Two types of stressors exist in our lives. Classical psychology refers to the first as eustress, which you may privately know as good anxiety and nervousness that keeps you sharp. Its more paralyzing cousin, however, is known as distress. The latter has a slew of negative consequences for its bearer. It materializes in many forms, from poor performance to panic attacks. Its common curse for many is a fear of public speaking.
I've had a fear of heights my whole life. I avoided field trips to the top of bell towers during high school, never climbed a mountain peak, which seems to be a national sport of my country, Slovenia. I didn't even rock-climb indoors until I had a complete trust into my belayer. When a New Year's Eve of 2018 struck, however, I was surprised (a gentle way of putting it) with a gift in the form of a tandem parachute jump. It took some planning, but luckily my then girlfriend kept it under wraps until the day before. Once I did it, it changed my outlook. I had turned, or rather, it was set for me. Something that was utterly unimaginable just a few short years ago into something that I've done and look forward to doing.
We can do the same in our lives. Not all victories will be that big or will result in such a drastic shift. However, even small, incremental, but consistent steps over even most trivial obstacles can have had a profound impact on the course of one's life. When compounded over time, it can take our experience into a significantly different direction that we would've otherwise imagined.
On the other side of fear is confidence. One of my favorite movies from childhood, Dragon the Bruce Lee Story, played by Jason Lee Scott, has an opening scene where the narrator says: “We all have inner demons to fight. We call these demons fear and hatred and anger. If you don't conquer them, then a life of a hundred years is a tragedy. If you do, the life of a single day can be a triumph."
In other words, if we allow fear to bind us, we can generate a lifetime of conservative and underachieved life experiences. Worse, with a slew of harmful coping mechanisms and habits, which compound over time and result in anger, resentment, and disappointment, we also influence others around: parents, children, spouses, and others.
Of course, pushing the envelope, changing that mindset, and raising the proverbial bar will come with its challenges. I distinctly, remember going to compete at IBJJF American Nationals as a brown belt adult (18 to 29 year-olds) three weeks after leaving the corporate world behind, as an out-of-shape, 35-year-old executive three weeks before. My first match was against a then Brazilian World gi Champion. I was outclassed 15 to 0 with the only shred of pride being that I did not submit. Not even a month after leaving a progressive, well-paying career of 12 years, I was dealt a considerable loss. It was more than losing a match; it was losing an identity. All the doubts I spent four years addressing before taking a leap of faith whispered in my head: "I told you so." Was I a complete tool to do this? Did I leave a comfortable job only to have a very brief grappling career?