[The following is an example of my writing process. It will most likely be a part of a chapter, possibly the introduction, to my book The End of Fear Itself. I offer it here as Day 14 of my Year Long Daily Blog experiment, and a glimpse of my writing process. It is NOT a polished piece; it is me, thinking out loud about the core concept and thesis of my upcoming book. This is how it works, for me anyway. Enjoy. You can listen to me read this by clicking on the audio file below]
In order to tackle a problem, we must first determine what that problem is. Part of that is to define the terms. The term I’ve chosen to use for our problem, is Fear. But what is Fear? How do we define it? This sounds like a simple enough question, but that’s deceiving. It’s not at all simple.
Fearing Fear Itself
In a discussion on Anchor, my friend Antonio Vereen, a veteran of the U.S. Military, took umbrage with the word Fear. For him, it is a very ugly, negative word, and emotion. He basically argued that he did not have Fear, but was instead, on occasion, ‘afraid.’ I’m sure his distinction stems from his training in the military.
Fear is a real problem in all armies, throughout history, something I’ve given thought to, since I’m a military historian by training. Fear can destroy a military unit, quickly, and reduce it to a pile of bones and blood, if not checked, and checked quickly.
Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs
Antonio’s distinction between Fear, and being afraid, is interesting. It’s the difference between a noun, and an adjective. When we ‘noun’ something, we give it form, and a certain reality, beyond just an emotion or idea. It becomes solid, in a way. An adjective, on the other hand, is just a descriptor of a state of being, which is more transitory in nature than a noun. It’s less solid, which may be the reason the military prefers the word, afraid, as opposed to Fear.
The only thing more transitory than an adjective, would be a verb, which depicts action, or state of being. Instead of “I have a Fear,” we could say, “I am fearING,” which means “Right now, I am in a state of Fear,” not constantly carrying around a ‘thing’ called Fear. In this state of mind, one can realize that to fear is a transitory thing, not a solid, negative object that is always in our minds, and always there to block us. It will dissipate over time, or it can. Fearing is only truly destructive, when it becomes Fear, in other words, when it becomes a noun and decides to take up residence in our minds as a permanent force.
Even as a verb, fearing can be destructive if it causes us to freeze when we should act. In a military unit, this is the kiss of death, and the reason why they adopt such mantras as ‘fire and maneuver,’ because sitting still when under fire, is not a good thing to do. Your enemy can zero in on your position, and bring intense fire upon you. If you are in constant motion it is very difficult to do that. It’s harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one. That’s a very good lesson for life, as well.
There IS No Stationary
To remain stationary, is an illusion anyway. Nothing in the entire Universe is stationary. Every rock on the Earth is moving through space at an alarming rate, because the Earth is moving through the Solar System, which is moving through the Milky Way, which is in turn racing through the Universe. Nothing is stationary. But when we think of ourselves as ‘not moving,’ we allow our minds to be controlled by negative thoughts, more often than not, instead of positive ones.
Action is the friend of positive accomplishments. It is also the way to achieve clarity. The personal life-coach, Philip McKernan, uses the motto, “In the absence of clarity, take action,” which is essentially the same thing as fire and maneuver, or as the great General George S. Patton used to say, “When in doubt, attack, attack, attack.” Why? Because if you are in doubt, so is your enemy, or your opponent, or the rest of the world. That gives you an advantage, if you can suck up the courage to take it.
The other reason, is that no matter what happens, when you take action, you will always, always, gain more clarity. If you fail, fall on your face, or crash and burn, you will learn something, mainly, “That didn’t work!” And that gives you clarity, because you now know what DIDN’T work, and can try something new.
There’s a phrase in modern business that is becoming increasingly popular, “Fail fast.” What does that mean? Well, it acknowledges that failure is just part of the process of learning, of growing, of figuring out very cool things. To fail fast, means that you learn those things that don’t work, quickly, and get on to those things that do work. The faster you fail, the faster you gain clarity, and can find what does work.
Fear of Failure
The Fear of failure is one of the most common fears that we all have, to one degree or another. We hate to fail. Why? Because along with failure comes criticism, something else we hate, and at the root, there is a Fear of death, or annihilation: a root Fear. Sometime back in the Stone Ages, our ancestors were faced with death around almost every corner. It was a daily threat. Failure to kill that wooly mammoth might mean starvation for the tribe, or it might trample you into fucking dust!
