The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of OzI don’t think I’ve felt real fear in quite some time. In fact, I may go as far as to call myself relatively fearless. But getting to that point has been a gradual progression.

I used to be a lot more timid. I’d be uncomfortable meeting new people or approaching strangers. That’s pretty much gone these days. I think a lot of it has to do with my job. Shooting weddings for nearly 5 years I’ve had to approach and talk to lots of strangers. The key to overcoming your fears is basically to do what scares you, and realize that you’re just fine afterwards. Each time it gets a little easier until you’re not scared at all anymore.

I remember in high school there was one time I had to present something in front of the class. For some reason, while I was waiting for my turn to present I totally psyched myself out. When I finally got up there, my hands trembled and shook the paper I was holding. My knees were buckling. I could barely get the words out of my mouth.

Why? What was I scared of?

It took some more years of maturing to realize how truly harmless people are. In fact, I think most people in any given situation have the exact same worries going through their head that you do. I started thinking about how I felt when I was watching a presentation from somebody else. Was I judging or critiquing them? Not really. I was usually respectfully listening, and when I could tell people were really nervous up there I actually felt pretty bad. “Don’t be nervous about me, man. I want to hear what you have to say.” So then I started imagining that everyone else felt that way when I went up in front of the class, and I basically got over it.

Lately I’ve challenged my fears more than ever. In starting my own business I slowly but surely got over my fear of calling people on the phone. I absolutely hated calling customers to talk to them, and it’s still not my favorite, but the anxiety is gone after doing it again and again. After all, it’s just a phone call. It’s really not a big deal.

This semester I mustered up the courage to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while: take an acting class. We spent many of the first few classes doing intentionally silly and ridiculous things in front of each other to get comfortable and realize that an audience is just an audience. In fact, when you are the performer, you’ve got the upper hand. Most people sitting and watching you don’t have the nerve to do what you’re doing. I realized I really enjoyed acting, and I usually got so caught up in what I was doing that the audience actually disappeared altogether. It’s not only fun, it’s pretty empowering and I would totally recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t think you have any acting talent. It really brings you one step closer to fearlessness, and the less fear you have, the more you’re capable of doing.

I’m not afraid of bugs, or weird food, or riding in airplanes, or anything like that. My only other big fear was heights. One year of high school my gym teacher decided to do this thing called “Project Adventure.” Project Adventure was 90% climbing shit. The first one was a big net that was hung from the ceiling. I was a little nervous, but I did it anyway and reached the top and felt good. But then things got worse. Kids in project adventure programThere was this thing called the caterpillar that was basically two long 2x4s chained together hanging from the ceiling with little tiny metal studs on them to grab and step onto. It wasn’t tied down at the bottom so as soon as you got on it would wobble and sway from the weight. I couldn’t do that one. I think I gave up when I was only 10 or 15 feet off the ground. I was too freaked out. But most other people did it.

Then the teacher kicked it up another notch. Now not only did you have to climb the caterpillar, but you had to stand on the platform on the top of it. All of this was done with harnesses and ropes for safety. Fewer people could complete this challenge. I didn’t even try because the caterpillar scared the piss out of me.

But that wasn’t all. The final challenge was a big red ball that the teacher tied to the ceiling about 10 feet away from the caterpillar. The challenge was to climb the thing again, stand on the platform, then JUMP OFF and slap the ball. The teacher, with rope in hand, would catch your weight and lower you safely to the floor. I think only five or six brave guys could do that one.

So I guess I’m not totally fearless yet. I still don’t think I’d be able to do these challenges today. It’s irrational. I know I’m harnessed in. I know I’ll be completely safe. I know even if I freefall the worst I’ll do is break an ankle or something. But still it seemed like the scariest thing in the world. I guess it’s just primal. It’s evolution telling my brain to get the fuck away from that cliff. It’s self-preservation.

But then other people have fears I’ll never understand. Today I helped a friend interview some college students for a documentary. We would set up our camera and ask people as they walked by if they wouldn’t mind being asked some questions for a film. Most people said no thanks. They had to go to class or had somewhere else to be, and didn’t have the time. Fine. But one guy said “I’m camera shy” and it got me thinking. What the hell does that mean? What scares people about being in front of a video camera? Or having their picture taken?  If you walk around all day without covering your face up, possibly passing dozens if not hundreds of strangers, why is it any different for a stranger to see a photo of you? I’ll never understand that one. You could put my face on a fucking huge flashing billboard in Times Square and I’d probably post it up on facebook so even more people could see it. I guess I’m comfortable in my own skin.

In the past year or two I’ve cared less and less how I’m perceived. In fact these days I often have fun toying with people’s expectations of me. Just little things. For example, I sometimes like to sit indian style in a chair, or cross my legs. And I’m not talking the masculine ankle-on-knee cross. I will downright cross my legs identically to the girl sitting next to me trying to stop boys from seeing up her skirt. It’s effeminate, but fuck it, it’s comfortable so I do it.

This year I really wanted to dress up for Halloween. I haven’t dressed up in years, but I got the idea that I wanted to go in drag. A lot of guys in my high school would dress up as cheerleaders or something like that for halloween, but go over the top as if to say “hey isn’t it funny that us big jocks are wearing miniskirts and stuffed bras right now?!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Divine, but I wanted to get one of those old Victorian dresses with the big bussel in the back and the white gloves that go past the elbow and a little parasol to top it off. For some reason I wanted to keep my beard, but still attend a party in character and talk as much as I could in a sort of Southern Belle accent. But then the rally in DC came up and all those plans went to shit. Maybe next year.

Without tooting my own horn though, being comfortable in your own skin takes guts. Guts that I find a disappointingly high number of people don’t have. I think people get too caught up in the moments of things and fail to see the bigger picture. They forget that they are going to DIE one day and everything they ever said or did will be FORGOTTEN and ultimately, NOBODY GIVES  A SHIT. I mean, that’s really amazing if you think about it.

So I guess my point is, you should strive to be fearless. If it’s not going to kill you, and it’s something you want to do, you should absolutely go for it. If it’s an experience you think you would benefit from, but you’re too scared to take the chance, get over it and DO IT. Approach that girl. Jump from that plane. Get up on that stage. Tell that guy what you really think. That type of shit is why we are alive. As the Offspring puts it, “There’s more to living than only surviving.”

And check out this crazy motherfucker…