What Would You Do if You Weren’t Scared?

I’m a heaving, grumbling, breathing sack of fears. At any given moment, I’m nurturing two trepidations with another couple on the back burner. Fear of what I don’t know, fear of what I’ll regret, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. Everything that’s ever weighed or weighs me down can been rooted in fear. Maybe that’s true for everyone.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being afraid. As Helena Bala put it, fear is human: “[A]s humans, we’ve inherited [fears] from our evolutionary predecessors. We fear things that we don’t know or understand because we weren’t always the top predators; long ago, humans were prey. To survive, we stuck to what we knew worked.”

But outside of dangerous situations, fear just feels like an unwieldy roadblock. Even if we all know, perhaps ironically, that our fears are often unfounded, we let them determine our path anyway. Worse yet, we pack them neatly in the dark cave of our minds, never giving them the opportunity to shrivel in the light.

If I think back to the things I’ve feared most in my life, they were usually hard and uncomfortable changes I needed to make. It’s a vexing, frustrating order of operations — one I’m constantly pushing myself to remember, to varying levels of success. What I’m saying is, all those internet quotes superimposed on sunsets are probably right: We’re supposed to do what scares us.

When I spoke to a life coach a month ago, she asked me to consider this question: “What’s one promise that, if you could keep it, would change your whole life?” I’ve been turning it over a lot. It’s a satisfying framing through which to challenge the status quo. The same format, I think, can be applied to challenge our idea of the future, if we re-frame it around fear: What’s one thing that, if you weren’t afraid to do it it, might change your whole life? Do you know? Have you thought about it? What’s one thing you’d do today, tomorrow, this year, if you weren’t so damn afraid?

Photo by Susan Wood via Getty Images. 
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  • Quit my job to become a farmer… (really)

  • Néo Bourgeois — Montecito

    Fear? What is that? Don’t know on a posteriori grounds.

  • Carla García

    Spectacular! Thank you for your inspiring work, girls <3 But the truth is that if I wasn't so damn afraid I would go outside of my militarized home and fight for a country where I don't have to be scared of coming home at 6 pm (wich it's already too late, ando too perfect to be mugged or even raped), where I can pay for my own aparment or even a lunch with my salary, and where I don't have to keep my mouth shut about what I think of this autoritary goverment (without being hunt down and probably killed).
    If I wasn't so damn afraid I could give my life for others to have just a normal life, without being scared at 6pm. With love, a venezuelan.
    Big fan of Haley, btw

    • G

      Hope you’re as ok as you can be in your situation. Stay safe!

    • Haley Nahman

      Carla, I so wish you could too, I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing this. < / 3

    • Pamela Bruno

      I’m Bolivian and everytime I hear something about Venezuela I can’t help but be afraid that my country is headed in the same direction. My heart goes to you and your beautiful country.

  • I love that you are asking this question. And it is a hard one to answer when you don’t know if your fears are unfounded or not.

  • Charlsey

    Make music

    • Haley Nahman

      I’d listen

  • Emma

    but the gag is… is that Leandra on the photo????? if so: GOALS!!!

    • Haley Nahman

      Ha, no way

    • Emily Zirimis

      It’s Janice Dickinson back in the day! Courtesy of Getty ~

  • Bee

    Leave my job and move to New York, as I’ve wanted to since I interned in the city during college. The good news is that I got over the fear and did it! It’s only week one of looking for new employment, but I feel really good knowing that I made the leap, even without a safety net, to do something that’s important to me!

    • Haley Nahman

      Happy for you!!

    • tmm16

      As someone who just did this, I can say… It is so fulfilling. Even though I only moved from Philadelphia, I still quit my job, moved without one, and luckily acquired a job and a sublet in 2 weeks before moving. You can do it!!!!! 🙂

      • Bee

        This is so great to hear! I’m happy you’re doing well 🙂 So excited to see what happens next!!

  • Anna

    My gut answer is… everything! Fear of failure holds me back in so many domains. If I weren’t so damn afraid of failure I could be creative, productive, uncompromising in my ethics… I’m going to remember that vision and try to live it.

  • stephanie

    I’d say basically anything to my BART crush.

