December 26, 2018
Last weekend, I hosted a book sale/reading/signing for a book I wrote and published myself. In the days leading up to the event, I found myself losing sleep and worrying at length as to how the whole thing would go.
This isn’t all that unusual for me. In the weeks leading up to publishing the book in the first place, I found myself very nervous and worried about how the whole thing would go. In both instances, my younger brother told me something wise that assuaged my worries.
He pointed out that no matter how the book sold or how the event went, the big thing is that I did it. It’s way better to try and fail than to simply daydream about doing things, only to never do anything at all. My brother didn’t come up with the idea. He got it from a speech Teddy Roosevelt delivered in 1910. The speech is far too long to include here, but the relevant lines are:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Roosevelt’s point is simple: It’s better to try great things and win or lose than to be the spectator who doesn’t try out of a fear of failure. Fear is a powerful emotion that can easily control our lives and our decisions. This isn’t a bad thing. A healthy degree of fear keeps us alive. I’m afraid of having a heart attack young and missing my children’s lives, so I eat right and exercise.
I’m afraid of lung cancer, so I quit smoking years ago. Fear makes us cautious and keeps us from destroying ourselves in foolish or impulsive ways. There is another side to that coin. Looking back on my childhood, I can see that fear of rejection kept me from talking to girls for years. I can remember an instance where fear of losing a fight kept me from standing up for myself.
I put off seminary for many years out of fear of the hard work involved and the possibility that I would be incapable of doing it. All of those instances are things I wish I could re-do. None of them would’ve killed me had they not worked out.
Fear didn’t save me from dying, just from being uncomfortable. The real problem with fear keeping us from trying new things is that it leaves you with nothing but regret and ‘what-ifs’ in the end.
Over the years, I’ve talked to plenty of folks who say that they’d love to write a book, go back to school, start going to the gym, take up a musical instrument, or some other aspiration. The thing that I have learned from watching people who wanted to try something new or hard, but didn’t (or did), is that it is impossible to conquer fear by doing nothing. The way to overcome it is to face it.