The Things That Make You Scared Are the Things That Make You Dream

― Ellen Johnson

Quote by Ellen Johnson

Since Black Friday, I have been working hard every day to launch myself forward toward the life of my dreams.  Exercising, yoga, and especially doing a lot of writing (it is my passion and life’s purpose after all!).

What I didn’t plan on, was how freaking scary it was going to be.

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It’s scary.  It’s scary not to know how you’ll look in a year or where you’ll end up living or what job you’ll be doing.  Or who you’ll be with.

As soon as I realized I was creating all this forward momentum, I realized I needed a destination.  Boy, then did it hit the fan.

First a little background.  Ever since our parents broke up and then my Mother died (about ten years ago) by sister and I have sought stability.  Just making things calm, and safe, and comfortable for ourselves and each other.  And we’ve been spectacularly successful.  Now though, it’s a time of change.  And when I started thinking about my future, I realized I wasn’t sure what I really wanted.

Was I still a novelist foremost?  What about my inspirational and self help writing?  What about my unceasing love of TV and intrigue with the idea of writing teleplays?

Did I want to travel most?  Settle down in an amazing new place?  Or stay in Athens, GA?

Was I ready for a big new step if I fall in love?  Or did I just want to run around the world for a while and have adventures?

Clearly, for all I’d dreamed about my life after retail and working as a full time writer, when faced with the idea of it actually coming to pass, I simply had no idea.

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Fear is a natural response to the unknown.  But, we are not living in the wild.  There are no bears and wolves around (for most of us).  Fear should not be a red stop light, a firm ‘No!  Go back, you fool!’  Instead, it just tells you that you are stepping onto unknown ground.  For me, in the weeks since this started, there have been five main types of fear (see if you too recognize these as you step off the well-worn path toward the life you were destined for) —

Five Fears That Prove You’re Doing Something Right

  1. Fear of Failure.  Right off the bat, I thought “What if I set this big goal, tell people about it, and can’t do it?  What if I belly flop?  And most importantly, how will I stay positive if I’m a failure?  This is probably the fear that stops 90% of cool, amazing, incredible things from being made and stops more discoveries of best friends, soul mates, and mentors than any other.  But the truth is, even big failures don’t really get much traction — my Athens Writers Association had a reading once where almost no one showed up.  It wasn’t fun at the time, but we learned something about how to do it better, and it doesn’t mean much when held up against all our successes.  The best advice for this kind of fear is ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’  The only way to do anything worthwhile is to realize the price of failure is small, no one’s getting eaten, and the rest of the world isn’t really going to pay your one act that much mind.  What they’re responding to is that you’re living a life of action.  I fail in tons of ways all the time (eating habits, not being as perfectly kind as I could be, trying to cheat by counting reading ‘The Hobbit’ as ‘writing time’) and yet many people tell me I inspire them.  People will forget the minute and remember that you did something they were afraid to even try.

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  2. Fear of Success.  Now this one may seem silly on the surface, but it’s actually quite reasonable: our whole lives are constructed around things we know how to do, and to handle.  Think about it — you do what works.  You know how to drive but not a stick-shift, so your car’s automatic.  You don’t have to like your job, but you probably could do it with your eyes closed.  Even bad situations, like being in debt, you’re probably comfortable with.  You only change things that fall outside your comfort zone.  House’s drafty?  That’s fine.  Roof fallen in?  You’re gonna call someone (my roof is fine BTW 😉 ).  So when the idea of wild, mad success comes around (and that’s the kind that falls into your lap when you start living the life of your dreams), of course it’s scary.  You don’t know how to do that.  How would having a great husband or wife fit into your routine, your relationships with other friends, your alone time?  Would you like working at your dream company?  Would you be good enough?  If it all was going great, would something horrible happen?   I recently was reading part of my new novel Society & Civility to finish up my writing time late one night.  But then I still had a bit of time left and so opened up my teleplay from the summer, called Family Lines and about a family of demon hunters.  I’d only written 20 pages (for an hour long pilot) and had quit, thinking it wasn’t going well and I sucked.  But I reread those 20 pages that night and — they scared the crap out of me.  They were good, very good (in my approximation).  So what does that mean for my future?  The best way to dispel this fear is with feelings of gratitude and excitement: you are in this wonderful, unique spot to change your life and make the world a better place (following your dreams always makes the world a better place).  And the truth is, you can be comfortable in loving relationships, working your dream job, and having a life of adventures, or you can be comfortable with just what you’re doing, right now, for the rest of your life.  Your choice.