This Fear of failure has become a real problem in the modern world. We have blown it out of proportion. Failure has become a very dirty word, and we have internalized it. If we fail at doing something, we tend to think of ourselves as being a Failure, a noun in other words. We objectify it. It moves from the verb, failing, to the noun, Failure, and we identify ourselves with the noun, instead of realizing that it’s just a verb. We failed at something. So what? Let’s just try something else! But instead, we say, “I am a Failure,” which is self-defeating, and bullshit. The only way to become a noun, is to stop moving.
Nouns don’t actually exist anyway.
As I mentioned before, everything in the Universe is in constant motion. Because of this truth, there are no things, no nouns. Yes, nouns serve some useful purpose in language; they allow us to chop up reality into recognizable bits that we can talk about. But in reality, the real reality, there are no bits; everything is connected, and everything is in a constant state of flux: every thing in the Universe is verbing, not nouning.
Let’s take the following example. Is there a table, or desk, or chair in your room? Take a look at it. It seems to be a thing, a noun, does it not? You can touch it, move it around, and it’s still there. It’s solid.
But is it?
If you were to take a powerful microscope and examine that table closely, what would you see? You’d see smaller, and smaller bits of what we call matter. But the more you turn up the microscope, the more you find that there are immense spaces between all of these so-called bits of matter, and as you go deeper, you’ll eventually find that there IS no matter at all. What you’ll find, as scientists have, is that in the end, it’s all really just vibrating energy: nothing solid at all.
So that table that you think is a noun, a thing, is really a verb. It is table-ING, not being a table. It simply doesn’t exist as a static table. It is a dynamic, vibrating EVENT. It is transforming every millisecond, and so is everything else in the entire Universe.
Only One Way to Fail
So failing (a verb), can never make you a Failure (a noun). It’s impossible. That being said, you can certainly take on the appearance, or feel that you are such a noun, a Failure. But that can only happen if you stop trying, if you give up, quit, and accept failure. Einstein once said that the only way to fail, was to quit trying. That doesn’t mean that we can’t fail. It just means that it shouldn’t stop us from trying something else, something new. Not every attack, or attempt at success will work. In fact, the vast majority of attempts do fail.
Thomas Edison tried 10,000 versions of the light bulb before he succeeded in creating one that worked, and was efficient enough to sell to the public. He was determined to create the light bulb. He set out on a mission, and continued to press on, even after failing 10,000 times! And what would the world be like if he hadn’t pressed on? We shall never know.
Fear is most destructive when it is a noun, as it is in the title of this book, and in Roosevelt’s speech in 1933, when he most famously declared that “The only thing we have to fear, is Fear itself.” During the Great Depression, Fear was almost almost tangible. One could almost touch it, taste it. It was for sale, almost like a commodity. One might argue that it has always been a commodity, or at least a tool. It certainly is these days. It’s a powerful tool, used to control, to coerce, and cajole entire populations into doing the most destructive things: draw us into war, fuel greed, hatred, prejudice, bigotry, racism, and terrorism.
Maybe we should think of Fear as fearing, or being afraid, like my friend Antonio suggests? To fear is understandable; it happens. To be afraid, likewise. But to objectify, to take that verb, that adjective, and turn it into a noun? It is deadly, destructive, paralyzing. And to be paralyzed is to become a target for any number of negative things.
Danger of Standing Still
The most destructive thing about standing still, isn’t that you’ll be shot, or run over by a train, it’s that you will not. Because at least there would be an end to failure if that were to happen. No, the biggest threat of being paralyzed by Fear—as a noun—is the opportunities that pass us by, that we don’t seize, because we were standing still, shaking in our boots.
To miss out on opportunities is to be a Failure, a noun. To fail to accomplish something, while trying, is just failing, a verb. Let’s be verbs, not nouns. Instead of having Fear, let’s just acknowledge that sometimes we are fearing, we are afraid. But then let’s suck up some courage and attack, attack, attack! Let’s be a verb and keep moving. That’s the only road to success, and the sure fire way to kick Fear’s ass.
So my next book isn’t about the End of FearING; it is indeed, about the end of Fear Itself, fear as a noun. It’ okay to be afraid; it’s natural. Fearing is natural, as long as it doesn’t become Fear. It’s time to put an end, to Fear itself.
Please check out my good friend, Antonio Vereen, and his blog. He’s a 20 year veteran of the U.S. Military, who now works as a program manager. He writes on various topics, including success strategies, basic life advice, and his experiences dealing with depression.