The Fear Chronicles 4

There’s one question we all have, and it gets talked about in different ways: why. Why do things that scare you? Why do things that are risky? Everyone seems to have a different perception of what’s scary, what’s risky, what is worth it, whatever “it” is.

I read something I liked in a book today, Chips of Red Paint, which I got free for Kindle from Amazon (I read a lot of random books because they’re free for Kindle). “That’s how you accomplish things in life. You don’t sit around talking about it; you just do it. If you really want to go far in life, you do things that are hard and that you think you can’t do.”

Is there something to be gained from pushing yourself, from doing things that scare you? Would it be better to always take the safe path? It’s easy to say, “go for it, just do it,” etc. etc, but how do we deal with the fact that sometimes things don’t turn out as we want them to? The nature of risk is that the outcome is not guaranteed. We love it when we take risks and we succeed. We hate it when we take risks and we lose. And so it’s back to why, and it becomes more than just why, and also how. I’m curious to hear from others, but I’ll say what I think. I think that every creature must take risks in life, and we’ll be taking risks whether we “choose” to or not, simply by virtue of the fact that we are finite and the world is endlessly full of unknowns and external factors. Things don’t stop happening, ever, and we are very small. Though we have run with the power to manipulate the environment and to rule life or death over all other creatures, still, we don’t control everything and though we fight it kicking and screaming, we are mortal.

For myself, I think that taking risk in a reckless fashion is disrespectful of the miracle of life. I feel it’s my duty to keep my eyes and my mind open, to work hard to understand the meaning of risk and to treat it with the utmost respect. I believe that everyone’s choices in this regard are legitimate. I hope the choices are made with reflection and intention, and that the choices are framed as “I will” rather than “you should”.

My friend Andy Lewis wrote something on facebook I found very poignant yesterday:
“Life is riddled with twists and turns, happiness and sadness, loyalty and betrayal, success and failure, dreams and reality, and sometimes the most challenging of all times is the in-betweens of these extremes. However, the hardest of times for most people seem to exist somewhere between these extremes. The inevitable question that both inspires and haunts me on a daily basis is “what’s next?” Does it have to be more intense? More complicated? More dangerous? And the faint whisper of my own consciousness asking myself if I will ever be satisfied… with anything, is starting to raise it’s voice. Will anything ever be enough for me?? It’s becoming more and more apparent that life is really lived in the moment, the here, the now. The past can’t be changed, but the way you let it affect you can. The future isn’t promised, but it is somewhat predictable, which I can’t deny. As for whats next? I don’t really know, i’m just going to keep dreaming. Am I satisfied? Not even close, but its moments like these that warrant emotional redefining because happiness and success have bumped up to a new scale. Live in the moment, control your life, and do it now.”

What do you think?


  • Mike McManaway

    Whats next? Couldn’t agree more. You are a great writer Steph!

  • Michelle

    It might be that what motives a person to do risky things and push beyond fear is a big part of the equation. If you are unhappy in yourself, and are feeling forced to try to push yourself into places of fear because of how it makes you feel, than that might be something to reconsider. But risk from a healthy place of love and exploration could be an amazing tool, and failure in this kind of framework might not be so devastating.

  • Madeline

    Everyone has a different limit for danger, risk, and fear. Just because Sketchy Andy’s is higher than normal doesn’t mean that what he has to say isn’t applicable to the entire spectrum. We look for new, intriguing, and often dangerous things because that is how we move forward in life – curiosity drives us. I find Andy’s interest in pushing limits to be admirable. If more people sacrificed conventional boundaries to stretch the limits of human physicality, skill, or consciousness, the world would be a more interesting place. Steph, do you think being around people like Andy can be contagious? I’ve felt myself feed off other people’s energy to do things that scare me more than if I was alone

  • Trivik

    Last week I stepped on a highline. It was also my first time walking it. I normally feel a pit in my stomach every time I am close to one. This time it actually disappeared. I have absolutely zero fear of walking on highlines now. And the change was instant. But it is still motivating me to walk longer and higher ones. I don’t know if doing things that scare you go hand in hand with pushing yourself but something that grew out of fear has certainly shaped my direction in life (even if fear is out of the equation for now). Will I ever feel fear again on a line? Yes, of course. When I step on a totally exposed line looking over mountains, that feeling will definitely consume me and will be a totally new experience. The fun for me in all of this is that I get to see myself getting over my fears in a controlled manner.

  • Chris Wegener

    Interesting thoughts. Fear has absolutely been a motivation in my life and certainly has lead me to be involved in climbing and to maintain my life long pursuit of climbing.

    For myself, learning to overcome fear has helped me live my life by allowing me to overcome the fear we face in life. And there is no doubt that when I finish a climb the world seems a brighter more beautiful place.