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  3. Fear of Looking a Fool /Upsetting People / Inconveniencing People.  I’m not cheating by rolling all of these fears into one, I recently felt them all from a single act.  I wrote to someone who’s an inspiration to me, someone I’d actually like to be friends with — and then I felt really uncomfortable.  I wanted to let them know their work inspired me, but did I go too far, sound over the top?  Did I scare them by being weird (I’m on a journey to be more open and honest and that seems to be a little unfiltered and frightening — at least to me)?  And worst of all did I seem unhingled?  A hanger-on?  A stalker? (I’ve been a stocker for years in big box stores, but that’s spelled a little differently).  In truth though, I am none of those fears, simply someone inspired, and whether or not they respond, they probably don’t think anything bad about me.  This fear is about staying small, nondescript, and not making waves.  Your friends, your family, strangers you accost on the internet — they all have a way they’re most more comfortable with you being and that is just how you are now.  If you get fit, what does that say about their lives?  You move across the country for that dream job, where does that leave Movie Night?  You express your feelings (for any one in any way) and suddenly they have a new issue: how to respond to you (and their day was already full up).  The only thing I can say here is, treat others how you would want to be treated.  Having my friend get fit would be great; having them say ‘You’d look so much better 20 pounds lighter’ would not.  Having someone write that I inspired them would be a boon to me; having a ‘fan’ say we must write a novel together, share a house (and more) would get a quick trip to my banned email list.  So don’t worry, just be daring and send some good into the world.
  4. Fear of Hard Work.  Now, I’ll expound all day and all night on the importance of working hard, but even I have my limits.  And that is what I’m trying to change.  I’ve been hitting this exercise/yoga/writing goal for weeks and that’s going okay, but the thought of digging back into editing my two new novels scares me (and writing for TV, well, we don’t even talk about that…).  This is related to fear #1 but a little different.  It’s knowing you can do something, but being unsure if you want to put into it the Herculean effort required.  I’ll never forget how when I started editing my first novel, I was convinced I was doing something wrong; the editing was making the book much better but it was too hard.  Surely I’d missed a step, or didn’t know a trick?  Truth is, everything you love was created with an inordinate amount of elbow grease.  You want to create something people love and will cherish?  That’s reason enough to work past this fear.

  5. Fear of Leaving People Behind.  As I mentioned in fear #2, this could be moving across the country, but I’m thinking more in an emotional sense.  I like the people I work with at my ‘regular’ job.  I love my friends.  I worship my sister.  And if I change, what happens to them?  Will they like who I become?  Will our paths diverge?  I feel that this period of growth will unsettle a few relationships (just as a child can feel ‘growing pains’ as their legs lengthen), but I also feel strongly that the best thing I can ever do for them, the kindest act I can bestow, is to become as wonderful and amazing and perfect a me as I can be.  I didn’t start this.  My friends and mentors inspired me to greatness, and I hope to inspire others.  Think of yourself as leading the charge into a wonderful new adventure.  I’m reluctant when plans suddenly change and my day is altered by a friend’s suggestion, but I’m always happy (after a bit of grumbling) to leap on board and then I have an amazing day, usually one of the best of the year .  Give your friends the same time to adjust and a chance to join in the fun.

In the end, it all means that, when you get serious about living your dreams, the world gets big and exciting fast.  I’ve only been at this for a few weeks and already it’s getting crazy.  What will a few more months bring?

The most exciting thing, the thing I wish I could transmute to you, is how fast you can start to change your life and that each challenge and fear can be met and mastered.

I don’t have all the answers yet.  Heck, I don’t even know most of the questions.  But I am so scared and so excited.

Because I’m living a life that matters.  And I’m getting braver every day.


