How Facing My Fears Helped Me Move Forward
I failed again.
I walked away from Deep’s house. He was supposed to fall in love with my idea. Everyone else liked it. He gave it to me straight instead.
“I don’t know what’s in it for business owners. You need to be able to show them how your product will improve their bottom line. It doesn’t seem like something they really need.”
The words rang in my head. Everything about me felt heavy. He was curious why I wasn’t doing some social justice venture. He recognized my interest when I was younger. I mentioned there’s a social justice element in here, that I could help more people through business.
I could tell he didn’t believe me. I didn’t either.
His honesty hurt because I knew it was true. Business owners didn’t care. They wanted to improve their bottom line when I had no line to give .
Sitting in the car, I wondered what I did wrong. When I started this adventure, everything lined up for explosive success. Nothing could go wrong. My professors, parents, family, friends, everyone was on board and excited. But, it failed.
My business. The plan. Changing the way we worked. In discussions with people, the business got bigger and bigger. It would change the restaurant industry. Then health care. Then teaching. Then governments. It would be my avenue for creating lasting change. My legacy. My dent in the universe. A way for me to create lasting change in our collective value systems.
That summer, it all seemed to topple down.
Most of the failure seemed to be due to the loss in my habits. I woke up late and operated on a wild and varying schedule. I started one project for the business, then switched to something else. I switched around a lot. I never felt sure about anything I worked on. I moved around from project to project. I feared working on one thing at a time. Nothing stuck.
It caught up when I ran out of money. I fell into bad habits again. I found myself playing video games and browsing the internet. My Rescue Time stats came in. Less than 28% effective.
Part of me felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t quit. I thought of all the wildly successful people who stuck it through. I just need to keep going. But it didn’t feel like a good idea. Am I wasting my time? Should I quit and move onto the next project?
In many ways, meeting with Deep relieved a lot of tension. He was straight-forward and honest. He spoke from experience. He knew what investors wanted to see. He knew me. He knew the game I was trying to play. He helped solidify the decision to stop the business.
So I stopped and moved on to other projects. It nagged at me for months after I decided to move on. Had I let everyone I knew down? Was I running away from something just because it was difficult? Was I giving up on myself?
I needed to explore myself further. I needed to dig deeper. To find out what really held me back from success.
I had no idea what to expect. I spent my flight out to Wilmington, NC wondering what I was doing. Something about the Patterns website resonated with me though.
“We look to identify the routines and mental processes that keep us from creating our best work, and create new patterns for framing better opportunities.”
I read that line over and over as I checked out the website. Exactly what I was looking for.
“We’re crazy enough to think this is the most important school on the planet, and here’s why.”
Here’s a school, with almost no details on the curriculum. No resources to download. No agenda to mull over. Then this guy was crazy enough to say it’s the most important school. In the planet.
Something about him was crazy. Yet I believed him. I wanted in. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to break down what held me back. I wanted to break down my own patterns. I needed to go.
I booked my flight. I had no hotel. No living situation. No transportation. No contacts. Just. Go.
“Grab a sharpie and a post-it pad… We’ll be using this wall over here. Pick a spot and write down all your fears.”
Shit. I felt the familiar resistance start boiling up. I’d felt it during my last venture.
What if I didn’t write what Josh was looking for? What if I didn’t go deep enough expressing my fears? What if they all find out I really have nothing to offer?
I started recognizing these questions as fears. So I wrote them down.
Not being good enough
Disappointing my parents
Disappointing everyone at Patterns school…
The list got bigger.
I wrote more. Going deeper got easier and easier. As I wrote the fears down, my mind came up with responses.
Being bad at sex… (that’s not what she said)
Promising something I can’t deliver… (make less promises)
Disappointing people... (you can’t control that, fool! Just do the best you can)
Giving 100% and being wrong… (you’ll grow just by giving)
Destroying the environment… (do the best you can, homie)
The experience went on and on. Each fear began inspiring me. It felt like a fun game at this point. What other fears can I uncover?
I searched, wanting to go deeper. As I wrote more, they started to hit me.
Abusing a relationship (not totally in control, dude)
Being blamed for Rishi’s death (you’re the only one blaming yourself)
Being a terrorist (dude. Really?)
Ignoring family like I ignored mom’s brother (yeah…)
Destroying someone’s dreams (that would crush me)
Hurting someone else (this is what I’m really afraid of…)
Losing my ability to understand (I’ve been blessed thus far. I hope it lasts…)
Leaving people worse off for having met me (I couldn’t live with myself…)
The more I wrote, the deeper the fears I uncovered. A thread emerged. I was afraid of hurting people in my life.
