no fear no more

One of my favourite musical artists is Madeon, who has a song titled "No Fear No More". I've been blasting it on repeat recently and here's an excerpt from the chorus:

"Just like before / my spirit coming up / what do you talk for? / you'll never make this up / beyond the shore / we'll take it to the top / no fear no more"

These lyrics might seem a bit nonsensical but hold hopeful connotations for those yearning for personal progress. The upbeat electronic synths and lyrical repetition of the no fear no more tagline create reassurance. The song provides us with a gift in the form of a well-timed reminder. What do you talk for? There's tangible truth here if we abstract out the takeaways - stop talking, just do, just be. On a deeper level, putting faith in yourself helps conquer the internal ghouls living with zero cost in the mind, primarily fueled by fear.

Recently, I've been reflecting on the presence of fear in my life. It's a sticky emotion that manifests in a number of subtle ways: overthinking, hesitancy, inaction, helplessness — sometimes all in that sequential order. The most sinister role that fear plays in our lives is placing control limits on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. The kicker: there's no easy circuit breaker that acts as a reset button, putting the onus on us to manually override the programming.

Where does fear show up in my own life? When people describe my personality at face value, common keywords always reference some concept of confidence. More simply, words that are the antithesis of fear. I appreciate this asset most of the time, and my extreme extroverted tendencies certainly support that story.

But for the longest time, I've struggled with being stuck in my head for too long, always with the urge to question things. It feels like the operating system in my monkey brain goes totally haywire to the point of true self-destruction: the trap of inaction. I've only recently become acutely aware of these moments as they pop up in my psyche sporadically, like a never-ending game of whac-a-mole.

I've drafted a brief list of current fears, both the irrational and rational kinds:

  • Going up to an attractive girl in public and striking up any conversation, even though I know I can just improv and turn on the charm just fine

  • Putting my hand up for more challenging and stimulating work projects, even though I know my learning curve saturates quickly and craves more

  • Asking warm connections for help on professional pursuits and requests, even though I know there is literally 0 downside and people are very kind

  • Posting unfiltered thoughts frequently in public on community platforms, even though I know consistency is key to create larger luck surface area

To frame these fears more practically, here's a very recent experience in narrative form that immortalizes the attraction-based fear I first described:

9/3. Last night I had the idea of carving out a few hours of undisturbed reading time at one of my favourite locales: Book Club. Pseudo-cafe space and intimate bookstore, I wanted to reignite my reading routine I sacrificed for so long. It was too late for coffee and I wasn't in the mood for wine. So I bought a bottle of Perrier and picked up a memoir that piqued my interest: 'Seeing Ghosts' by Kat Chow (PS: a fantastic read). I got settled in a soothing satin armchair, preparing to fall into immersion mode soon...  
Then she came in. My attention gets snagged by the brightness of clear-lens glasses, the lightness of a rose pink top contrasted by classic black-and-white Converse, and the sharpness of hair streaked with golden highlights. She orders a glass of wine and makes an elegant yet purposeful stride to the shelves. Within a minute, she pulls out two books that I'm all too familiar with as an optimizer-type technologist: James Clear's 'Atomic Habits' and Kelly Corrigan's 'Tell me More'. Clearly cares about growth, I tell myself. 
She finds a table to situate, directly across from me. Over the next few hours, I find myself tetering between deep reading mode and a sneaky space where I steal a few quick glances. I got increasingly curious: what made her decide to spend Friday night here instead of the myriad activities in NYC? At some point she whips out an iPad and starts making broad strokes with her Apple Pencil, with a sort of surgical precision and concentration. I can only assume she was designing some artistic project on Procreate. Another attractive quality, check.
This moment felt like an ideal moment to go for a cold approach. Even beyond any romantic objectives, it was the allure of a potentially high-impact conversation that sparked my interest. Harking back to Madeon's lyricality: "Just like before, my spirit coming up". 
She steps up and starts walking over to the shelf, both books in hand. 
Moment of truth. And... nothing. I couldn't go through with it. She proceeds to walk briskly out of Book Club and into the nighttime void. 
I console myself afterward by recounting the situation:* She packed up very quickly and plugged in her wireless earbuds* There was a congregation of new people around her area* She seemed like she was in a rush with Google Maps loaded up
But in reality, it was a feeling of fear that physically halted my advance. 
Having vivid awareness of this inability to act is a good first step, but I hope to reverse these interactions in the future. Here's to future faith!

At first glance it looks like I'm scared of a lot of things, but I also acknowledge that it's easy to get stuck in a loop of self-defeatist thinking. This is one of those situations where doing a personal retrospective is helpful. One tactic is creating a reinforcing inventory of fears that you‘ve successfully vanquished over the years. For me, that would include: being fully comfortable with my own company, travelling around several continents with limited cultural context, and going to all types of social gatherings without knowing anyone else. Another way to flirt with fears is Tim Ferriss’ fear setting framework. In a nutshell, it's a more analytically-rigorous model of fleshing out the possible impact of each identified fear, pushing them to the extreme costs and benefits.

If this month is a time period for feeling more, I also want to layer on fearing less. The raw question I'm starting to replay is: What am I afraid to let myself feel? Funnily enough, I think embracing and leaning into discomfort are the low-hanging fruits of personal development.

And it might just be a more fun way to live :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 9 months ago on Saturday the 4th of September 2021.

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