Do What Frightens You

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Do What Frightens You

Many times, we lose track of the goals we set for ourselves.

In emotional moments, we may declare that we’ll write a bestseller or become fit enough to run a full marathon.

But fast forward six months and the goal is as good as a broken toy lying in a corner. The child might glance at it now and then, but will never play with it. Finally, the toy gets disposed of.

Why does this happen?

In our lives, we encounter plenty of tasks that we don’t want to do. Most of them fall into one of two categories:

  1. We don’t like doing them.
  2. They make us uncomfortable. (‘Frightened’ is a better way to describe it, although most people will never admit it. Instead, they’ll call the task “boring.”)

We prefer tasks that fall in the first category so that we don’t have to do the ones in the second.

The person who dreams of writing a bestseller doesn’t build networks with reputed publishing agents and authors to get their feedback on her manuscript. That’s frightening, or “boring.”

Instead, she joins 11 different Facebook groups filled with mediocre writers who keep hoping that an obscure publisher will notice their work[1]The latter is actually boring, and she can feel it too. But hey, it keeps her away from doing what frightens her..

The person who dreams of running a marathon doesn’t eat well and train with professionals because it’s frightening. Instead, he spends long hours doing actually boring professional work so that he has convenient excuses to avoid what really frightens him.

Most people are not frightened because they won’t achieve their goals; they’re frightened of what others will say if they fail. Will they laugh, taunt, and jeer? Will they say, “What even made you think you could do this?”

So they take the easy way out. They surrender to the conventional wisdom that states that you have to do things you don’t like because that’s just how things are.

The aspiring bestselling writer doesn’t like turning into hay in a haystack of mediocre writers. The aspiring marathon runner doesn’t like working long hours doing meaningless work. But they listen to the world when it tells them there is no other way. Hey, at least I don’t have to take responsibility for my failure now!

What Doesn’t Kill You Only Makes You Stronger

Here’s the thing about conventional wisdom.

It’s simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting. Much of it gets passed down to us from parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures in our lives.

But it often limits us from embracing the truth. In this case, it’s that the action that frightens you is also the one that makes you grow.

The rules others say you should live by have been made by people no smarter than you. This means you can bend and break them according to your needs (as long as you don’t cause damage).

When you go against conventional wisdom, people will first ignore you, as Mahatma Gandhi said. Then they’ll laugh at you, then they’ll fight you, and then you’ll win. When you prove yourself, they’ll say they always had faith in you.

“The difference between persistence and stubbornness is success. If you succeed, you’re persistent. If you fail, you’re stubborn.” — Richard Carlton, 3M

So here’s a better approach: Do less of what you don’t like, and more of what frightens you.

Want to quit your job and become an entrepreneur? Spend more time connecting with people, noticing things, and deciding what you want to do.

Want to progress in your career? Stop thinking work is all about attending meetings, checking emails, and beating your chest. Instead, learn valuable skills and apply them in your job.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it’s too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo

For the last two years, I’ve been guilty of this. I set low goals and achieved them. But instead of feeling happy, I felt a gaping void in myself, one that no amount of entertainment or instant gratification could plug.

Now, each time I plan to work on something, I ask myself, “Does the goal frighten me?” If it does, it’s worth pursuing. I’ll work on it consistently instead of working in short intense bursts and then losing motivation within weeks.

I’ve chosen to use fear as my true North. Will you?


1 The latter is actually boring, and she can feel it too. But hey, it keeps her away from doing what frightens her.

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1 Comment

  1. This year I have chosen the word uncomfortable to focus on. Change comes when we are uncomfortable not when it is easy and comfortable. If I truly want to change in any area of my life I need to feel uncomfortable. Thank you for this note.

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