Choosing Growth Over Fear In A Time Of Uncertainty
Sometimes the only way we grow is to do things that scare us
In September 1962, John F. Kennedy, Jr. told 40,000 people at Rice University the United States was going to the moon. Kennedy’s speech is an oft-quoted masterpiece that united the nation behind NASA’s race from the Earth to the Moon.
We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
The space race was not popular in America in 1962. Most of the country conceded to Russia when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April 1961. When Kennedy gave his first moonshot speech to Congress in May 1961, 58% of Americans opposed the idea.
Kennedy persisted. Not because it was an easy victory, but because it was hard.
Most of the technology Neil Armstrong used to land on the moon did not exist eight years earlier when Kennedy spoke at Rice University. NASA’s decade of unprecedented advancement is because of Kennedy’s willingness to pursue his vision despite the difficulty. NASA’s moonshot forced the United States to grow and become a better nation.
(Granted, the 60s were not a great decade for most people. However, the technological developments of the 60s pushed the United States into the modern age. NASA’s advancements resulted in the ubiquitous technology we use today.)
How often do we put something aside because we’re afraid of the difficulty? Putting ourselves out there, facing potential rejection, it’s hard. But sometimes the only way we grow is by doing something that scares us.
Our world has drastically changed over the last week. COVID-19 is causing mass quarantines, lockdowns, and lack of basic supplies. While this is a scary and uncertain time, it’s a time we can all grow together.
Tackling Kennedy’s moonshot alone was impossible. He broke the difficult goal into multiple projects assigned to companies and teams across the country. None of us can solve this crisis alone (Though, if you can, please do so because, you know, that’d be fantastic.). Though we can tackle smaller things within our control. These things may not help society, but they can help us deal with the fear and difficulty of the situation.
I’m not coming to you today with all the answers. I’m just as scared about health and finances as everyone. But what I have are things I’ve done to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and ways I’m trying to grow. These things aren’t easy, but they’re helping me and I hope they can help you, too.
Fear makes hard things even harder. There’s a lot to be afraid of right now. But let me tell you what doesn’t work: taking fear head-on.
I’m afraid of heights. Well, heights by themselves aren’t so bad but ledges, no thank you. Years ago in the Bahamas, I ended up on a 45-foot cliff with friends jumping off. Yes, it’s as clichéd as it sounds. Somewhere in my lizard brain, an irrational thought arose, “if I jump off this cliff I’ll conquer my fear of heights.”
I took my fear head on. Do you know what happened? After almost dying, I strengthened my fear of heights. I realized the fear is there to keep me safe and not something to conquer.
So now what do I do when I’m on a ledge or a tall building? I redirect. I focus on something else if the space is unavoidable, or I literally redirect my body toward shelter and safety.
When we dwell on our fear, we cannot move past it. It makes the hard things even harder and prevents us from growing. Likewise, when we take fear head-on, we’re more likely to fail.
The first way we tackle our fear is redirecting toward something else. Nadia Bolz-Weber suggests redirecting toward love, which is a brilliant idea. But find what works for you.
A few weeks ago, I decided to leave my job of fifteen years. A job I love at a place I love. The decision was hard — in fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — but I know it’s a decision that will allow me to grow.
This hard decision built up a whole additional level of fear when COVID-19 became a reality here in the States. I don’t regret my decision, the timing just sucks.
To grow, I had to accept this new reality. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can put my logical mind to work and plan what I can.
(This is a great time to purchase a subscription to my writing. Thanks!)
For me, planning meant budgeting. I’ve been using You Need a Budget for years. It’s a fantastic budgeting app that gives Carla and me control of our finances. We sat down and accepted our new reality and rewrote our budget. It was hard cutting things out we care about, but it was necessary.
Instead of looking at our budget as letting go of things we enjoyed, we’re readdressing our priorities. These things might be important, but they aren’t a priority right now. Right now, what matters is our health and safety. Everything else takes a back seat.
This realization, accepting what is important and what might not be, is an enormous opportunity for growth. When we get through this situation and I find new income (seriously, please subscribe to my newsletter), our priorities will change again. Maybe not back to what they were, but to something new.
I’m a massive introvert. Like almost off the chart introvert. But also am a skilled community builder. Go figure. In a time of uncertainty, connecting with those who are most important not only helps us grow but also keeps us grounded.
When we’re facing hard things and we’re gripped by fear, it’s easy to think we’re alone. We’re never truly alone. In these uncertain times, we need to connect with our communities — be they friends, family, or random online strangers — and seek assurance and guidance. Leaning on those important to us allows us to grow, not just individually, but together.
Social distancing does not mean social isolation. We may be physically isolated, but now it’s more important than ever to reach out and connect with people. Thankfully, we have more tools at our hands than ever before to stay connected. We just have to put in the effort.
I’ll admit, when gripped by fear, it’s hard to reach out. The fear tells me not to put in the effort and the introvert part of my brain says “avoid people.” But, remember, Kennedy didn’t want to go to the moon because it was easy. We grow when we connect with those important to us.
At the same time, we’ve got to know when to disconnect.
After privately announcing my resignation to friends and staff, I announced to the community. I posted the announcement and turned my phone off for a few hours. People reached out with their messages of love — which I greatly appreciated — but at that moment I needed to disconnect.
Likewise, in this time of complete uncertainty, we need to disconnect from social media and the news. In small doses, both are fantastic tools. But when there isn’t anything else to do, we can easily drown in a sea of misinformation. Before we know it, we’re spiraling back into fear and uncertainty, moving further and further from growth.
And it’s completely intentional. Did you know we’re exposed to military-grade psychological propaganda every day? Neither did I until I read Benjamin Sledge’s explanation of white and grey propaganda.
News outlets and social media companies demand our attention to monetize our time. They play on our fears and trap us in their web. If you only take one thing from this piece, let it be this: fear breeds more fear. Sometimes the only way to break the cycle is to disconnect.
I’ve taken more walks in the last two weeks than in the previous two months. No headphones, no social media, just walking outside. Disconnected.
It’s been wonderful.
We’re at a unique moment in history. We have the choice to give in to fear or to do the hard things and grow. I’m choosing growth and I hope you’ll do the same.
Some days are better than others but the more I redirect, accept, connect, and disconnect the more control I have over my fear. And when I take control of fear, I can tackle the really hard things.
We chose growth not because it is easy but because it is hard.