Work With Your Fear

God placed the best thing in life on the other side of terror.
— Will Smith

There’s been a video swirling around Facebook recently. In it, Will Smith inspires everyone to face their fears by telling the story of his first skydiving experience

Shortly after watching the full video, I stumbled upon a New York Times article with a similar premise. In summary, the “roadblocks” we think we experience when we’ve almost crossed the finish line are most likely just “places to hide.” We usually aren’t stumped by problems, we’re really just victims of fear. 

Today, I’ll be directing and performing in my last Gospel Choir concert as an undergraduate. Per usual, the week leading up to today was filled with stress, surprise, and excitement, followed by more stress. Our singers might be too terrified, our instrumentalists might not be terrified enough. This is normal. 

But this time, I felt myself wondering more than usual how to spark confidence in those I lead. And I’ve realized that perhaps my approach has been off. Perhaps the question should not be, “How do we overcome our fear?” but “How do we work with it?”

I have a reputation for being unfazed--for having “ice in my veins”--when I perform in music, sports, speeches, or spoken word. And if I must be honest, it isn’t because I’m always brimming with confidence. In fact, I tend to shake quietly with electric anxiety as I envision the worst case scenarios prior to showtime (like: what would I do if I completely blanked out while playing a song?). But somehow, without fail, once we begin, all the noise fades away and my mind and body operate with a gentle clarity and stillness.

I never tell myself to be confident. The process is actually much less dramatic. When my heart rate rises, I take a deep breath. I unconsciously ask myself one question: “Are you going to do this or not?” If the answer is no, then there’s no need for fear. If the answer is yes, then regardless of how beautifully or terrible I perform, I’m doing it either way, so there’s no need for fear. This is how I work with my fear--by staring at it, letting it search my heart, and then walking right through it.

Once I accept it and decide to act anyway, in spite of it, my fears turns into fuel, energy, magic. Ironically, my fear becomes the very thing that transforms me into something fearless. When I work with it, when I accept the risks, the potential consequences, and still move forward, my fear disappears. And when that happens, all that remains is action. All that remains is the jump. And the best part is…

I never regret what comes next.