I thought of my best friend, Rishi. The deep guilt I felt when he passed away came back. I had opened up with him. I blamed myself for his death after the car accident that took his life at 16. I felt responsible. Like I stole this gem of a human from everyone who loved and cared for him. Including myself.
Thoughts shifted to Amreet. She was the only girl older than me that I called my little sister. I felt like I betrayed her somehow. Like I failed to give her passing adequate respect. I remember wondering why I couldn’t cry. The unexpressed feelings for Amreet washed back over me.
Then my mom’s brother. The guilt got deeper. A clear picture formed in my head. I remember seeing my older cousins, my older brothers, walking back down the hallway. The oldest held up his mom and younger brother. Then, the youngest collapsed, his knees hitting the hospital floor. His head tilted back, tears streaming down his face.
I never saw him cry before that.
Guilt flooded over me. It comes and goes and came back full force. Unanswered questions flew through my head as I wrote.
Why didn’t I spend more time with him while he was alive? Why did I become so distant with my older brothers? Why did it take his death to bring us back together again?
I kept writing.
My chin quivered. My eyes watered. Tears rolled down my cheek.
“Alright, that’s it for this exercise.”
Josh walked over. He flashed a glance my way. He recognized the inner turmoil. I was sweating.
We gathered around in a circle as Josh pulled up a chair. He asked about the fears we wrote down, and pointed out some commonalities. I wanted to talk about my guilt and fear of hurting people. My heart beat faster. I kept my mouth shut. I just let other people talk, I’m not sure why.
“I noticed a couple of you mentioned being afraid of being found out. Why do you think that is?” He asked.
A chance to warm up speaking. “Maybe we’re comparing our inside to other people’s’ outsides?” I offered.
“That’s great. what other things do you all notice?”
We sat around in silence. Something about this exercise brought us to deep truths about ourselves. It seemed like we all thought about something.
Josh noticed the hushed atmosphere. He took the opportunity to lead us toward something greater. He did it a lot that week.
“Part of the power of this exercise is identifying those moments we faced our fear. Almost like our lowest points. I remember myself, when I left the family business. My father and I fought a lot up to that point. I knew I needed to get out of the business for everyone’s betterment. He gave me an ultimatum. If I walked away from the family business, he made it clear that I’d be walking out on my family. I decided I needed to go.
“Two years ago, I sat in my car. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel, wondering what the hell I just did. I felt afraid of the decision I made. But it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My wife and I made it work. So many amazing things began happening after I made that decision. I focused more than ever before.
“That was probably one of the lowest points of my life. It was intense. Now, anytime I’m doing something new or scary, I think back to that memory. I know that nothing will be as difficult as that moment. It makes everything else easier.”
Something about Josh’s story hit. About family. About making difficult decisions. About taking responsibility. More memories flooded back. Feelings of letting people down, of hurting those I cared most about, took over my body. Tears streamed down my face as Josh told his story. Here’s this guy, who started this school, wanting to help those who strive to make a difference. Here he was sharing his vulnerability. He opened himself up to us.
The guilt and pain transformed to gratitude. I looked around the room. Ryan, with his award-winning smile and brotherly attitude. Vicki, with her humility about her powerful, game-changing design work. Micheal Kuhn, with his free spirit and brotherly attitude. Sarah, with her drive and focus on helping those around her. Jeremy, with his drive to create change in the world through design. Grant, with his focus on having fun and brightening the world through his work. Jake, with his passion for telling stories and spreading those that matter.
And here Josh was sharing a story so deep and true and vulnerable.
I felt a deep love for each of these people. They opened up their hearts in that space, in that moment. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t hold them back. I tried to be quiet about it.
“Josh is right. It’s powerful to have an experience that you hold as the very worst, where it can’t get much worse than that.” Sarah said. I focused, intent on picking up any insights she offered.
“Almost two years ago now, my mother passed away. She… they chose to operate. After she passed, they came out and asked me if I wanted to see the body. They warned me that it wouldn’t be pretty. I had a split second to decide. If I didn’t, I might never see my mother again. I chose to see her. What I saw disturbed me more than anything I had seen before. She was opened up from the surgery, in all sorts of mess. I couldn’t handle it.
“It may sound bad, but it’s the last memory of my mother that I have. Sometimes when I’m making a difficult decision, or embarking on a frightening journey like starting the blow dry bar, I recall that moment. Nothing could ever be worse than seeing my mother in that state. It may sound bad. Yet it gives me the strength to move forward. I miss her, and it reminds me of her legacy, so I can carry it on.”