I Dare YOU to Walk the Goat Trail of Life

We’ve lost something, left something, along the old goat trails.  Allow me to explain — I am sitting here in a Starbucks, writing on my netbook, listening on my Beats Tour headphones to Giselle, act II no.15, Pas De Deux (I don’t usually listen to classical music but it seemed conducive to writing) — in other words, surrounded by privilege — and thinking about why my feet are wet.

The reason is I had been walking in the long grass before I got to the goat trail.  And the reason I’m daring you to follow in my footsteps is because of all I’ve learned in the last hour on that trail.

I got up this morning to take our Kia for the dealer for its 90k service.  Such a thing is always long but I thought it would be a good chance to go down to the nearby Starbucks and write without interruption for a few hours.

I dropped off our Kia at 8:00am and started walking.  Now, I should explain that the dealership is on a long commercial stretch beside a five-lane highway (Atlanta Hwy for the Athens, GA locals) that had an exciting, new mall 30 years ago and now has a quite less exciting mall and a slight, tittering-on-the-edge-of-irrelevancy feel.

It’s also a two mile walk to the Starbucks, one mile more than I’d ever walked on this highway (the Best Buy I work at is in the middle, and so I’d seen the dealership-to-Best-Buy portion on many oil changes (I like walking) and yet I’d never walked the Best-Buy-to-Starbucks bit.

Now, this is no ‘bad’ neighborhood and yet I know some would say walking alone, purse clearly out, and my netbook in a larger bag is asking for trouble.  We are afraid of the unknown, and the very act of walking is unknown to our car-driving, latte-sipping culture. So I bopped along happily in the morning sun and through the morning dew (feet getting be-drenched).  I didn’t even have a head phone in one ear, as I usually do on this walk.

I passed by my Best Buy and continued on into the unknown, the unwalked — to McDonalds and beyond.

Here is where my real journey began, the journey of discovery, the journey I suggest you take someday soon.

There were no sidewalks.  There was trash.  People walked from McDonalds toward the Starbucks, back to the apartments behind it.  On my previous walks, everything had been clean because I walked past the dealerships and furniture stores set so far away from humanity that nothing touched their perfectly manicured lawns — except me.

Now, walking beside a snip of woods, I saw that so many people had walked through the grass of this no-sidewalks area as to wear a trail, a path that seemed to me to look just like a little goat trail worn down to the dirt by so many feet.

And it felt like two different time periods were laid out side by side on the Atlanta Hwy — I walked the same dirt path that people were walking through fields and to cities thousands of years ago and meanwhile the present, the future, sped by six feet to my left.

As I walked onward I met my second lesson.  He came across the cross walk to my side on the street.  He was ahead on me but I walk fast and so I was gaining on him.  We were pretty different, he was black and I was white, he was a little older while I’m still a little younger, and he was dressed in a uniform like he might be a delivery truck driver (which isn’t really that different than a Best Buy employee).

We said hi, then commented on the weather.  I joked that it was nice to see the sun; after so much rain my friends and I had been joking that we must have moved to Seattle.  Then he said he had actually lived in Seattle, and Arizona, and fifteen years in Germany.  He worked there as a translator.  We joked about how the Americans often have more trouble understanding the British than other countries because they believe they already know the language and then it was time for him to turn off down his road and I was about at the Starbucks.

And I just couldn’t help thinking this was something that could never happen from behind the window on a speeding car, or even in the little gardens we create for ourselves on the internet, each with their high walls of exclusion.

And it certainly can’t happen if you let a culture that sells fear of our neighbors as six-O’-clock news entertainment tell you how to live your life.

So get out of your house, knock on your neighbor’s door, introduce yourself or, at the very least — find a little risky, slightly abandoned trail and walk the heck out of it.  You never know who you’ll meet there.

Lastly, at Starbucks I asked for a cheese Danish with my smoothie.  The lady behind the counter asked if I wanted it warmed.  I said no, then realized I had never had it that way before because I was always rushing back to my car, back to the road.  So I said yes, heat it up.

She said, “It’s really tasty that way, especially if you have the time to sit down and enjoy it.”

And what is the point of life if you can’t slow down, pull off the speeding highway once in a while, and enjoy a meandering journey down an old goat trail?  Especially one replete with undiscovered friends?

P.S.  The danish was delicious.