After realizing that fear was limiting my potential in life, Skydiving was a simple step for me to feel empowered enough to translate that confidence into other aspects of life. Realizing my dream of skydiving gave me momentum to tackle other opportunities. I now had a cool story. As strange as it was, I felt less worthless, as I could add something of value to a conversation.
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job that you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.” – Ellen Goodman
I’ve led a very fortunate life – I have a loving family, a great education, and I’ve had the opportunity to explore the world.
Having seen the full spectrum of standards of living and having close family members who have experienced it themselves, I understand how grateful many people would be to achieve this definition of normalcy.
Ultimately, this statement means that you have your fundamental needs met; you can afford food and water to be physiologically satisfied and you are safe and secure with steady employment, benefits, and shelter.
But at what point does this safety and security turn into complacency?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that humans are motivated by five stages of needs, as depicted below.
However, the opening quote describing the everyday life of a large portion of the population portrays a routine where love, esteem, and self-actualization are sacrificed to fulfill the bottom of the pyramid; a life where the fundamental motivation of the species is stripped away and turned into a life of complacency.
How does a society begin to settle for the bare minimum required to survive when there is a potential for greatness?
Humans are complex creatures; there is an inherent duality of the mind where motivation and fear contradict one another.
5 Types of Fear
Karl Albrecht, Ph.D., explains that fear is an omnipresent emotion that ultimately boils down to five basic categories:
- Fear of Extinction – the fear of no longer being, the root cause of the fear of death.
This includes the fear of heights, flying, and the dark.
- Fear of mutilation – the fear of losing a body part, invasion of personal space, or losing natural function.
This includes the fear of animals perceived to be harmful, crowds, needles, germs, etc.
- Fear of the loss of Autonomy – the fear of being restricted, confined, trapped, or suffocated.
This fear contributes to claustrophobia, fear of commitment, and our fear of dependence.
- Fear of Separation – the fear of abandonment or rejection.
This fear surfaces as the fear of the death of a loved one, the silent treatment, end of a relationship.
- Fear of ego-death – the fear of humiliation, shame, or worthlessness.
Fear can be caused by (1) the awareness of danger or (2) the anticipation of danger.
The former is an instinct that has allowed the human race to survive, but the latter can be crippling.
The anticipation of danger often greatly exceeds the reality of danger.
How can anticipation of danger be detrimental?
The human mind is so powerful that this anticipation of danger can cause a rational fear to quickly escalate into an irrational fear by way of a positive feedback loop – when the effects of a small disturbance increase in magnitude due to an iterative process.
I will use a similar scenario as from Jordan B. Peterson does in 12 Rules of Life, as he describes the manifestation of agoraphobia.
Let’s imagine a woman named Nancy.
Nancy is walking around Chicago and she notices a strange man following her. She begins to walk at a quicker pace and skews from her intended course in an attempt to outpace and outmaneuver this man, but her efforts are futile.
She is approached by the man and experiences the fear of extinction and mutilation he takes her purse.
Luckily, she is unharmed, but the justified feelings of panic and anxiety remain.
The following day, she has to return downtown. As she gets on the train, Nancy begins to notice all of the surrounding strangers.
She panics, thinking they all have the same malintent as the man from the previous day.
She decides to exit the train and run home.
The next day, the anticipation of the surrounding dangers of public transportation and the city hinder her from even leaving her home.
At this stage, Nancy has full-blown agoraphobia.
Although this is a slightly exaggerated example, you can see how easy it is for the anticipation of fear to take control of someone’s life.
This is the same type of feedback loop that people experience once they enter the routine of normalcy. Instead of developing a fear of public spaces, their fear of ego-death (rejection) and separation (worthlessness) overpower their fear of loss of autonomy and allow them to settle for less than they deserve.
How to break the cycle of fear and regain your potential
I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so this is by no means intended as clinical advice. However, for me, facing my fears has been analogous to how innovation occurs.
Much like when innovators look to another discipline to learn how to solve a problem, I faced a totally unrelated fear to begin to overcome my most amplified phobia.
My fear of ego-death had been amplified beyond control – I had to say a food order ten times in my head before I could tell a waiter what I wanted for dinner.
I didn’t want to say something stupid; I didn’t want to be embarrassed.
This was a problem.
For some reason, the fear of ego-death was 50x worse than the fear of extinction or mutilation. Imagine that – it was much easier for me to face my own mortality than it was for me to feel shame.
Human minds are crazy.
Skydiving was a simple step for me to feel empowered enough to translate that confidence into other aspects of life.
Realizing my dream of skydiving gave me momentum to tackle other opportunities.
I now had a cool story.
As strange as it was, I felt less worthless, as I could add something of value to a conversation.
It was the first step in pushing my fears aside and taking control of my life. I now order with no problem and I’m an entrepreneur who is reliant on networking and presenting to succeed.
I’m not saying skydiving solved all of my problems, but it was a step in the right direction.
My voice still trembles when I speak in public for an extended period of time.
I researched this article way too much for the fear of saying something that was incorrect.
I fear to appear worthless, so I overcompensate and take on more work than I can handle at times.
Although this inherent fear of ego-death is still amplified in my personality, I was able to cut off the food source by facing an unrelated fear.
Why haven’t you quit the job you hate?
Why haven’t you taken the leap to form your own company?
Why did you turn down the opportunity to be a keynote speaker?
The root cause is often one of Dr. Albrecht’s 5 fears.
Let’s end “Normalcy”
If you are someone who wants to break the cycle- someone who wants to realize their full potential and experience the beauty of life, consider following in the footsteps of Michelle Poler.
She had a similar, but a more structured approach to making her dreams a reality.
When asked to dream of her best possible future, she analyzed everything that could get in the way.
Because of this, she realized that fear had been crippling her.
She decided to overcome this obstacle by facing one fear per day for 100 days.
From this exercise, she found the root cause of her fears.
Although she did not identify the same fears as Dr. Albrecht, she narrowed her list to seven and made a list of activities to face each of these seven fears.
She discovered that the fears that had been limiting her life were deeply rooted in her cultural, personal, and universal values.
Some had even been passed down from generation to generation, beginning with her relatives that fell victim to Nazi concentration camps.
By identifying and facing these fears, Michelle’s world opened up.
She began to experience emotions that had not been part of her life before and fear was no longer the dominant factor.
In the video, she provides cognitive, behavioral, and emotional tools for facing your fears.
If you feel stuck, I would advise you to take the same route as Michelle- think of your perfect life and examine what is standing in the way. Face your fears and you will experience:
You will connect with people and your environment in a way that you never thought possible and this will translate to all aspects of your life by fulfilling the top tier needs of humanity: loving/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Let’s break this stereotype of a normal life – Are you ready to take your life into your own hands and fulfill your purpose?