    However there is a darker side to the discussion as well. We need to recognize that our ability to measure risk changes as we age. In our teens and early twenty humans systematically underestimate risk leading to the endless YouTube videos of people doing amazingly stupid things. Further there are individuals who only only feel “normal” when they are highly stimulated. Think Dan Osman and Tobin Sorenson.

    For me, I log ago realized that life is precious and I am unwilling to tale on situations where the consequence is death. I fully understand that there have been adventures that I have embarked upon where death was a possibility but I could live with the risk. I have also suffered injuries that I have overcome.
    I appreciate that everyone must make their own choices. I would just hope the choice is for a longer life rather than a shorter one.

  • don mcgrath

    For me, my best memories are ones created from a event of strong emotion. This is why I love to push things to an edge. It creates strong emotions and great or bad memories, depending on the outcome. The art is being skilled enough to avoid injury.

  • thanks Mike 🙂

  • thanks Michelle 🙂

  • No I don’t, but I feel very committed to listening to myself. I often remove myself from a situation if I find it hard to push away from external energy.

  • thanks Trivik 🙂

  • Thanks for the thoughts Chris.

  • yes, well put.

  • Gra Fuchs

    Para mim será uma busca continua, não por medos, por libertações. thanks Steph and Renato.

  • Autumn

    I’ve thought a lot about this topic in part because I have come to realize fighting my fears often does not lead me to a sense of empowerment, happiness etc. I complete a climb and I feel no brightness, no elation, only relief at it being done and not having to repeat it because I’ve proved I can do it. The outcome good or bad is irrelevant to the emotional state. It is a difficult place to be when both my internal and external dialogues want me to keep doing it because maybe this will be the time I get to the place Trivik achieved, no fear, only confidence, but so far after ten plus years climbing etc. I have not gotten there. Instead I have come to terms with myself acknowledging that while I wish I felt elation, exhilaration and true happiness it isn’t working for me and this sense of overcoming fear has in and of itself become consuming and a negative component of my life. I now belay my partner a lot but climb only occasionally.

  • Hans_Twin

    We (the public) are of two minds, where the question of access to nature is concerned: one side of us wishes freer access for exploiting mineral and agricultural, and recreational wealth; the other wishes to restrict access. For the purposes of comment to *this* installment of The Fear Chronicles, however, we will limit ourselves to recreational wealth. In a climate where there is a dearth of criticism and self-criticism around the so-called “extreme sports,” we wonder from which corner the adult in the room will emerge. Do the socialist states in Europe who host alpine wingsuit enthusiasts, for example, calculate that unflagging tourism in the face of growing fatality statistics mean there is no cause for alarm? We certainly hope not, but must be prepared for this eventuality. Whence, then, the discipline we seek? This blog (and comments thereto) is a potential source of this discipline.

    There exist different forms of fear, one of which is the loss of access to the European counterpart of our (the American cohort) National Parks, if not progressively larger swaths of Earth’s surface to the everyman, due to an arrogant, egoistic few who disrespect everything from the Nepalese sherpa and his culture, to the raw power of Nature herself. Not everyone, even if he or she is so inclined, has the wherewithal to pop in and out of Denali or the Norwegian jetsetter destinations of a weekend, but at least (for now) the possibility still exists. We wish this possibility a chance, rather than stillbirth.

  • Hans_Twin

    Correction: insert “means” for “mean” in the penepenultimate sentence of paragraph one, with a warm wink to the English teacher.

  • Hans_Twin

    It gets even worse. The word in question “mean” isn’t in the third to last, but fourth to last sentence, and while some sources (who are in the minority) do use “penepenultimate” for “third to last,” in any case “preantepenultimate” is the correct usage for “fourth to last.”

    Anyway, we’re not done venting. Where the recreational enthusiast lacks discipline, he or she affects everything from our (as in *all* of us) insurance rates and availability, to freedom of travel, to freedom from (more) scrutiny, to freedom itself. When the armies of insurance actuaries, lawmakers, policy writers, park rangers, police and search and rescue folk (who die for us on a regular basis) and the taxpayer and silent (but in the long term fair) majority who fund them, slow to anger (but whose patience and wealth are limited and conscientiously allocated) and even slower from whom to regain trust, are arrayed against the reckless, believe it or not, gadflies like us (the [potentially favorable] public) are your (the [potentially responsible] recreational enthusiast’s) friend.

  • Olga

    For me doing things despite of the fear is an interesting process of self-discovery. Also I love how many opportunities in life open up when you don’t let fear stop you. So it comes down to risk management and as you said knowing when to walk away from a dangerous situation. My recent mistake was misjudging a lead fall consequences which resulted in double fractured ankle with plate and screws and no walking for 6 weeks 🙁
    Thanks for being an inspiration! Loved both of your books!

