“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States.
The late great Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s immortal words have been ingrained as the de facto go to quote on fear since his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, but hey, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Moreover, I may have a slight obsession with FDR after watching a 15 hour documentary on his life (I definitely suggest you check it out on Netflix), but I digress… Anyways, these simple words sound rational, but like so many rational sounding ideas, it’s much easier said than done.
From a psychological standpoint, fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” So what exactly are we afraid of anyway? The sound that goes bump in the night. The shadow we swore we saw glide across the room out of the corner of our eye. The thirty-five missed calls you have from your mother. At its very essence, what we fear is simply the fear of the unknown. The true mark of bravery is embracing the unknown and, through the process, discovering all the nooks and crannies until the unknown becomes the norm.
Growing up in a rural town in central Louisiana that boasted an impressive two traffic lights and a population of barn yard animals that greatly exceeded that of people, there was a lot of unknowns in my life. Like many teens, I struggle to find my identity and for a while my own true self comprised a category of the unknown. But there was also a lot of knowns at the same time. For instance, I knew the small town country life just wasn’t for me. Fortunately, I was blessed with having done some extensive traveling to many major cities throughout the United States and Europe. Understanding and experiencing first hand the thousands of cultures and cities out there fueled my desire to escape the agrarian confines of my youth, trading in towering pine trees for massive concrete skyscrapers.
After I graduated high school, though, I couldn’t imagine leaving my friends and therefore chose a college just an hour from home. While my new city was indeed a far cry larger than my hometown, I soon realized that even it was constructed with that provincial small town vibe. As I continued through school, I grew thirstier and thirstier for what a major city could provide me. Opportunities were soon exhausted and after a recent, very painful break up, I decided it was now or never. Almost overnight, I made the decision that at the end of the semester, I’d just pack my bags and jump in head first.
My entire life, I’ve always stuck by the methods and regulations of concise, organized planning. Spontaneity is simply not in my vocabulary. I knew the city, Houston, and I knew the time frame, 4 months until finals. Those were the knowns. For the couple of weeks after reaching my decision, I was consumed with apartment hunting, polishing my resume to send out to potential employers, and of course sorting through my possessions and reaching the decision that a bulk of my belongings would not be making the move with me. This would be my chance to start over from scratch.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long until the fear of the unknown began to take center stage. While I had certainly traveled to Houston many times throughout my life, I fear getting lost in the congested traffic. I fear getting a job in my industry that pays enough to afford the expensive downtown apartments in which I fantasize living. I fear finishing my last semester of undergrad online from a different state. Most importantly, I fear my sudden desire to jump ship and begin a completely fresh life is because I’m just running to escape the overwhelming void left in my heart after my breakup.
The time is now closer than ever. T-minus one month and counting until my new life begins. I’ve finally secured the tiniest one room apartment on the 22nd floor of a high rise and honestly I couldn’t be more excited. While I lie in bed at night after a long day of work, class, theatre, and packing I stare at the ceiling. Occasionally a bit of fear creeps up that I can’t shake. At every step of the way, I think am I making the right choice?
But then I take a nice gaze in the looking glass and remind myself of the fear President Roosevelt must have felt at various points throughout his life. From his fear about serving as Commander-in-Chief from the confines of a wheelchair, to rebuilding the nation after the most severe economic crash in our history, to comforting the millions of Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, this man overcame so much. What separates the winners from the losers in life is not a six-figure salary or a nice red sports car, but rather its the act of looking fear straight in its face and vanquishing it once and for all.
Feel free to share stories with your own personal fears and how you overcame them below.