A Life Driven By Fear

Unfortunately, I realize that I am driven by fear more than anything else.

I want to talk about fear.

Because, unfortunately, it has been the greatest motivator in my life. Not love, hope, greed, or joy. But fear.

My favorite quote about fear is from the classic science fiction book Dune, by Frank Herbert.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

– Paul Atreides, from Frank Herbert’s Dune

Hopefully none of us will face the same torturous life and death circumstance that made the main character Paul Atreides repeat that mantra to himself. But fear is a real obstacle to people living a fulfilling life.

In my meditation practice, I’ve learned to identify my most basic fears and try to develop strategies to overcome them. Still a work in progress!

For those who want to see the scene on YouTube from the 1980s cult classic movie Dune, here it is:

Fear of Failure, Because Everyone Will Laugh At Me

Fear of failure is worse among those who have actually been successful at something. Who wants to be a one hit wonder?

This is the big one.

It is the most fundamental of my fears. And it leads to most of my problems in everyday life because it is the most limiting.

It is also the most insidious, because it can hide itself as wise caution or common sense. But once you take reasonable precautions, this fear simply becomes an irrational roadblock.

Manifestation: When opportunities that can really change your life for the better arise, you are paralyzed and indecisive.

This fear makes you not try that career change because maybe you won’t be as successful as you are in your current job. So you cling to your current job even though it makes you miserable.

This fear makes you not try to date that attractive girl (or guy) who’s currently just a friend but whom you think could be your soulmate.

This fear makes you not do anything that you aren’t 100% positive will be successful. Which is basically anything that you haven’t done already a million times.

Solution: The simplest way to overcome this fear is to set your own success criteria. Do not accept society’s or anyone else’s criteria.

As the Stoic philosophers would say, the only thing you can control are your thoughts and intentions. If your success criteria is to try the best you can, to learn from the experience, to enjoy what you are doing, you’ve already achieved success.

For the things outside of your control (such as the actual results of your actions), you must treat these with indifference. Sure, it’d be nice if the entire world acknowledged your greatness, but it doesn’t make you successful.

I had a fear of starting a blog, because perhaps no one would read it or I would be criticized by others for my views. But if my success criteria is to express myself and adding to the dialogue of the world community, I have already succeeded.



Fear of the World, Because It Is a Dangerous Place

My parents always taught me that the world is a dangerous place.

This is a fear that many who have faced physical danger or have been victimized have.

Although I personally have not experienced this, my parents have. And, having grown up with their fear surrounding me, I cannot help but be affected.

Manifestation: When any situation arises with an unknown variable, you automatically assume the worst possible motive and worst possible outcome.

When the doorbell rings unexpectedly, your first reaction is to hide and act like no one is home. You are not curious and welcoming.

When traveling to a foreign country, you assume that the people there will try to harm or cheat you. You avoid interacting.

When a new person joins your team at work, you fear for your position in the hierarchy or even being replaced. You view them as competition, an adversary.

Solution: The best way to overcome this fear is to test it and see how it is unfounded the vast majority of the time.

When I moved to China, my father was totally against it, telling me that the Chinese would try to kill me, believe it or not.

(The fact right before I moved there was a news story about an American tourist stabbed and killed in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics didn’t help.)

Having lived in New York City and Philadelphia, I actually felt very safe in the large, first tier cities in China. In fact, most locals tended to treat me with kid gloves. If I allowed this fear to rule me, I would never have had all the wonderful experiences I did.



Fear of Loss, Because I Will Never Recover

I also feared losing resources – resources that might be critical to survive the next calamity.

This fear results from the scarcity mindset. This is common amongst those who have experienced deprivation, as my parents and, to a lesser degree, I have.

I am overly fearful of expending personal resources – money, time, energy, health, or even material goods –  because I believe I may never regain those resources.

And then, when a big problem arises, I would be disadvantaged and may not survive this new, potentially existential threat.

Manifestation: You become instantly miserly with your resources. To the point where you are unwilling to expend them on any enterprise unless you are guaranteed you will get a positive return.

You are commitment-phobic. Combined with the Fear of Failure, this makes it even more difficult to try new ventures.

You will only spend money when you are absolutely sure that it would be worth it to you. You will be especially reluctant to be charitable.

You will cover your beautiful, expensive sofa to preserve it for years to come so you will never have to buy another one. But you will protect it. You will cover it to the point where it’s unrecognizable and indistinguishable from any plain, poor quality furniture.

Solution: This is a tricky one because, like Fear of the World, it is based on initial first hand experience. And, similarly, the best way to overcome it is to test the fear.

I found out that except for time, all these other resources are really not that scarce and are recoverable. And I may even find a gold nugget of incredibly valuable experience.



Divide and Conquer

As I said earlier, I’m still working on my fears, but since there are so many manifestations, it can be overwhelming. So I’ve decided to concentrate on just one, specific fear and take concrete actions to overcome my fear.

I’ve already started this blog. So my next step could be volunteering my time to help the elderly. Or approaching complete strangers to fill out a survey. Or apply for a job that my peers would scoff at.

How about you?

What type of fears do you have? And how do they manifest?

By the way, if you want to read the book Dune, you can order it below on my Amazon link:


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