To start, three quotes I’ve thought about a lot in recent months:
“Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us? How dare we let it into our decision-making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships?”
– Robert California (played by James Spader) on “The Office”
“…Sometimes a little pressure is just what’s needed. And that’s where the nerves come in. When you feel nervous, you have two choices: you can become afraid and let worry take over, or you can accept the butterflies and understand that they’re there to signal the possibility of something great to come.”
– Mike Warkentin, founder/trainer, CrossFit 204
“The older I get, the more I realize that life is about a battle with fear, and either we win or lose. And some nights you stay in, and that’s a little bit of losing. Don’t get me wrong, I love staying in. You want to put on some PJs and watch fucking Sherlock? I’m game. It’s great. But like, when I don’t go to things because of fear, that’s a loss. … I can’t get away from this new fear theory: the idea that fear is keeping us from our best lives all the time.”
This past Saturday, I competed in the open race at DarkCross 2013, a cyclocross bicycle competition at the Red River Co-Op Speedway.
But I almost didn’t.
The fears crept in as I thought about participating in the race in the days leading up to it. What if I completely suck? What if I come in dead last? What if I have mechanical problems? What if I eat shit on one of the turns? What if some 10-year-old girl on a pink bike with a white basket and streamers hanging from her handlebars laps me?
In short: What if I look stupid?
In retrospect, I’m not sure how I didn’t realize that Saturday’s race would be anything other than an improvement over last year. At DarkCross 2012, I was roughly 80 pounds heavier than I am now, my chain came off and got so jammed up in the workings of my bike that I couldn’t get it back on so I ran half the race carrying my bike, and at one point, I ran up the wrong part of the course in full view of all the spectators.
And I had an absolute blast doing it.
But there I was, this past Saturday afternoon, wrestling with my aforementioned fears–irrational as they might seem.
And I had a decision to make: I could give in to them, or I could show up, participate in the race and have fun.
My fears aren’t strictly limited to competing in cyclocross races, of course. I was recently telling a writer friend of mine how scared I often am when I sit down to write.
I’ve made a living off of writing for almost five years now, and while it doesn’t happen all the time, often the questions still pop into my head when I sit down at the computer, whether it’s to write a press release, a hard news article, an opinion piece or a blog entry:
What if the words don’t come? What if they suck? What if I misrepresent my sources? What if I reveal too much of myself?
I want to sound smart, thoughtful and funny. What if I don’t? What if I’m just not?
What if it’s not perfect?
It’s easy enough to dispute these fears. The words always come, I’ve never had a source complain that I’ve misrepresented or misquoted them, and while not all of my work is Pulitzer Prize-worthy, knock-your-socks-off, next level, Chris Jones-type work, none of my editors have ever told me, “Wow Aaron, you really blew it on that assignment.”
But the fears are there, so I need to keep disputing them.
And I dispute them in other areas of my life as well.
Every time I don’t go out because I’m afraid of who’s going to be at the party and I’m worried I won’t have anything interesting to say, every time I don’t ask out the cute girl I’m interested in because I’m worried she’ll turn me down, every time I don’t compete in a race because I’m worried I’ll come in dead last, every time I don’t try something new because I’m worried I’ll look stupid, every time I don’t say what’s on my mind because I’m worried about what others will think, every time I don’t write something because I’m worried it’s not going to come out perfect, it’s a little bit of losing.
And I figure over time, those losses build up, until you’re just a shell of a person, not fully engaged in life, sitting on the sidelines and wondering what might have been.
So ultimately, that’s why I competed in DarkCross 2013. I didn’t want to give in to fear.
A 10-year-old girl on a pink bike lapped me (full disclosure: not really), and I came in at the back of the pack, but that’s not the point.
I showed up and I participated. On Saturday night, that was victory enough.
This scene from the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine” gets it right. In it, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is consoled by her grandfather (Alan Arkin) the night before competing in a beauty contest.