  • I hope you heal fast Olga 🙁

  • Zoran vaskic

    Well, it’s a year later, yes I know the world is is busy big place and yeah, people have lots to be occupied with, which could explain why there are no comments here. I could wish there had been some commentary here! That’s okay , because either way, I am personally fascinated with this topic.

    I have come to my own personal conclusion that relates just to me: I can’t think about things anymore…I’ve already spent my whole life thinking about them…continuing to ‘think’ about them, if engaged in, becomes a refusal to do them. And life is ultimately to lead to doing, not just being stuck on the thinking part.

    Some people upon hearing such a comment might want then to set up an opposition between thinking and doing, as if it is one or the other, and not both. But I don’t see any separation, any opposition. To me,thinking and all the feeling and deliberating and soul searching that is wrapped up in it is the necessary preparatory part to doing. We are not a blank one moment and then the next we jump straight into doing with no in between. We are feeling thinking beings, and we are given the wonderful (at times very difficult/painful) privilege of having life presented to us for the sake of: what do I think and feel about this? what,if anything, do I desire to do about it?

    I believe we are born with things inside us, and we are called to engage these things, and they need A WHOLE LOT of consideration, drawing upon, in order to be brought to the surface or reality of our lives. People live their whole lives NOT having the understanding, and just as importantly, the courage, to believe that they too are valuable just because they are, and therefore are worthy to act on the dreams,desires, longings they find in themselves.

    I truly believe it is these two things which are primary in holding any person back from being who they truly are,and therefore doing the things that are true of them, which to me,MUST be ultimated acted upon and not just endlessly deliberated: lack of understanding or knowledge of oneself ( who am I ? ); and fear, which I believe is rooted in a dominating sense of personal unworthiness of anything truly beautiful, personally exciting, personally purposeful in life. Everyone else. But not me.

    To go from living bottled up inside oneself, to daring to live differently by opening up to experiencing new and seemingly risky things means I must at some point come to a very specific point where I decide to BEGIN a new way of living. And it is only a beginning, but a wonderful one I think. Many people do not get to this place;. Ever. Some have been close to this place for a long time but dare not cross that invisible but real boundary line. They are not necessarily lacking just knowledge, but willingness. Which I believe is our greatest challenge. Willingness to pursue what is inside because this is stepping into the unknown. People want assurances first, and stand as if alone in the desert waiting for someone,anyone, to bring them the assurances, the guarantees, that everything will work out perfectly.

    But life does not work this way though. I want assurance of success and safety first….THEN I will pursue this path. For many people, this very attitude creates a perpetual in the future ‘then’. It never becomes now, today. In my understanding therefore,to think like this is to be thinking of the wrong thing. I certainly have mastered this in my life.

    I believe the thing I should instead be looking at, thinking about, engaging, is what is in me, and determining if it’s real,if it’s true. If it is, in a way, that’s all I truly need to know. If it’s in me,and it’s real (and therefore true) I must live (do) it. How it ends up is secondary. This is true even for an extreme situation where my life may be the price that will be paid. This doesn’t mean I am ready to give my life up, nor does it mean one I am to be reckless or careless in any manner. I just mean the principle is true at every level, even the extreme level of losing one’s life. Now, I would not give my life up for the sake of climbing a mountain. For me the path, if it were ever to lead to such a point, is travelled in different terrain. Yes, ,l. what is important clearly varies with people.

    One thing I know, to pursue what is truly in you there must be a willingness to make sacrifices. That is a given. Anyone who has pursued such a path knows this is true, and also that it is obviously true. But it will not be perceived from the chair of the analyst or theorist who will not venture into their unknown. That’s not the place where true understanding occurs. It occurs, imo, only on the path of doing. We can protect our present treasure, which we are not happy or content with…or….come to a point of decision where we choose a different life and then actually embark on it and not just think about it. Am I willing to give up certain things for what I believe is for me and belongs to who I am ? Big question.

    Adventure which is real can begin, where we get the fun and real joy of exploration and discovery as we climb things we have never climbed and therefore never experienced the experiences associated with them. We are now willing to face uncertainties and unanswered questions, it’s not that we don’t have to deal with them anymore. But our attitude and our understanding has shifted. Life remains the same, but we have chosen to move our position.

    I don’t want to use this word negatively and super impose it in a hurtful manner on anyone, but, the word is appropriate to describe one facet of anyone of us at any given time of our life: naivety. A person can naively think (and expect) that if they pursue their heart and begin to experience a life that for them is the greatest thing since sliced bread, others will automatically understand and appreciate (with respect,genuine kindness, encouragement, etc) what is occurring in their life. Yes there are travellers on the way (and there are enough of them) like that, and how absolutely wonderful it is to cross path paths with them or have them as friends. But by and large this path is one where from my experience we spend a lot of time alone. If a person is not prepared to rely on themself to be content and at peace and motivated, my guess is that ultimately (completely unfortunately in my opinion!) they will abandon this path. There are far too many people who cannot understand what we are doing, and then there are those who will disagree with us. We will meet all kinds on the road we choose to travel. That is reality.

