On one brightly-colored, fateful day at Huntington Beach in Southern California, I had one of the most interesting days of my life. It began simply enough, with my friend and I going out to relax and celebrate the end of our junior year of high school. He, who we’ll call James, was a remarkably eccentric character, and still is. His varied and outlandish antics usually resulted in rich, deep laughter, but not much more. This was a bit different.
James, a good-looking kid with an innate fearlessness that I could only dream of at the time, approached a group of three girls whom he had allegedly made eye contact with earlier. I followed, we began a conversation, and after a bit, we all started to walk together toward the pier.
Once we had made it a good distance along the crowded, wooden planks, one of the girls decided to say something about hypothetically jumping off the pier. Things escalate, go back and forth, and long story short, they dare James to jump over the railing and down to the ocean some thirty feet below.
I knew from experience that you don’t casually dare him to do anything, because not only will he do it, but there’s a very good chance he’ll take it over the top.
So, James decided to give an impromptu speech, comparing his fearlessness to that of a shark, and eventually referring to himself as a “fearless shark.” Details beyond that fail me, but it was incredibly dumb and incredibly funny.
Before long, he was shirtless and shoeless, only his black jeans (yes, he wore jeans to the beach) keeping him covered as he told me to hold his phone and record him.
As he leapt, our new friends and I cheered, and we walked down the pier as he swam back to shore. I continued to record until he made it back, and prompted him to “say something inspirational” as we looked down at him from the slowly descending pier. He was a bit tired from the swim, but replied quickly as he looked up at us, squinting in the face of the sun.
Don’t let fear control you.
It was stupid and it was trivial, but my life was different after that day.
Fear might not be all-consuming in your life, but there’s a good chance it consumes certain facets of your life. And while James uses his fearlessness in ways that I’d never fathom, the ability to overcome and understand your fear is one of life’s greatest advantages.
There is, however, one main issue with overcoming fear: our instincts. These are meant to provide help to us in “fight or flight” situations, but tend to have a much further reach than we realize: sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and quick breathing all occur much more often than cases of immediate danger.
This overreaction by the body can invoke unwarranted pressure, tension, and fear to battle something that doesn’t deserve the time of day.
So how do you mitigate it? I’ve found that it helps to realize that these responses from your body share a biological origin – in other words, there’s a reason why this is happening, and it’s completely normal.
The number one thing that I do personally to conquer these feelings is simple: take a step back and a deep breath, and weigh the negative against the positive. Realistically consider the worst-case scenario verses the best-case from an unbiased point of a view.
As a wannabe musician, I’d love to play some solo shows at some point in my life, but the aspect of approaching an establishment to ask if I can play is terrifying to me. But what’s the worst they could say?
In so many situations, the worst-case is getting rejected. This is, in my opinion, another way of saying that the negative is non-existent. If your greatest fear is going back to square one, what do you really have to be afraid of?
Fear of rejection is irrational.
It’s important to note, too, that this is life. Take risks, and don’t let fear limit possibilities of what you want to do with your life. At the same time, don’t jump off piers just because. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.
Now James is an actor, in full pursuit of his dreams. I don’t think he’d acted in so much as a school play until he’d begun about two or three years ago, but now, it’s a fully realized passion of his. Last we talked, he had mentioned being in music videos and Amazon Prime pilots. He’s come a long way from being that kid who jumped off the pier, and I believe that his fearlessness is his greatest asset.
Also published on Medium.