We’re all slaves to fear.
Fear is what prevents us from achieving our personal greatness. Fear is what prevents us from pursuing what we are truly passionate about in life. Fear is what holds us back.
What if we lived a life where we could conquer all of our irrational fears— and we lived a life true to ourselves?
Does fear exist outside of your mind?
First question to ask yourself: “Does fear exist out of my mind?” Meaning — where does the sensation of fear come from?
Biologically we are all wired to feel fear. After all, it is what kept us from being eaten by bears and lions for thousands of years.
Biologically we are all “risk-averse” — meaning, we prefer to avoid risk (rather than prefer rewards).
If you go to a casino, losing $100 will feel twice as bad as winning $100. Similarly in life, we would prefer to avoid ostracism, criticism, and hatred from our peers (instead of winning the admiration, support, and love from our peers).
Do we need fear?
Which makes me wonder — do we really need fear in today’s day and age? Obviously we need some fear to keep us alive. We need to fear drinking and driving, the negative effects of hard-drugs, and to fear the IRS for us to do our taxes.
But in our personal lives — how much fear do we really need? If any?
Society wants you to shut up, sit down, and listen
As children we all start as these creative beings without any inhibitions. I think we feel a lot less fear as children.
However when we get older, we are told by our parents, our teachers, and elders to shut up, sit down, and listen. No longer can we run around and play anymore — we need to sit in the classroom, listen to the rules, and obey the constraints of society.
Society doesn’t want you to be unique. Society wants you to be generic. Society wants you to be a good worker bee, and neatly fit into the social rungs of society. Society wants you to work diligently in school, get a good job, take out a (massive) mortgage to feed the banking industry, to consume and buy shit (to feed the capitalist economy), to invest in stocks, and hopefully one day retire and die.
We can’t necessarily blame society. After all, without all these rigid rules and structures of society — how could billions of people work together, not kill one another, and not starve to death? Coordinating all these people is a huge pain in the ass— so it is in society’s best interest to have us be like good worker bees.
Obviously we can’t do anything we want. We (to a certain degree) need to follow the rules of society. We can’t just do whatever we want. We can’t steal stuff from the store. We can’t go about killing one another. We can’t expect to live somewhere without paying the rent. We can’t feed ourselves without money (or some support of a government).
However what I’m encouraging for is personal liberation — that we can liberate ourselves in our minds. That we can liberate ourselves in terms of our creative and artistic abilities. That we don’t let fear prevent us from becoming the best versions of ourselves. That we don’t let fear to prevent us from creating the art that we want to. That we don’t let fear to prevent us from pursuing alternative lifestyles that we prefer.
Trust me, I’m the first to admit that I’m the biggest slave of fear. For a long time, I’ve been anxious about how people judge me. As a child, I was told that I had poor “social sense” — that I didn’t follow the rules of society, and that I was awkward, strange, and didn’t fit in quite as well. I was bullied a lot as a kid, but I still had a lot of great friends.
I knew from an early age that the world was a bit bullshit. I questioned “why” all the time. Why did we have to go to school and get good grades, and go to college? Did going to a good college really mean that I could become “successful”? Did earning a lot of money and earning prestige really equate to happiness? Why did all these people who hated their jobs stay in their jobs for decades on end — thinking that one day retirement and travel would solve their life’s ills?
The greatest blessing I’ve had in my life is studying sociology at UCLA — and being blessed with all these wonderful teachers who helped me “unlearn” the societal rules, pressures, and constraints. Especially my teachers Terri Anderson and Mark Jepson. I thank you guys so much for helping clear the dirt from my eyes.
Yet still — I let fear prevent me from achieving my personal fullest in life. Fear is what locked me in my 9-5 job (even though I didn’t really like it all that much). Fear is what prevented me from pursuing some opportunities that came my way (either fear of failure, or even fear of success). Fear is that horrible goblin in your mind, that tells you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to achieve what you really want in life.
Life is short
No matter how we try to rationalize it — life is short. We all will die. We don’t know when we’re going to die. We might die today (getting hit by a car, getting into a car accident while texting and driving, or getting punched at a bar and falling onto the concrete skull-first). We might find out one day that we have cancer, heart disease, an STD, or some other illness.
As time advances, we lose time. And we lose life.
Despite what all these scientists say — we will never see the elixir of life of immortality. We are all genetically programmed to die. And that is what makes life so worth it. If I lived a million years (God forbid) I would hate it. We only appreciate what we have a limited quantity of. Too much abundance of anything breeds disgust (as much as I love buffet dinners, I always end up regretting it afterwards).
