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Destroying Fear with Stoicism

20131025_173740Fear destroys dreams and happiness faster than any other thing can. Fear of failure prevents us from starting a business; fear of rejection causes us to pass on a dream date; and fear of the unknown forces us to keep working a job well beyond the point we could retire. This simple four-letter word pushes us back against the wall, draining all the vitality of life from us.

Fear paralyses. The opportunity to speak to a group is unrealized because our stomach turns and our heart stops due to fear, as if the audience will rush the stage and beat you. (Well, there was this one time I was speaking. . .) All the happiness you deserve in life is passed each time you allow fear to rule your decisions. There will be failures and rejections. Once you understand this is part of life you can focus on the important stuff and say “yes” to the opportunity for a date with the girl of your dreams or start that business.

Fear is nothing new. Mankind has felt the fight of flight response from the beginning of time. The ancient Stoics knew uncontrolled emotions destroy faster than anything known to man. And it is all self-inflicted!

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

It is all in your head. Failing at business is a possibility. When you see as many business owners over the years as I have you start to see a pattern. It becomes obvious who will fail. Most businesses fail because they neglect to take appropriate steps, which all lead back to some sort of fear. If we do that we could lose clients. If we invest in the company we might not earn the investment back. And, of course, once you allow fear to rule it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But sometimes it does not work out! You build a relationship with a beautiful woman and discover you are incompatible or she is not into you; there is no chemistry. The business you busted tail on for years is not working. That is life. There is no guarantee.

Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor of the Roman Empire, knew life would throw pain, suffering, injury, loss, and death at him. These things were not to be feared. It boiled down to character. Marcus said, “If anyone despises me, that is their problem. My only concern is not doing something worthy of contempt.”

Before turning down that speaking engagement that could build your career, consider Marcus’ words, “It amazes me that everyone values themselves more highly than anyone else, yet values other’s opinions of them above your own.” What is the worst that could happen if you got up in front of a group? Zig Ziglar said he only knew of one person who died while publically speaking. He took that to mean public speaking is a very safe activity.

What could happen rarely does. And even if it does, so what! Fear, that false evidence, wants to take control of the situation. Bullshit! Yes, you could bomb with the crowd. Once again, so what? If you have it in your mind you are going to have a good time and share ideas only you will determine the outcome of the presentation as it relates to you.

Know What You Control

You have no control over how the audience receives your message. You have no control over how the client will use the information you provide. You have no control how the person of your dreams will react to your proposal. It can go wrong! It will go wrong many times throughout life.

Trying to control things you have no control over will drive you insane. Unforeseen circumstances always crop up. Sometimes they destroy your happiness temporarily. Even finding the woman or man of your dreams does not guarantee you will always agree. It does not guarantee he/she will live to a ripe old age. Life has a cruel way of testing our resolve.

You can do everything right and still fail. That is not a character flaw; that is life, so said Captain Picard to Data when Data lost confidence because he lost a game he should not have. You have zero control over the weather or what people think of you. What you have absolute control over is how you interpret the world around you and how you respond. Marcus Aurelius said you cannot be harmed until you first feel harmed. Only you allow yourself to feel harmed.

What Would You Do If You Had No Fear?

It’s a valid question. What would you do? Take some time to think about it. If you knew you could not fail would you save and invest more knowing you are guaranteed an early retirement? Would you start a business if you knew it would be a wild success? Would you walk across the dance floor and ask the awesome woman for a dance if you knew she would say “yes”?

Well, I have news for you. You will never know if you do not try. You have to ask the woman; you need to open the business; you need to give the speech; you need to make the investments. Some will go wrong; some will blow your mind.

Some failures are a blessing. Suppose you see a woman you know across the room at a party. You are sweet on her and she knows it. She has made some indications of interest. You comb back your hair and make a move. She is everything you want in a mate. You build the courage to ask her for a dance only to be turned down. Your heart sinks. Then she puts her hand on your forearm and says, “I’m married, silly. But my sister, here she comes,” she waves to her sister to join you, “likes you. You remember Sally, don’t you?” After a wonderful night you find you have even more in common with Sally than the woman you wanted to date. Best of all, Sally is a frugal gal with some serious investments. She was looking for the right man to enjoy an early retirement with. Damn, I hate it when I get rejected like that.

Some failures are complete failures. Most are a stepping stone to the next level. You don’t want everything to go your way. Sometimes a loss or rejection is the best thing that can happen to you. Once you understand you have no control over the outcome you can open yourself to a world of possibilities. A bloody lip now and again is not bad. It is a lesson to learn.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs saying, “I don’t know if we can do that. Might not work.” What about Elon Musk? Bill Gates? Any successful business leader? You know as well as I that people that do the seemingly impossible are the ones who conquer their fears. Steve Jobs wasn’t born a master presenter. But he grew to be one. Check any YouTube video of Jobs at an Apple product launch. He was a master on stage. He got there by doing it.


You cannot conquer a mountain until first conquer your fear.

The Old Adam

When I was a little tyke I was required to attend confirmation classes at the Lutheran church. Without getting into religion, there was a lesson we can apply to fear. The minister talked about baptism pushing down the old Adam and bringing forth the new Adam, without sin. That is how it works in life. We must continually push down our fears so the new you can rise and do awesome things.

Zig Ziglar said, “You are born to win, but to be a winner you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” Zig was a Stoic and never knew it. What you think about all day long is your reality. If you allow fear to rule then you will suffer the consequences. Only you decide. Only you control your thoughts. Only you allow fear to rule or evaporate.

Fear is an illusion with teeth a meter long or a toothless old woman, you decide. You will never know the love, pleasure, happiness, and friends you would have had if you did not allow fear to rule.

Fear destroys. Mankind has known this from the beginning. The question is: Will fear rule you?