3. Smashing Through the Brick Wall of Fear

The absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is mental illness.

Po Bronson

I’m scared every day. I’m scared people won’t think I’m doing this for the right reasons. I’m scared since I’m everywhere at once and nowhere all the time I won’t have the opportunity to settle down and have a family. I’m frightened something will happen to a loved one while I’m too far off to reach them and I won’t be there for someone who needs me.
But here’s the thing. I’ve also realized that fear is normal. If I didn’t get a little tug in my stomach before something big, it wouldn’t be the right thing. Fear is energy mangled and a pow­ erful motivator, so I just turn it into something positive. When you’re scared your senses are heightened. I use my fear to hone my intuition. I’m alone a lot in countries and situations people at home wouldn’t be comfortable in, but nothing bad happens to me. Why? Because I make smart decisions, but also because I use my senses and I trust my fear to have its place when there is something to truly be scared of.

Be forewarned, though: the toughest obstacles most of us have to overcome are the direct result of our own fears and insecurities. It’s good to get a handle on these issues before you worry about anyone else.

What Are We So Afraid Of?

“Who are you, anyway?”

Whenever we take a big leap, we know that no matter what happens, our life will probably be different. To many of us, taking that leap is scary.

Always do what you are afraid to do

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

To break the cycle, the fear of the unknown has to become less than the stale acceptance of the current situation.

The Great Apartment Disaster of 2008

I wasn’t willing to deal with not having water for an undeter­ mined period of time. At that moment, the pain of remaining in the situation became greater than the pain of making a change.

I’m glad we made the change, but it never would have happened if the pain of the apartment situation had remained strictly an annoyance instead of the disaster it turned into.

Overcoming fear: The Twin Stories of Sean and Aaron

When the apartment was flooded, I was forced into thinking about change.

some of them were ready to embrace the uncertainty of change, and others weren’t.


Typically, the people who are ready to change want the change more than almost anything.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get out of this situation.”


He said he had intended to follow up, but a number of other things had happened.
“What is it with this guy? He wants this so bad, but he isn’t willing to do anything to get it.”
I felt like Aaron wanted someone to take him by the hand and make decisions for him.

Meanwhile, Sean didn’t wait for the opportunity to come to him.

“They say time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself.”

-- Andy Warhol

Building Your Own Net

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

-- Paulo Coelho

"Leap and the net will appear".


a list of all the things you’re afraid of at any given time.


Apply the “no regrets” mind-set.

At first I said, “No, I have a lot of work to do,” knowing that I had a meeting to attend and the other people at the meeting would wonder why I was absent. For the next couple of days, the decision nagged at me. I finally called my friends back and went with them to climb the mountain.
I know this sounds like a small decision—giving up one morning’s work—but at the time it felt incredibly freeing.

By applying the “no regrets” philosophy, I experience a big shift in perspective. I can climb mountains on a workday. I can go to countries that most Westerners only read about. Twenty years from now, I know I’ll be glad I did.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

-- Dale Carnegie

Take the worst case scenario

“What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen?”
“Will the world end if this does not go the way I expect?”

Create mass accountability

Sean invited anyone who was interested to follow along with his goal. Each day he posted updates: “It’s been 72 hours since my last cigarette . . . ,” “One week down . . . ,” “90 days without a smoke . . . ,” and so on.

Give yourself a carrot

Some people may be uncomfortable with linking rewards or punishment to achievement (“Shouldn’t the process be enough?”).
I bought a new round-the-world plane ticket when I sold the proposal for this book.


Forcing the active decision.
First, it often encourages us to step out in our fear.
it will at least get it off our mind.

Sloane was able to conquer her fears and go to the Philippines, while lots of other people considered the idea but then dropped it.

Most of us are like some combination of Sloane, Sean, and Aaron. We have big dreams and ideas, but we also have big fears. The quest to overcome fear is lifelong, and almost no one is truly fearless.


I was terrible at live video. When I first starting talking to a camera, I froze up. I had trouble main­ taining eye contact with the camera, I rambled in my storytelling, and I used too many filler words.

I sat next to an actress who gave me some good advice. She said, “People don’t want you to be an actor. They want you to be yourself.”