eric kim photography-000942black and white minimalist

How to Conquer Fear

Dear friend,

What if we conquered all of our fears in life?

What if we had no fear?

eric kim photography-000942black and white minimalist

What if we had no fear in our lives? How much more could we achieve? How much more could we do?

What would we not be paralyzed by?

I believe that we have so much untapped potential — yet, fear holds us back.

We are all slaves to fear. But *how can we make fear our slave?*

I want to share some of my personal experiences overcoming (some) of my fears in life. These might or might not work for you. But try it out.

1. Deadlift

(Above: Lee Winroth, a 16-year old girl deadlifting 420 pounds at 147 pound bodyweight).

One of the best ways to conquer fear— know that your body, strength, mind, and soul have no limits.

I think the deadlift is the best exercise to help build confidence in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, how old you are, or how strong you are.

The deadlift isn’t a competition with others. It is a competition with yourself. For me, powerlifting and deadlifting is like a Zen meditation.

I started deadlifting when I was in college, when I was 18 years old. I had no experience, and I remember I could barely deadlift 135 pounds (45 pounds on each side). Yet, fast-forward 10 years (28 years old) I maxed-out 1 repetition of 420 pounds.

The secret was simple: each week I tried to increase 2.5lbs-5lbs to my maximum deadlift.

My workout is something like this:

– Start off with ‘dive bomber’ warm-ups, as well as hip-thrusts
– Start off with a lighter weight, and do 3 repetitions
– Add some weight, and do 2 repetitions
– Add more weight, and do 1 repetition
– Add more weight, and do 1 repetition
– Add more weight, and do 1 repetition
– Add the maximum weight you can lift, and do 1 repetition

That is pretty much how I gained more than 250-300 pounds to my deadlift in 10 years.

When I go to the gym, it is like my Zen dojo/garden. I put on headphones, and I zone out. I just listen to empowering hip hop music (Kanye West, Jay-Z, ASAP Ferg, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar), and I let the worries of the outside world drown away. I focus only on my workout. All fears, anxieties, and frustrations fade away. All that exists is me, the bar, and the 45-pound plates on the floor.

When I deadlift, I need to focus my entire focus, energy, and soul. If I get distracted by any negative thoughts, I won’t lift the weight off the floor. I usually do deep breaths, close my eyes, zone out to the music, lose a consciousness of myself, and then contract all my muscles and lift the barbell with all my strength. In that moment, I feel my body and soul separate. It is probably the closest thing I get to a ‘spiritual experience.’

The biggest surprise is knowing I have no limits. I remember the first time I deadlifted ‘4 plates’ (four 45 pound weights on each side of the barbell) which is a total of 405 pounds. I never thought it was humanly possible for a scrawny Asian kid like me to do. I was still able to do it, at around 155-160 pounds.

Which made me realize— I have no limits. And neither do you. We cannot be pleased with a plateau. We need to keep pushing ourselves beyond the plateau.

But the secret is steady growth. Once again, I think anyone can add 2.5 to 5 pounds to their deadlift. And the gym sessions don’t need to be long. I deadlift only once a week, and the whole workout only takes me around 30 minutes.

I also believe that powerlifting-style is superior to body-weight exercises, or bodybuilding with repetitions. If you focus your entire energy and attention into just your ‘1 repetition maximum’ — it is a different experience. It transforms you. You feel like a fire-breathing dragon. After I finish a new ‘1 repetition maximum personal record’, I literally feel like I am invincible.

So first step to conquering fear — make yourself physically strong. Signup for a gym near your home, and start doing deadlifts.

2. Learn to love rejection

eric kim hanoi lake street photography

The next step to conquering your fear: learn to love rejection.

Our buddy Seneca teaches us:

When we knock on the doors of the influential, expect that nobody will answer us.

Perhaps the modern version can be:

When you send an email to an influential person, don’t expect a response.

Many of us don’t take risks in life, because we are afraid of rejection, afraid of looking stupid, afraid of being ignored.

But what if we lived a life where we didn’t fear rejection? Better yet— what if we learned to love rejection?

I think we are afraid of rejection in many ways. For me, I know I want everyone to love me. Even though 100 people give me positive feedback, that 1 negative feedback can ruin my day.

I have therefore learned through street photography to learn rejection. My personal rule is if I see someone I want to make a portrait of, I must ask them—no matter what. And before I ask them to make their portrait, I expect to get rejected. So if I do get rejected, I don’t take it personally. But most of the time, people surprise me by saying “yes.”

This can be applied in so many ways in life.

We might think we’re not that attractive, and we might see other people we want to ask on a date. But we are afraid that they are ‘out of our league.’ Yet, you never know until you ask.

