To be an enlightened hedonist, one must engage in a process of exploration and discovery. One must uncover the things that are ultimately fulfilling. Those things are often unique to individual interests and not always obvious. There are no short cuts. In fact the surest way to disappointment is to follow someone else’s dreams thinking they are our own. Consequently, it helps to understand what obstacles may lay in the way of our own individual pursuits of happiness.
In my last post, I brought up the challenge of distractions, but there is another obstacle we create for ourselves, namely our fears. Sometimes it is obvious when our fears hold us back but sometimes they can be hidden.
In planning our pursuits we all have to confront our existential realities. Our environments, our social circumstances, and even the laws of science can limit just what we can do. Our fears though, play in to this existential calculus, acting as some other unchangeable reality that we just must accept – unfortunately sometimes we do.
For myself, I sometimes fear I might be “to old” for something, or the best time to do certain things may have already passed. This happens to me every year with Burning Man. It’s easy to listen to the critics that the event has “jumped the shark” while I secretly wonder if I could even survive the experience. So I miss it again, only to find myself another year older facing the same questions – not yet willing to give up wanting the experience, but also not willing to push through the fears and just do it.
I’ve been listening to the Invisibelia podcasts, and came across an excellent one dealing with fear, titled of course “fearless.” One of my take-aways was the fact that our fears are almost entirely out of sync with modern day living. They are remnants of our primordial fight or flight response. As a result, our fears cause us to react way out of proportion to actual risk or threat. We would all benefit if we could be more fearless.
The podcast includes a story of a man who overcomes his irrational fear of rejection, by actively seeking three rejections a day. He knows hearing “no” is nothing to be afraid of, so he asks people to do things he expects them to say “no” to – and they do (but perhaps not so surprisingly as much as he expected). With each “no” he gets, the irrational power of that fear diminishes.
It seems easy to intellectually deconstruct fears but quite another thing to overcome them. If I fear I am “too old” to do something, it’s easy to see how quickly it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps there are similar hacks to be found in naming fears, challenging them, and pursuing their imagined results. Is this not facing our fears?
If I fear failure, should I not pursue failure as a goal? Is this not the same as the phrase “in order to succeed you must first learn how to fail?" These are all such clichés, but maybe we have to keep hearing them in different ways just to sneak past the fears that hold us back.
Perhaps this is also why things like the laws of attraction and positive affirmations can work for some people. They don’t necessarily change the reality of one's circumstances but rather change their perspectives. They enable us to see what really is possible, by removing the things our fears have told us were impossible.
However we deal with our fears, its clear we must develop some tools and approaches for moving beyond them so we can continue to craft the life we find the most fulfilling.