The MuchSmarter Blog

How to Get to the Other Side of Fear

Steve Schecter
October 28, 2015
“Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

David Brooks asks this question at the end of his article, “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion.”  (New York Times, Friday, Oct 23, 2015).

Brooks uses the occasion of an awards dinner honoring Lady Gaga and others to speak about people who do what they do with exceptional passion. At the awards dinner, speaking about her childhood dreams, Lady Gaga said, “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like.”

When we think about the people we admire most, people who have accomplished great things, we often see this trait of exceptional passion.  We this trait in people not just in entertainment, but in every field.  Consider entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Sara Blakely, athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams. Look into any of these lives and you see people who give exceptional focus and energy to their games.

Trying to understand where this passion comes from, Brooks writes:  “I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves…Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing.” 

This intense desire for self-fulfillment causes people to choose an activity that they can give themselves to completely:  Brooks calls it “an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation. People who live with passion do that… By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting…”

Now, what is it that makes so many people stop well short of this kind of passion? Fear.  People often have an unspoken, unnamed fear of approaching life wholeheartedly.  Perhaps it is ultimately fear of disappointment that stands in the way. When we get passionately involved in a game, we allow ourselves to care about it, but we can’t know for sure the outcome of the game. As Brooks puts it, “to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control.  To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.”

Now, what about those people who are able to live a life of passion?  Brooks gives a great answer:

They somehow get to the other side of fear!

There’s the key to opening yourself up to the games in your life: somehow getting through to the other side of fear. 

Over our years of tutoring students, we at MSTYT have found fear to be one of the great obstacles in the path of self-fulfillment. Students are fearful of not doing well, fearful of being embarrassed in front of their peers, fearful of disappointing their families, fearful of not achieving their goals. Fear can hinder the student’s performance in academics or in any of the other games they play by discouraging them from playing the game wholeheartedly.

Now, if fear holds you back from playing your game wholeheartedly, here are two thoughts to take hold of:

  1. Your fear is not you. The way you respond to a situation is not who you are, but merely how you’ve learned to respond in that situation.  I sometimes tell people that I used to be the guy who could be counted on to drop the fly ball in the outfield.  That was the way I had learned to respond – until I learned to catch it.
  2. You can learn to let it go. Letting go of fear, and other emotions that hold us back from playing our best game, is an important learned skill – a master skill.   When we at MSTYT teach people how to approach a subject they previously dreaded or to conquer their test anxiety, we are teaching this master skill.

What would your game look like if you approached it wholeheartedly, and you got yourself on the other side of fear?

If you feel like you could use a little help learning to play your game fearlessly, be it an academic subject or a standardized test, get in touch with us and ask for a Get-Acquainted Meeting. Let’s talk about how we can help you play your best, learn to be fearless, and get smarter.

Until next time!

– Steve


David Brooks, "Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion." The New York Times, October 23, 2015

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