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On The Other Side of Fear - Liz Villanueva, 28

God is sneaky. He put everything amazing and truly worth having on the other side of fear. It’s no accident that the most amazing things in life are hard, distant, and riddled with unseen obstacles. If we could look back in history I’m pretty sure that the origin of regret came after countless failures that derived from fear. Fear brings doubt, which then creates hesitation. That brief hesitation floods the mind with motionless thinking, which then leads to surrender. In the end, we sit there defeated. And finally, if we repeat the same cycle often enough we learn to give up and live with regret. How do I know? I was there for a long, long time. So what’s on the other side of fear? Everything amazing! The catch is that aiming for amazing is demanding, punishing, and inconvenient. No one can have amazing accomplishments without hard work. This kind of hard work is especially unforgiving because there is no clear path. There’re no guidelines or multiple-choice options, like we have in school. I think about it this way. Where is the most amazing place you would like to visit? What would it take to buy the most amazing house? What would it take to aim high and attain a truly satisfying career? What would it take to have an amazing relationship? What would it take to climb the highest mountain? Like I said, amazing is hard to do! And after much thought, I’ve realized that fear was my gatekeeper. It kept me away from living freely.

As I learned to pay attention, I realize that very few dream big and choose to work relentlessly to get there. It made sense. Very few see an enormous mountain and choose to climb. I learned to admire those that pursued amazing, but I didn't know how to push myself hard enough to get what I wanted for myself. I automatically came up with reasons why I didn't or couldn’t do something during my moments of hesitations. I had several lists of limits that I recited silently in my head. I pretended not to care. I learned to settle for the little I had, pretending to be okay, but I wasn't. At the time I thought I was being grateful for the little that I had, but I was hiding behind settling. I can only see that now, of course. I’m not the type to climb real mountains, but I had many metaphoric mountains. My mountains dealt with insecurities, past mistakes, bad habits, and living in sameness. I couldn't see my truths. Motionless thinking is powerful, forceful, a one-way street that led to the same place every time. By the time I realized that I was in the same place, lost once again, I’d already missed opportunities for progress and growth.

Life was passing me by for a long time. Somehow motionless thinking blurred anything and everything in front of me. Knowing wasn't enough. Being smart wasn't enough. Any encouragement wasn't enough. Nothing mattered when fear, doubt, and sameness were in the way. I knew I could do more, but didn't now how to pursue amazingness with passion. Fear was in my way, which made giving up so easy to do. Mountains are so hard to climb. I constantly climbed and fell. I tried again, but then retreated a thousand times. I felt stuck, and stuck became my mindset. Past mistakes haunted me and missteps discouraged me. I’m sure that at some point I accepted my defeat and surrendered. I accepted what I had, only to ignore so much more that I could have. It's complicated, but honest. I’ve cringed as I’ve written these words, but feel humbled by them also. I feel some sense of freedom because I’ve kept this to myself for so long. I decided that admitting my truths openly was a good way to no longer hide behind my list of limits. These words are my way of climbing giant mountains. It’s taken me a very long time to put my words together because climbing is such an uphill struggle. Still, writing down my thoughts has been worth doing because I’ve understood my fears and many mountains along the way. More importantly, I was also learning how to climb and replace my mountains with reachable goals. Looking back, I was always looking for that right thing, person, or experience that would push me to live the life I knew I could live. I went through so many online searches, books, and blogs that emphasized that the answers to my questions were inside of me. Despite the many times I came across those words, deep inside I couldn’t accept them for myself. Feeling stuck and overwhelmed became my default mode, a way of living everyday. My mountains were massive by then. I’d wasted enough time and opportunities for a better life. My turning point was not sudden. It was slow. I didn't want to climb alone, but I had to. I had to learn to try again after failing. I had to get past feeling stuck. I had to accept that my path would not be easy.

I started with commitment. I made a choice to learn to understand my fears. What do they sound and feel like? How do they work in me? For the first time I wanted to know for myself. I was invested and determined. I thought about them night and day, that's what it would take. I held on firmly to these difficult thoughts and questions. I wanted my truths to consume and motivate me. This climb was different than many other failed attempts. The difference was that I wanted true understanding for myself this time. I had to learn with costly mistakes that my fears were a mindset. I had to learn to do something about my own limiting perspectives. It took really being open to new ideas beyond my own. It was my old ideas that kept me motionless. One question eventually led to many others. I was researching and reading tons of different perspectives. What makes people driven, successful, happy, and amazing? How do people overcome fear? How does fear work? I researched and read as much as I could on these topics. Books were always best. There was a lot of gibberish out there, but I learned to get past vague advice.

