Recognizing the Value of Fear

The first time I spoke in a college discussion was my freshman year, during my 9 a.m. class, “Philosophy of the Person.” I remember meticulously planning out what I was going to say as though it were an inaugural address—trying to string the words together in a way that would impress my professor and desperately hoping that I would maintain a calm, confident tone in front of my new peers.

The moment I raised my hand, however, I felt fear enter my body. My heart sped up and a surge of anticipation made my stomach curl. From the front of the room, my professor spotted me immediately and called my name. It was too late to back out. I took a deep breath and began to speak.

Looking back upon this memory a year later, I recognize how irrational my worries were. Now that I am more accustomed to the college classroom setting, I understand that it is not necessary to censor my every thought or to worry about seeming cool while discussing Plato’s abstract Allegory of the Cave.

With that said, however, fear continues to manifest itself in different aspects of my life, as I am certain it does for everyone. When I think about potentially studying abroad in a country 5,000 miles away from my home, my heart starts to race. When my mind wanders down the path of time and I consider that I only have two years left before I must enter the “real world,” my stomach twists into a knot. When I meet someone of authority or prestige, I can feel the heat rise in my neck and suddenly become acutely conscious of my every word.

Do these intense visceral reactions mean that I should ignore my curiosity to see other parts of the world—that I should resist looming adulthood by turning my gaze away from the future—that I must avoid speaking to people I respect or admire, so as to maintain the appearance that I have no fear?

In the utopian society of the college campus, there seems to be an underlying expectation for us to “save face” and to conceal the fear that makes us human. This paradigm is one that we ourselves perpetuate. As a culture, we are constantly demanding each other to relax—to “chill out,” to be cool.

But what if fear isn’t so bad?

Rather than seeing fear as a weakness or a burden, what if we began to view it as a springboard for opportunity? What if, instead of allowing it to slow us down, we began to interpret it as our body’s natural way of preparing for greatness?

In Amy Bucher’s article, The Value of Fear, she writes, “Just as there seems to be an optimal level of stress for growth and learning, a certain amount of fear can lead to high performance. Fear signals there’s something of consequence on the line, a reason to exert effort.”

The presence of fear, whether it be in a classroom setting, in a relationship, or in contemplating the future, indicates that we are emotionally engaged in our own reality—that we are fundamentally invested in the the trajectory of our own lives. To feel deeply and to embrace all of our innermost sentiments, unconditionally, is to live authentically.

Just as sadness or anger often occur as fleeting flashes of emotion, fear too is ephemeral. At the most fundamental level, it is no more than our bodies’ internal preparation for the unknown, a physical response to the unpredictable question “What is going to happen?” It’s only purpose is to make us stronger—to stir our spirits and to propel us to leap into action. Other than that, it is entirely meaningless, insignificant, illusory.

In her best-selling book The Universe Has Your Back, Gabrielle Bernstein writes, “In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?”

I believe that there is a way that we can do both.

Fearlessness is for the indifferent. I say, let us be fearful—to the very brim of our being—and let us rise in love anyway.

Featured Image by Anna Tierney / Heights Editor