The average person today will probably live to 80-90 (assuming they don’t die first of any major diseases). The lucky ones of us might live to be 100.
Time is life. Life is time. Time is the only resource that doesn’t increase as time goes on — and one of the only resources that we can never “gain.”
For example, if I lost $100 bucks on the subway, I could always earn another $100. But if you lose even a day of your life, you can never “add” another day of your life (even if you eat probiotics, eat ‘organic’ food, or take pills).
Why is it that we waste so much of our time? Because time is intangible, and we falsely believe that we will live forever.
Empower others by conquering your fears
Knowing that our time on earth is limited— why let fear hold us back?
Honestly, knowing that you have only one life to live, why let fear hold you back from becoming the best version of yourself — and helping others?
The meaning of life
Of course the meaning of life is different for everybody. But for me, it is to empower, help, and encourage others. It is to help alleviate the suffering of others. It is to help others achieve their fullest potential. It is to help banish the fear that others have in their minds.
If you’re a photographer, you probably have a lot of fears. You fear taking a photo of a stranger (and getting beat up). You fear that maybe someone will call the cops on you. You might be afraid that others might think that you’re a “weirdo.”
There are other fears we have — we fear uploading images and not getting enough “likes” on our image. We fear that we will never become a “great” photographer. We fear that our photos are meaningless, and that nobody cares about our images.
In life we are fearful of so many other things. We are fearful that our investments will tank, and we will lose everything, and become homeless. We are afraid of our loved ones dying (before us). We are afraid of our friends leaving us. We are afraid of getting fired from our jobs. We are afraid that our bosses don’t like us. We are afraid that we won’t get that promotion, and we won’t be able to buy that car, and we won’t be able to buy that huge house we want.
3 principles to conquer your fears in life
Banish fear from your life.
Easier said than done — right?
Here are some psychological tricks and mental re-wiring that I’ve personally integrated into my life which has helped me:
1. Imagine the worst-case scenario
One of the best ways to conquer your fears in life is to imagine the worst-case scenario (always).
For example, let’s say that you work at an investment bank. Your biggest fear is that you will lose a million dollars.
Adjust yourself to that. Vividly imagine the worst case scenario (you actually losing a million dollars). What would happen? You would probably lose your job, feel extreme shame, have a hard time finding another job, possibly losing the respect and friendship of some people you know, your partner might leave you, and everyone might hate you.
But you won’t die. Nobody will kill you. Your ex-boss won’t stab you with a knife and let your organs spill out. You won’t become homeless.
Sure you will lose your lifestyle, your friends, and even possibly your family. But you would be able to rebuild your life. And possibly it might be the best thing that will ever happen to you — you will no longer be a slave to a job that you hate. Maybe it will be a “blessing in disguise” that will help you pursue your true life’s passion.
I apply the same philosophy when it comes to my photography. If I take a photo of a stranger on the streets, I imagine (vividly) the worst-case scenario. I imagine the person yelling at me, threatening to call the cops on me, and perhaps even getting physically aggressive. And it has happened to me (many times). But because I have learned to expect that, I no longer fear it. Once someone actually gets pissed off at me, I know that I can just apologize, offer to delete the photo, and move on. And also worst case scenario (someone wants to punch me) — I know how to take a punch (my friends used to box in high school). So I don’t really fear that either (nobody has punched me for shooting street photography — yet).
So as an assignment, for a week vividly imagine the worst-case scenario for anything that scares you.
Are you starting a new business venture? Imagine it will fail.
Are you pursuing a new artistic project? Imagine it will fail.
Are you going to ask out someone on a date? Imagine they will say no.
But don’t let fear prevent you from taking action. Take the fangs out of the jaws of fear.
You will soon discover that the fear of something bad happening is actually worse than the happening itself. Meaning, we over-imagine our fears, whereas in real life, it is never as bad as we imagine it to be.
2. Live in simulated poverty
In modern society, very few of us will ever starve to death and die. Even in the West, the poorest people are the most obese and have no chance of dying.
We live in a society of abundance — no matter how poor we are, we will always be able to feed ourselves somehow.
What we fear isn’t dying— we fear being ridiculed by our friends. We fear social stigma over anything else. But in the past, social stigma meant starving to death and dying.
I think what we fear in our affluent society is to lose everything that we have. We fear losing our home, our car, our devices, our cameras, our luxury goods, our clothes, and our stuff.