Eventually I learned to think for myself and finally asked myself the right questions. I say the right question because they were motivating. The goal was to create a clear picture of what I could accomplish if I wasn't afraid of failing. I went from reciting lists of limits to asking myself how I could remove each one out of my way. Removals required new approaches, force, and sacrifice. I slowly learned to apply the many concepts that I was reading about. If something didn’t apply, I learned to adapt the concept my situation. I began by asking general questions, but progressed into asking specific questions about myself. For example, what does amazing look like for me? What’s my plan when I feel like giving up? I don't want to take away from the hours, weeks, and months it’s taken to figure all of this out for myself. I believed that I could do amazing things, even while living a simple life. Searching for answers to my questions without letting them go into motionless thoughts was extremely important. Those answers were important because they replaced default modes.

For a long time I searched for answers instead of thinking about them on my own. Tell me what to do! Tell me how to do it! But it doesn't work that way. I read a thousand times that I had to learn to slowly process what my fears felt like. I realized that my fears were not about trembling phobias; they were about overpowering emotions that blurred everything great in me. My fears masked my potentials. I protected myself and felt defensive so that I could excuse myself for failing or not trying at all. For me feeling fear was about feeling numb and doing nothing. When I felt fear I did nothing. I was afraid of failing. I learned to ignore thinking or whatever was too difficult. It was all happening in my own head, but didn’t know it. I also read that I needed to understand what my fears sounded like. I realized that back then, I asked questions that didn't need answers because my past beliefs already responded on autopilot. What if I sound stupid? What if something goes wrong? What if I make things worse? What if it’s a mistake? Am I good enough? All of those thoughts kept me powerless. That’s what I meant by limiting perspectives. I had to learn about the importance of my own thoughts and words. I learned to catch myself saying things that excused my motionless thinking. I had to work my way out of feeling stuck and overwhelmed. What did my fears look like? I could see myself crying, and those that I love in the distance. My established beliefs could see defeat in the mirror and disappointment in the people around me. I could imagine a future of sameness, as amazingness passed me by.

Much of what I was reading was about courage, discipline, and influence, but my fears blurred the details. Those are all just words and ideas, until they are turned to small steps and reachable goals. I was also reading about motivation and finding purpose in life, but rarely stopped to breakdown those words into actual goals that would keep me motivated despite feeling lost. Saying that my goal was to be happy or fearless was not a real goal. When the option to do less was present I took it every time. My wants, words, and potential did not match my actions. The key all along was self-control and goal setting. I had to learn the hard way that lasting motivation and finding purpose in life only came after self-control and setting in motion simple strategies, not the other way around. It took me a long time to unscramble that simple thought.

Replacing bad and almost invisible habits and exhausting emotions was a big step, but only came after forcing my fears out of the way. I had to learn to be comfortable outside my comfort zones, which also took time to figure out. It was a constant battle between my old self and the new self. The old me constantly and silently dragged me backwards. It was always fear. My new self learned to like thinking, exploring, doing, and reaching my true potential. Thinking and choosing a simple strategy was like a working on a puzzle. Every piece I added was one more step in creating a clearer picture in my mind. I kept track of the many pieces that didn't fit. I don't feel right anymore when I’m not working toward my goals. What do I really want? What will it take to get there? I had to learn how to define amazing for myself then work backwards. Once my fears and limits became controllable, I gave my mind permission to dream big and to work toward amazing.

So, what’s on the other side of fear? Personally I have found pride, confidence, and growth. I’ve also gained the satisfaction of knowing that I’m aiming at living an amazing life. I defined amazing as it pertains to my life and on my own terms. I realize that I didn't have to visit the farthest place on earth, but I like going to nearby places where I’ve never been. I like the idea of saving up for major trips with family and friends. I yearn for new experiences with them. I don't have my house yet, but I’ve saving up regularly. I’m endlessly working on making my current place feel inspiring and warm. The goal is to fill it with memorable experiences. I feel radiant as I savor smiles and laughs because of the home I know I’ve created by design. I’ve found a partner that understand and inspires me. Our relationship is about respect and exploring new places. I’m happy to say that my career is as planned and on the right track. I love what I do. The environment and people around me are easy to admire and I’m making a difference in the lives of other people. I’m so glad I decided to stay in school while I climbed my mountains. My career has been an important part of my inner growth, but my decision to pursue higher education allowed it. I often wondered if it was wroth it - a thousand times yes. I feel empowered to live life at my true potential, which makes life fun! And most importantly, I have a new sense of ambition that inspires me to explore life on the other side of fear.

~ Liz Villanueva

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