It made sense why Sarah and Josh worked together. Everywhere she went, Sarah sought out ways she could offer her own experiences to help others. When she entered a room, you could tell. She walked with an earned confidence. Here was a woman who pushed the design industry forward with her tireless focus on improving her skills. She started a freaking blow dry bar just to challenge herself and stretch her branding skills. She responded to students with genuine kindness. And here she was, sharing such a personal story.
Gratitude, deep gratitude.
After Sarah’s story, we took a break. I felt emotionally drained.
That was the moment things started to click at Patterns. Clarity took hold. It felt raw inside. The vulnerability. The connection. The deep respect and love for each other.
It all started with a tweet by Josh. A tweet that sent me halfway across the US to Wilmington, NC.
Sometimes, when everything is still, I wonder if I’m running away from school. Away from discomfort. Something about Josh and Patterns school guided me. I ran towards the school. In that space, at that moment, it started making sense. This is what I was running towards. This love.
We all walked back up the stairs to resume the class. I had a second with Josh.
“Hey Josh, you mentioned having trouble with your family not wanting you to do what you’re doing.”
“Yeah man.” He said. He was ahead of me walking up the stairs. He seemed focused on getting the class started back up again.
“I’ve got a similar situation. Can we chat about it at some point?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure man.” He replied. I wondered why he didn’t seem so interested in chatting about it. Maybe it’s sensitive? I figured he just had to get the class started back up again. I let it go.
“So what kinds of things are going on with your family?” Vicki asked. She heard me asking Josh to chat. And here she was, ready to lend an ear.
I explained the situation. I described being in the middle of my law degree, and being unsure of whether I should finish or not. She nodded and listened for more. She paused me every few sentences and asked clarifying questions.
“So if not law school, what type of work do you want to do?” she asked. I went into detail about entrepreneurship, about my struggles with running a business focused on helping people with money make more money, wanting to take a social justice bend to the work I wanted to do.
“It sounds like a law degree might be helpful to you.” She suggested. I went on about the struggles of law school, and how the education is focused. She was right in some sense. The education held a lot of value. It helped me grow and expand my horizons. I described how I’d changed. But it might not be enough now. The time and money investment might be better used somewhere else, like investing in self-development through the form of conferences.
“Well, it sounds like you already know exactly what you want to do.” I stopped. She was right. I created this sense of conflict in my mind about what my parents wanted and what I wanted.
When she said that, I recognized a fear. I immediately remember 2 other people telling me that before. “If you don’t want to go, just don’t go.” It sounded too simple. I imagined the decision would come after days of fighting, tears, and making up. The family would battle it out, then recognize on their own that I was right. Then they would all stand behind and support me while I rode off into the sunset to save the world… Ha!
“You’re absolutely right.” I said. I felt the fear rise up. We talked about the fear a little. She pointed out that I might just be afraid of taking responsibility. Right again.
That turned to out to be another turning point in the Patterns experience. I’m not sure if she knew that.
I realized that the only thing holding me back was that feeling of responsibility. I feared being misunderstood. I feared people thinking I was just doing what I wanted to do. I felt my journey was more noble than that. Maybe not. Either way, it didn’t matter. What mattered is that I did the work I needed to do. That I continue working and pushing to improve my skills every single day. That I get to failing, and failing quickly.
I reflected on that moment over and over again. Vicki and I chatted for hours throughout the conference. I looked up to her. She spent her career as an industrial designer pushing the fold wherever she was. She led the international design team over at Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds. She designed entire furniture sets that could be assembled in minutes. Hand crafted with pieces that could be cross-utilized, making them more sustainable and eliminating massive amounts of waste.
At Hasbro toys, she pushed to encourage a focus on sustainability. Vicki described a time she presented the shift in terms of the bottom line of the company. She presented charts and figures on where markets were headed. Sustainability is fast becoming the mark of an industry-leading company, she argued. And it worked.
Yet, chatting with Vicki, you could never tell. She spoke quietly. She smiled wide and often. And she listened to you, making sure to arrive at the essence of what was on your mind.
We shared some awesome conversations. I look up to Vicki and how hard she’s working.
She got to the essence all right. I knew I needed to take responsibility and do my work. I let fear hold me back.
Well, here goes nothing.
Patterns changed my life. Writing down my fears was one of the most powerful things I’ve done.
Take some time right now to do the same. Even if it’s just 5 minutes.
Josh can be found on twitter here. Learn more about Sarah’s main jam here, her blow dry bar here, and follow her on twitter here. Check out their podcast (every Monday) here. Check out Vicki’s design blog/studio here, and follow her on twitter here.
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