So don’t talk yourself out of taking a risk, by thinking to yourself:

“It is pointless to ask, because I know I’m going to get rejected.”

Naw, fuck that. Rather, think to yourself:

“That person is going to say no. I’m going to ask anyways, because I never know until I ask.”

I like the saying of Jesus:

Knock, and the door shall be opened for you. Ask, and it shall be given to you.

Of course, we will never get 100% we ask for. And most of the time, we will get the door shut in our face.

But don’t fear rejection.

You can overcome your fear of rejection by approaching a bunch of strangers, and ask to make their portrait, and you have to keep asking until you get 10 people to say “no.”

Or if you’re starting a new business, send 100 emails to potential clients, and expect to get no response.

Or ask someone on a date who you think who will reject you.

Expect rejection, but try always. And give it your full-effort. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

3. Domesticate pain

eric kim street photography black and white hands hanoimonochrome -0005801

I know this sounds a bit weird— but let me explain.

Many of us fear pain in life. Pain of discomfort. Pain of hunger. Pain of rejection.

Yet, if we re-train ourselves not to shy away from pain — you will be able to snap fear’s neck.

a. Intermittent fasting

For example, I used to be afraid of being hungry. It is uncomfortable to be hungry. It hurts. But nowadays, I practice ‘intermittent fasting’ — I essentially only eat one big meal a day. I don’t eat breakfast, I don’t eat lunch, and I don’t snack. I just eat dinner. Of course sometimes I cheat, but the big lesson for me is knowing that I can endure hunger.

The benefit of fasting from food is that I have more energy, more focus, and I feel physically and mentally stronger. I also have a lot more time and energy to do creative work.

Humans can fast without food for a week and not die. I think most humans can go at least 30 days without food and still survive. So what do we fear? 24 hours without food isn’t a big deal— many major religions in the world do it.

If you’re not used to fasting, just start off by not eating breakfast. Just eat lunch and dinner. Then transition into just eating dinner.

It doesn’t matter how much you eat or not — the point of fasting (for me) is learning how to be comfortable with the hunger pain. And knowing that you have nothing to fear.

b. Cold showers

A practical way I have made myself stronger to pain is taking cold showers. It still hurts a little bit, but it hurts a lot less than it did in the past. It is a constant practice, reminding myself that I can survive this cold shower.

Not only that, I’ve found many personal benefits. I sleep better at night after a cold shower. I wake up better in the morning with a cold shower (it is equivalent to 3 shots of espresso). I have heard it is also better for my skin and hair to take cold showers. And apparently cold showers help us with fat loss. And when I am angry, there is nothing that cools me down more than an icy-cold shower.

If you want to experiment with cold showers, start off with the hottest setting. And end the last 3-5 seconds of your shower with icy-cold. Then transition that time— start reducing the hot shower time, and increasing the cold shower time. Then when you feel brave enough, start full-ice cold. The secret is deep breathing.

c. Pushups

Along with deadlifts, I like pushups. I do pushups anywhere, at home, at the cafe, or even in the park.

I once read something from either Bruce Lee or Muhammad Ali — a reporter asked (one of them) the following question: “How many pushups/sit-ups can you do?” And (maybe both) of them responded: “I don’t know. I only start counting when it starts to hurt.”

Therefore, when I do pushups, I try to push myself past my pain barrier. When I don’t think I can do any more pushups, I try to do 25% more than I think I can. And funny enough, I am always able to.

4. Don’t fear death


Ultimately after pain — we all fear death.

For example, I was once afraid of doing photography/blogging full-time because of the following fear:

– If I pursue photography and blogging full-time, I will go broke.
– If I go broke, I will be homeless.
– If I am homeless, I will live in a cardboard box and be hungry
– And eventually, I will starve to death
– And die

Now this is silly. The real ‘worst-case’ scenario I would have is moving in back with my mom. Which isn’t horrible— she has great food, and I love her.

But the biggest (irrational) fear was death.

But why do we fear death?

I think many of us fear the pain associated with death. But not the death itself.

When we die, we no longer feel pain. We only fear the pain *before* death.

5. Imagine rock-bottom

eric kim street photography hanoi-5

But this is irrational. Almost nobody in the developed world dies of starvation anymore. We die from obesity.

Rather, most of us are afraid of being judged negatively. We are afraid of social stigma. We are afraid of bringing disgrace upon our families and ourselves. We are afraid of looking dumb. We are afraid of losing money. We are afraid of going bankrupt.

My family has hit rock-bottom many times. I remember when my mom had to file for bankruptcy, and we could no longer have a bank account or a credit card. We were just fine. When my Dad gambled away the rent money, and we couldn’t pay rent that month and we might have been homeless, my mom was able to borrow money from either friends or family.

