Every time I’ve ever accomplished something worth doing, I’ve been scared.
When I started this blog, I was scared. When I embraced it more, and I started to reveal myself more, started to say things people didn’t like, I was scared. When I made I Have A Therapist I was scared. When I worked on Sleeping on Strangers on the Subway with my friend Saul, I was scared.
When I became religious I was scared. When I moved to Israel, I was scared. When I moved there again with my wife, I was scared again.
I’ve always been scared.
I discovered a truth within that fear. A truth that continually comes true: fear is a signpost for meaning. It is a sign that whatever you are about to do, say, or believe is meaningful to you.
It is a sign that you are going in the right direction.
Whenever I did what I could to avoid fear, I regretted it. Practically every addiction I’ve ever had, from pot to video games, has been an attempt to stop feeling fear. An attempt to stop facing up to the things that mattered to me.
Why do we get scared when we’re about to do something that matters to us?
I think it’s simple: if you fail at something you care about, it can be a horrible feeling. If people attack you for saying something you sincerely believe, it will hurt… a lot. If you believe something and it turns out wrong, you will feel like an idiot.
On the other end, if we never did anything we actually cared about, we would never be scared. If we never said what we really thought, we’d have no problem opening our big fat mouths. If we never believed anything, we would never be proven wrong.
It’s much more comforting to be neutral, to avoid our fear. I think all of us do it to an extent, the only question is how much and when.
Ever since I figured this out, I’ve tried to chase my fear. If I was scared to write about something, it was usually a sign I should write it, for example.
But I have so many blind spots, and it can be so hard when I wake up and realize I’ve been avoiding something out of fear, rationalizing myself away from it.
Most recently, that avoidance involved my religion. I’ve been questioning a lot, you see. Looking at things from different angles.
For example, two big questions have been battling inside of me:
1. Am I sure about my position about science and religion?
2. Do I buy the Hasidic idea that my rebbe, the Rebbe, is infallible?
I’ve only started thinking about these things. For months and months, I avoided them out of fear. I didn’t look at them. And it ate me up.
This is not, to be clear, a blog post encouraging people to question their faith. It is a blog post about the fear that makes us avoid the questions that matter most to us. The thoughts we most need to address. And the missions we are all called to.
I’ve come to realize that addressing these questions with fear, avoidance, and denial, was how I avoided all the big questions and missions of my life.
I’ve learned this in one easy way: beginning to delve deeply into the questions themselves. Investigating. Learning. Not jumping to conclusions but existing in that fear, in that world of ambiguity that leads towards clarity.
Anxiety, fear, even pain… these are not all bad. They are hard. They hurt. But they are not evil. They are opportunities. Opportunities to rise higher. To dig deeper.
And so, now, I’m scared. I’m scared because I don’t know where my questions will lead me or how people will react if my views change.
But I do know one thing: the fear led me here. The fear has caused me to see that within me is someone who deeply cares about these questions and their answers. There is someone who is willing to risk the way people look at him to be honest, to be clear-eyed, to be always sparkling and alive and thinking.
The fear led me here. And like a treasure hunter, deep sea diver, mountain climber… the bigger the fear, the closer I know I am to my goal.