    I absolutely love being alone in this way. I never used to. I used to be afraid to be alone this way. Now I want (literally ‘demand’ from within myself) to be left alone to do what I feel absolutely drawn to live out. I respectfully but with firmness and certainty take that right unto myself. In doing so I am not going against anyone else, I am making no statement about them….but simply about myself…even though it may appear that way at times,especially when I don’t go about it with all the consideration for others that I should. What is this statement about myself? That this is who I am,this is what I must do. Have I perfected declaring and asserting my desire to be alone to do what I believe in from my insides while I am at the same time in and around others? No. But, I have made great progress and am learning how to do it better and better. It takes practice! Thats the fun, and sometimes the difficulty: learning how to do it, being willing to do it, doing it.

    I also absolutely love being with people and interacting with them, getting to know them, listening to who they are, where they have been, where they want to go, what they have learned. People are truly amazing when your own joy which you have had the courage to allow to overtake your life,allows you not to be competing and suspicious of them, but rather seeing what is in them. And there are always amazing things there. I learn from others. I could never live simply alone unto myself. That is not living. I need others. I crave to mingle with others on deep levels. I have a need, an absolute need, to share who I am and where I have been, how I got there, where I am going, how I plan on getting there, with others. Not everyone cares or is willing to listen. I understand that and I am okay with it. Part of the reason why what is in me has true meaning is not just because it’s in me and it’s real, but because it is one part of a greater whole comprised simply of other people. We are indispensable to each other.

    And then finally in your blog above you quote your friend Andy Lewis:
    the most challenging of all times is the in-between so of these extremes. However the hardest of times for most people seem to exist somewhere between those extremes.” To me, when we are ‘in between’, we can use it positively, or negatively. It can be a time when we allow negativity, doubt, and fear in, and then we become confused about who we thought we knew we were not so long ago. Or we can use the in betweens to rest, refresh, re-strengthen. These times cn be as amazing in their own way as our ‘high’ moments or times. I think these valleys are part of the natural rhythm of things. They are not to avoided or looked at as our enemy, the enemy to reaching for our dreams. We instead NEED them and ought to learn to embrace them because through them we are enabled to carry on into more high moments and places of living. In fact, without these in betweens I don’t believe we can get to where we want to go. They are reality and God has made them the part where we regroup and get better and stronger. I have watched people( I myself have done this too many times to count in my life) who have real and particular interests in life, and I have watched at times how they will shut down when there is a ‘different’ kind of person they thru necessity end up in company with socially in some setting. Rather than show an interest in who that person is and what special things are contained in this person across from you, the conversation and the company becomes frigid…because someone makes assumptions about someone else. So and so doesn’t appear to be like me, in their likes, in how they act, how they talk. That’s a bummer, I can’t talk or relate to do and so. I call this a mistake, and an in between. The person who shuts down is missing out on a huge opportunity imo. An opportunity to honor another human being with genuine interest in who they may be, and an opportunity to learn from them. I am not kidding. Are we always up for these things? I mean,sometimes we are simply tired. For sure. But. It is these moments, not just our own personal, moments of glory and conquering, that require our courage, our focus. We need others. They need us. It is in this in between place we need to choose to show up as fully as possible as we do in in our private journey. And back to the in betweens therefore of our personal and private journey, we need to show up there too. Take care, I would like to check out more of the blog but right now this has taken a bit of time to gather these thoughts and express them here! It’s worth it I believe

  • Cody Spendlove

    I am not an extreme sport person. This spring I heard Steph speak at UCET. Her comments near the end of the presentation about teaching have been rolling softly around in the back of my mind since then. Somehow, today I found her post about risk taking and the comment by Zoran about “Just get out and Do” and they solidified a concept for me today:

    I get up before sun up and go out into my garden. Until recently, the purpose for doing so has always been about things “getting done” – endlessly long list of things tasks to complete, so that I can be “done” … and move on … to what?

    I realized not long ago, that I do not go out for the garden’s sake. I go out for my soul’s sake. I need to be up before dawn, tinkering, contributing to life, pondering, puttering, praying. And, I will ALWAYS need that time/those moments to begin my day. It makes me who I am, guides me toward who I want to become.

    Realizing that has somehow changed the experience.

    What gets done/does not get done in the garden is now secondary. What happens in my soul each morning is now primary – “Live in the moment, Control your life, Do it now”

    Thank you

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