The worst that can happen even I just say one word in a five to seven-minute speech is to get a negative evaluation.
Life goes on!
When you fully deconstruct your fear and understand that there’s no legitimate reason to be afraid, fear has no power over you.
You’re now free to pursue what you want.
You create fear in your mind.
Often times you fear what might happen later instead of the thing that’s real and right in front of you.
Fear has its purpose and it will never go away. Therefore you won’t ever be fearless.
You do it despite fear because you’re courageous.
Your level of success, however you define it, is parallel to the number of risks you take.
With risk comes uncertainty and discomfort, but it’s in those times that you will grow the most.
With growth comes fulfillment and joy.
And happiness is the sum of all the joyful moments you have. You don’t want certainty because it’s a myth.
You think you know what’s going to happen, but you really don’t. No one does and it’s all speculation.
Don’t let the fear of unknown stop you from doing things you truly want to do. Take action despite your fears.
- Go ask for that promotion at work.
- Have that difficult conversation with your loved one that can alter the direction of your relationship forever.
- Buy that plane ticket and visit that country you’ve been wanting to explore.
The only thing that is 100% certain is death.
You already inherited the worst disease the moment you were born.
- With that in mind, are you still afraid to take risks?
- Would you rather settle for what’s comfortable and mediocre or would you rather go for thrill and fulfillment?
Fear is not your enemy; it is your ally.
Experience more of life by letting fear be your compass and always choose uncertainty and fulfillment over certainty and unhappiness.
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