The saying, “Do One Thing a Day That Scares You,” has been all over the internet and social media. Even if you’re not into quotes and memes, you’ve probably heard it at one point in your life from someone who was trying to encourage you: Doing something scary is necessary to overcome fear. Taking big risks is scary, but it’s also the only way we can make big improvements in our lives. While the intention is to encourage strength and well-being, by the tenth time I read that quote, it started to annoy me.
The saying kept popping up in my social media feeds, books, and conversations. It felt like the universe was cornering me, telling me to do something that scares me and my annoyance turned into full-blown resentment. For how long was I supposed to scare myself in order to earn some peace? I had made 30+ years of mistakes, taken risks and learned my lessons…or so I thought. In my experience, that feeling of resentment is a red flag, signaling that it’s time to have a deeper look into what’s really going on.
Instead of turning away from the discomfort, I dove right in.
I had spent my entire youth afraid of speaking my mind, of expressing myself to large groups of people, and being rejected. In order to overcome those fears, I spent my entire young adulthood putting myself out there in the big scary world of professional dance, performing in the most intimidating of circumstances. I auditioned for people who repeatedly rejected me, competed among the best in the world and performed in front of thousands of strangers despite my chronic stage fright.
My 20’s were all about proving myself to the world, and letting others know that I was capable, talented, and deserving. Why would anyone fresh out of school think otherwise? In society, competition is enforced and being the best is rewarded. As my self-confidence grew, so did my ego.
With every passing year, fulfilling my ego left me feeling more and more empty. Attention and praise from getting an award, booking a great commercial job, looking attractive, or earning good money was all fleeting. None of that would last, and when my time in the limelight was over, I was off looking for the next best thing.
Even though I conquered what had once scared me, there was now a new set of fears. Were true happiness and satisfaction even possible? In order to find out, I had to tear down my ego to get to the base of who I really was. That meant letting go of everything that I thought defined me. I needed to find the courage to change careers, be imperfect, and confront those whose relationships did more harm than good. Now it’s all about proving myself to me instead of to the world. Showing people who you really are and doing what’s not expected tends to upset them. At first, they too fear change.
As it turned out, the resentment I had felt before was actually guilt. It was guilt for passively living my life, hoping that happiness would come by not creating any waves.
There is no happiness without fear. I’m not talking about living in abject terror, but rather our inner fears. Whether it is a fear of change, public speaking, or commitment, the road to true happiness is never without discomfort.
Being happy isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a constant struggle as we are met with one resistance after another that we must overcome in order to mold our lives into the one we most deeply desire.
Once I accepted that fact, I surrendered to the fear that accompanied my “happy” life. No matter how much one has accomplished or figured out, there is always some way that the fear of something comes creeping back in. Fear is inevitable because change is inevitable and the unknown is scary, yet most of us desire growth.
Now when I see the saying, “Do One Thing a Day That Scares You,” I don’t run the other direction. I see it as a friendly reminder to proactively go after my happiness each and every day.
Also by Crystal: How I Learned to Breathe After I Stopped Dancing
Related: On Not Letting Fear Get in the Way
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Photo: Steve Pereira