Fear Factor: A Stoic New Year New You Challenge.

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“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”–Dale Carnegie.

Which is why your challenge today is to do something that scares you. Do the thing you’ve been hesitating about. They say not to take counsel of your fears, but that’s exactly what you are going to do today: listen closely and then do the opposite.

Facing my fears. What should I do? Well, let us look at my to do list for the week because we have some pretty suitable candidates. Sign up for a dentist is an easy one. As is do my taxes. But these are things that I already should be doing. Now full disclosure. I have not done them yet this week and as of this typing I am fifteen minutes away from Thursday.

So is there anything else on my list that I have anxiety or fear about?

I have a fear about spending money. I mean, I spent more than I earned last year. I fear if I continue to do that, I will lose my emergency fund/nest egg. Some of my anxiety about going to the dentist is that I know it will be a significant sum out of pocket. (Mid four figures, I am assuming. Papa needs an implant or two.). I have a fear of writing a novel. Again there is an expense attached to project that will probably not break even (Cover art, editor ect).

But are the financial considerations my real fear? With the novel writing I doubt it. What is my genuine fear here? That I will fail. That I cannot complete what I started. That this idea of myself I have in my head will be proven to be a myth. That I will have to face reality as sure as I did in that weekly titty bar motel in 2003.

Tell me about this time you had to face reality.

It was 2003, and I had hit rock bottom. I was living in a weekly motel attached to a titty bar in not the best part of town. I didn’t have a car, and I was making just enough to cover my hotel room as a telemarketer selling lotions to beauty salons. On Sundays, I would wait till the gas station across the street allowed beer sales and would pick up a case of Natural Ice and drink it while watching the VH1 countdown. I would be in this tiny motel room drinking and singing along to the music. Pretending I was still a stockbroker. Pretending I was someone. One day, the beer didn’t work. I realized exactly who and what I was. I made a decision. I faced my fears. I admitted I was a failure. At that moment, I stopped being one. (Relatively speaking).

I became Stoic without even knowing what that was or what I was doing. Within a year, I would have gotten a slightly better job and meet the woman who would become my wife. I would get my driver’s license back and start on a path that has lead me here. To use a phrase hated by many nowadays., I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. I built everything from nothing. Within five years, I was a business owner and on my way. Looking back, the rise I made after that decision was meteoritic. But I had to be honest with myself before I could move forward.

Is that the only time you have faced your fears?

No, I have done it a few times in my life. (Rock bottoms seemed to be a pattern for me in the nineties). In stockbroker parlance, it is rebuilding your book. That is when you make a couple of say poor decisions for your client base and most of them are no longer taking your calls. Sometimes, this is not your fault. Sometimes it is because you got greedy. Either way, you are back at zero.

So now you have to rebuild your book and get all new clients to replace the ones that went sideways. Since you have been coasting for a while, this sudden need for very hard work and high levels of anxiety are a shock to the system. You can do it a couple of times in your career, but at some point you cannot do that again. That was one reason I was no longer a stockbroker.

When my wife died last year, I had to rebuild my book. The fact I had a successful loving relationship for sixteen years was no longer relevant. I was alone and would stay that way unless I got out there.

And you succeeded in doing that?

Yes. But I burned my fingers a little and now I have a fear. It is an irrational fear. I have rationalized it with my fear of spending too much money (Dating can be expensive. Well, expensive compared to sitting at home on the weekend.) But the reality is if I have a serious relationship again, chances are we will be living together and my financial situation will improve.

As an example, is the question if I should reach out to Brooke even though she has told me she doesn’t want to see me again? How much of my reluctance to still try to pursue the relationship is based on common sense? (It had not been going well for a while and she, in reality, is not a good match for me) and how much is based on fear?

One of the problems with fear is sometimes it is quite rational. I have always had a fear of buying drugs on the street corner, driving drunk, and picking up prostitutes. These are reasonable fears that have probably served me well in the long run, even if my fear is probably outsized from the actual risk involved.

Have you ever just done what scares you?


And it always worked out, didn’t it?

I wouldn’t say always. But yes, almost all the good things that have happened in my life were because I did something that scared me and followed through, anyway. In almost all cases, my fears were unfounded, or at least outsized.

So what is your biggest fear?

That I am wasting my life. I have quoted this on my blog before, but words of Pink Floyd haunt me.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

This has happened to me a few times in my life. To make matters worse, I turned into an old man taking care of my dying wife. (There is some actual science to back this up.)

An infamous study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that spousal caregivers who experienced care-related mental or emotional strain had a 63 percent higher mortality risk compared to non-caregivers. Prioritizing your loved one’s needs is noble, but who will care for them if you are hospitalized, develop a need for long-term care yourself or pass away?

I need to live for myself again. What do I really want to do with my life? The years that remain (If any memento mori and all that). What do I seek? Do I seek new challenges? Do I seek a new, loving relationship? Do I seek pleasure? Am I willing to risk what I have to pursue these goals? From a Stoic point of view, do I really have anything at all? “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus

Well, the Challenge is to pick one fear and do the opposite.

You know I did complete one of my to do list goals in going out and socializing this week. But I have been shy. Letting others come to me. I will give myself a challenge to engage people more on a one-on-one basis and ask someone to have an enjoyable meal if the opportunity presents itself. I will socialize proactively.

Am I ready to do this? No. And that is why I have to do this. (Plus, I am still going to do the dental and writing a novel challenges.) I am safe staying at home. I am comfortable staying at home. I need to get out of my comfort zone. I can’t control how people will react. I will face rejection. All I can control is how I react to the rejection. I am sure my fears are unfounded. But I need to face them to move forward in my life. I was able to do this eight months ago. And in reality, I was successful. My fears of trying again are irrational.

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