We are afraid that we can no longer go to nice restaurants, hipster coffee shops, go shopping, or indulge in any other luxury experience in life.
A good way to no longer fear is to live in “simulated poverty” for a few days. That simply means live far below your own lifestyle, and to subsist on the minimum.
For example, go camping or backpacking for a few days. Realize how little you need to survive. You can just survive with a tent over your head, with some simple food, and lying on the hard floor. For entertainment you can look at nature, walk around, and have conversation with a friend. I am always amazed by whenever I go hiking, camping, or backpacking — just how little I need to survive and be happy. And then I go back to my posh apartment, with all my stuff, and I always ask myself: “Why do I need all of this shit for?”
Another idea: go for a week just eating the cheapest food you can possibly afford. Make a game out of it — see how cheaply you can eat for a week.
For me, that meant eating nothing but eggs (non-organic) for a week. I remember when I was in college— and all I subsisted on were eggs, peanut butter, toast, oatmeal, and water. And I was fine.
Yet nowadays I have gotten too comfortable with luxury — I need my grass-fed beef, my organic vegetables, and my “artisinal” coffee.
If you really did go bankrupt, lose all your money and possessions, you would adjust to living far below your means. Instead of living in a fancy home, you can rent a small room (in a crappy neighborhood) to protect yourself from the elements. You could probably move into your parent’s basement, crash the couch of a friend, or worst case scenario — live at homeless shelter.
For work and entertainment, free wifi is pretty much ubiquitous. You can use any of your devices to connect to the free wifi, do work, communicate with others, and still be connected with society.
For a week, see how little you can feed yourself on. What could you subsist on? Beans, legumes, rice, eggs, veggies, or other cheap foods? Just drink water (and cheap coffee/tea).
For sleeping, just sleep on the hard floor.
Next time you go traveling, deliberately do so in an uncomfortable way. Fly the cheapest economy seats (and don’t fold back your seat), sleep in a hostel, and eat cheap street food. You will find out it isn’t so bad.
And when you practice living in “simulated poverty” for days on end — you will appreciate all the luxury and pleasures you have so much more. And realize you have nothing to fear (in terms of starving to death).
3. Do what you’re afraid of
Many people don’t know what to do with their lives. My suggestion: do what you’re afraid of.
There are a lot of things that we fear in life. But a lot of these fears are things we actually want to do.
For example, here are some things that we are afraid of doing (yet we actually want to do):
- Quit our job, and pursue our passion
- Travel the world
- Ask out someone on a date
- Ask someone to marry us
- Ask a friend, colleague, or boss for a favor
- Writing a book
- Starting a blog
- Having an exhibition
- Starting a business
We are afraid of failure — that is what prevents us from pursuing what we want to do. We fear others criticizing us and saying: “Told you so.” We are afraid that even if we give it our all, we will still fail.
I feel the best growth opportunities are when we do what we are afraid of — and we steadily grow our strength through pushing ourselves.
For example, I love photography and taking photos of strangers. Yet it is what scares me the most. So I have a rule now — whenever I see a person or a scene that makes my heart face, sweat go down my back, and causes me to freeze— I must take a photograph of it. My fear instructs me on what can make a great photograph. And I listen to my fear- and I shoot what I’m afraid of.
So in this way, we can use our fear as a friend and as a guide. What you’re afraid of doing in life is often what you want to do.
Push your boundaries for a week. Try little exercises that will push you outside of your comfort zone.
Ask your local barista for a free coffee (because you’re having a bad day). Ask for a (somewhat unreasonable) favor from a friend, family member, or a partner. Take photos of strangers that scare you. Think of how you can start that business you’ve always wanted to — and imagine the worst-case scenario.
Everyday break one social rule. Stand in the opposite way in the elevator. Do pushups in a public space (at the airport, grocery store, or mall). Say what is really on your mind on social media (without censoring yourself).
Do one thing everyday that you’re afraid of.
These are just three small concepts, principles, and ideas you can integrate into your daily life to conquer your fears.
No matter how hard we try, we will always have some fear in our lives. But the secret is channeling your fear into positive action.
Don’t let your fears to prevent you from personal greatness. You were put on this world to help push society forward, to help others, and be a living example of greatness. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I believe that we were all put on this world to help one another.
But if we don’t help ourselves first (by conquer our fears and irrational desires) we will never be able to help others.
So worry quickly my friend — banish all of your fears as quickly as you can, develop your personal skills and insights, and spend the rest of your life empowering those around you.
For further reading, see my series: Conquer Your Fears in Photography>