Even with death — when my grandfather passed away, my family was devastated. But eventually, they learned to find peace in their hearts, and move on.

So seriously, what do we fear?

What if we pursue our dream in life, and we become bankrupt? We can always move in back with our parents. Or perhaps adjust ourselves to a lower-standard of living. And the funny thing is that living a ‘lower standard’ of life— a life of simplicity and poverty, would probably bring us more happiness in life. I think some of my happiest times in life was when I was a broke, starving college student, compared to my life now where I am spoiled by abundance.

6. Disregard what others think of you

halmunee-grandma-eric kim photography seoul-0003562-2

I think the biggest fears that many of us have is fearing what others will think of us.

But once again, if we don’t fear pain or death— why do we care what others think of us?

Start off by thinking to yourself:

What do I think of myself?

Don’t consult others. Only consult your own conscience.

Do you approve of yourself, your life, your creative work, and what you do in life?

Don’t crowd-source your self-esteem to others or social media.

Isn’t it ironic that we are all so self-centered, yet we care *more* of what others think of us, rather than what *we* think of ourselves?

Assignment: Share something personal

A good way to stop caring what others think of you — share personal secrets from yourself that you are afraid of others of knowing. Share your financial problems, share your insecurities about your body, share your insecurities about your art.

When you share what you are afraid of others knowing; you will liberate yourself.

7. Put on your diamond-plated armor

You’ve heard the word, “Adamant”, right?

The word ‘adamant’ means to be head-strong, to be persistent, almost to a fault.

The word comes from this concept of ‘adamantium’ — a mythological substance that was thought to be indestructible. Ancient Greek/Roman mythology talks about Mars (the God of war) having a ‘mail of adamantium’ (suit of armor made of adamantium).

Of course, ‘adamantium’ doesn’t exist. The closest thing we have is a diamond.

A diamond is (one of) the strongest substances in the world. You can only cut a diamond with another diamond.

Which makes me wonder, imagine like you are a Spartan, except you are covered with diamond-plated armor. And all your fears in life, negative insults from others, are just like puny little wooden arrows being hurled at you. They bounce off your diamond armor. You laugh.

Visually imagine that. You are wearing this beautiful, gleaming, brilliant armor of diamonds. You are indestructible. You are impervious to all attacks— whether verbal attacks, physical attacks, or mental attacks.

8. Treat today like your last

eric kim street photography hanoi-0005665

If you live each day like it were your last, you will live a noble, exciting, and radiant life.

Treat today like it were your last, because one day, you will be right.

I have had close to death experiences. Eating cashews (before I knew I was allergic to it) and having my throat close up 90%, until the point I thought I couldn’t breathe, and would die. I almost got hit head-on by an 18-wheeler when (accidentally) driving on the wrong side of the freeway.

After these moments, I felt reborn. Like God gave me a second chance at life. I realized that all this bullshit I fear in life doesn’t matter. What is important is that I am alive. And I have the power to help others. So why waste my life, fearing things that will almost certainly never happen?

I know I will die. It is the destiny that we all share.

I treat today like it were my last. If I knew I was going to die tonight, and wouldn’t make it to tomorrow— there are a million things I don’t care about. I don’t care about how many social media followers I have (or how many I might lose). I don’t care about the 0’s in my bank account, what devices I own, what car I drive, what clothes I wear, or what others think of me.

Rather, I only care about the love I share to my fellow soul-mates, and I only care about the creative work that I do, and share.

Imagine you were dying of thirst in a desert. You are crawling for days on end, and finally you find a gleaming oasis. There is a crystal-clear river of water. Yet, you don’t know when it will stop flowing. You rush over to it, and you will drink as much of it as possible, because you don’t know when the stream will stop flowing.

That stream of water is our life. Let us drink up as much of it today — because we don’t know when it will stop flowing.


Hecules killing the Hydra
Hecules killing the Hydra

Visualize ‘fear’ like a wild beast. You are bigger, and more powerful. You pick up fear with your bare hands, and snap its neck. You then decapitate fear by its neck, and throw the head of fear into the fire of Hades.

There is nothing greater, more powerful, or magnanimous than you. You are Hercules, the great Achilles, or King Leonidas from the movie 300.

Be strong, know that nothing can kill you. Treat each like it were your last— share your love with others. Hold no resentment, anger, or regrets in your heart.

Devote your energy, life, and focus in empowering others— and creating beautiful art that will uplift the souls of your viewers.

Don’t be a slave to fear. Make fear your slave.


8 tips how to conquer your fears

Conquer Fear >


How to conquer your fears:

If you want assignments to conquer your fear of shooting street photography, read the free ebook: “31 Days to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography

Scroll to Top