  • ByeBeckz

    Finished law school, studying for the bar, and I think I live every day in fear of what to do next. Don’t want to be a lawyer and never did. Thankfully have parents who (at least say) they’ll be behind anything I want to do but the problem is- WHAT DO I DO. Always wanted to get back into journalism after I studied it in undergrad and I’m ready to move home to Europe. But where to start? And why would anyone hire me? What makes ME special? It’s difficult feeling like everyone is more experienced, more driven, and more prepared than you. I think (perhaps incorrectly) that pre-law school I was quite fearless & ready for any challenge but the last 3 years humbled my drive and enthusiasm for who I am and where I want to go. Once this test is out of the way though it’s time to get back on track. What’s the saying? The only thing to fear is fear itself?

    Love to see an article on individual writers conquering some fear (not like skydiving, etc- but perhaps abstract things & thoughts). Thanks for this article, needed it!

    • Beasliee

      Maybe they are, maybe they are bluffing.
      Remember most large companies have legal teams. If you find a business you are passionate about, get in via your qualifications and then try to side step to a different area.
      Or look at job recruitment ads – what appeals. Could you do that job? Are you prepared to start at the bottom and learn up?
      You want to be a journalist. Are you writing all the time, do you have a blog, are you writing for free for a small local paper etc etc. Do you want to do this just because it’s pretty opposite to what you are doing and it’s a ‘known’ field? It’s a tough business; is it your true passion?
      Whatever you decide, you can do it if you put in the effort – good luck!

  • Chloe

    Thank you for this, it’s very inspiring and motivational 🙂 I am naturally quite an anxious person and that can wind up with me worrying and being fearful of life itself BUT the one great lesson I’ve learnt is that; it’s all in my control. So, any situation that scares me, whether it be big or little, I always try to go out of my comfort zone and do the thing that I’m afraid of. It’s the only way we’ll grow as humans 🙂

    Have a great week!

    Chloe @ https://girllgonerogue.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Jeanie

    I try to do the things I’m afraid of but want to do anyway. Just too slowly and mixed with a lot of anxious tears. Actually not being afraid would just be a lot more fun and efficient.

  • kforkarli

    Probably hike more own my own

  • nicolacash

    I’d quit my job, travel Europe and/or South America for 6 months, and then move to LA upon my return. Realistically I know I can do this once I pay off my student loan and save a shit ton, but the fear of not having a job lined up when I’d get back from traveling is scary af.

  • tmm16

    Move to Amsterdam. Just moved to NYC, so that’s my next stop.

  • Katie

    Travel more. I am terrified of flying so don’t go away enough…

    Also, not be so scared of ending up alone and just enjoying single life! Mostly I am okay with it but sometimes I panic and fall into the classic ‘shame of being a single woman’ category.

    Both fears are total BS, but both are definitely there!

    Love this article too.

  • nicole


    • Hexe Babajaga

      Do it! I used to be super afraid to share my texts with other people (even or especially people close to me), but then a teacher at university made us write short texts and read them to the other students. I realized it’s not that embarassing after all! Now, I’m writing whenever I feel like it and organize private readings with friends every few months. It’s a lot of fun and very releaving. Start small, find people who write as well, have some wine and share your stuff!

  • oliviafortune

    More road trips. Less rules.

  • I think I would have more friends. I wouldn’t be so worried about what people think of me, so I would let them in sooner.

  • spicyearlgrey

    have a one night stand

  • Marie

    Have a second baby right now!!! But I worry: about my job, will I be able to take care of two little ones, will my little son (11 months) be heartbroken and jealous if he gets a sibling too soon, will my body recover from two pregnancies and births in short order, will we have enough money….
    Thank you Haley for the inspiration, and lots of love from Germany! I love all your incredibly wise+funny texts!

  • I was thinking of something career-wise, then I realized that everything’s covered (for now) on that aspect. Aaaand I’m not want to post anything personal, but I suppose this is what I’m currently most scared of and what the heck – If I weren’t so afraid, I’d let a friend know I’d had feelings for him for a while now. Owning up to “feelings” is easy for a lot of people, hella hard for me!

  • Lil

    Quit my job and move to Paris. If only it were easier.

  • Inaat

    I would travel more. I really want to visit NYC, but it seems so big and where do I stay and where do I eat and where do I go? Please do a NY guide for scared people.