“Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the mastery of fear.” – Mark Twain
“…and the absence of fear is stupidity.” – Badger’s high school track coach
A few months ago, I went rockclimbing with a few friends. It was an indoor facility, and I was the only rookie in the bunch.
I had to suppress a chuckle once or twice overhearing the climbers ask each other to “belay me,” which brought to mind the old Ross Jeffries NLP line “below me.” (Belaying is the act of counterbalancing a climber’s weight to arrest a fall in the event the climber loses contact with the rock face.)
I had a decent enough time, I met some of the challenges and got a good workout, but I am going to lie to my readership – the overwhelming memory of the afternoon is one of repeated waves of fear, a dizzying, nauseating fear that rippled from my chest to the rest of my body and combined with the acute soreness to make all my limbs shake. I’m not particularly comfortable with heights, and when you put that together with a new athletic challenge, the pressure to impress these people that I really respected, and a body harness just inches from squeezing my balls, I felt my head and heart start to pound…and I started to worry to myself “what happens if I fail?” How I would look in front of these veterans?
I had honestly not felt that kind of fear, with its blinding intensity, in many many years. Interestingly, it took that shock of fear to make me realize that I am relatively fearless. I’ve rarely had trouble going against the grain of what was expected by others when I thought they were were wrong, taking extra steps to get involved in things I am interested in – or to tell a pal, “you go out if you want – I’m going to stay in tonight.” My steadfast stubbornness was a calling card of sorts when I was younger, and it never really dawned on me that I lacked much of the social fear instinct that inappropriately motivates so many people (oftentimes with permanently disastrous results). Whether it was the pressure to drink heavily or take drugs, to spend my working or free time a certain way, or get married or behave in certain ways around women because it was “what a man should do” at whatever age.
Even with the dedication to the game, the scores of approaches I had done that I’d had no business going into, my nervousness was never much more than getting a shot at the doctor – a brief prick of discomfort, and after a few seconds I’m either in the set talking to the girl, or we’ve separated and I’ve gone on with my day. Even in my many heartbreaks over the past several years, I was always left with a sense of sour disappointment and a desire to do better, but never fear, never a sense that I failing with no recompense, that my psyche thought I was really in trouble.
APPROACH ANXIETY FLASHBACKS
As I was digesting the experience later that day, it dawned on me that I had experienced what a lot of guys go through with intense, even crippling approach anxiety. I have had a lot of success minimizing AA, but I understand that many men are not there, and that the simplest step in the game – opening – is one they have a lot of trouble getting through. The rock climbing experience gave me an anchor of empathy I had not had in a while. It has already helped me better connect with and teach guys who need help with their game, as I can better express a sense of understanding for what they are going through.
I recall when I was a freshman in high school, and a senior varsity football captain came to talk to us before our first game. He told us, “you guys are going to be extremely nervous. I still get extremely nervous before games.” That resonated very deeply with me – this was the guy whose teammates had selected him to lead them into battle, and he’s admitting that HE has to keep the butterflies at bay. That was the first seed of me learning to master my fears, of which I had many when I was starting out in athletics.
Arianna Huffington wrote a book about becoming fearless- a typical modern tome of teaching our young girls to become anything they want, etc etc. I thought the premise was incredibly stupid, because fear is going to be there. Selling young people on the idea that they can banish their fear in a sort of modernist baptism is leading them down the wrong road. The right strategy is teaching people how to push through their fear in the pursuit of things that are worthwhile or that they really believe in.
I hope female readers here can understand what I’m getting at…some of the guys who approach you DO lack fear entirely. MOST other men, including many attractive sociable guys in the sweet-spot greater-beta category, are trying to master their fear in one way or another. I dislike hearing “I don’t want a guy who is nervous to talk to me.” If that is a woman’s belief, then she will only be satisfied by approaches from sociopaths.
Even guys that you think have it totally together on the outside are struggling with this on the inside. We do a lot to quell it in the game teachings, but at the end of the night it’s just something a guy has to fight through. The good news for guys, though, is that there are a lot of girls out there for whom you don’t have to put on a Clintonesque bravado – swallowing your fear for a moment and making a sound approach, and then carrying on a reasonably confident, measured conversation, is enough to get you in the door.
A footnote on the climbing afternoon: one of the girls in the group took the time to belay me on my first couple of climbs, and I was amazed at her ability to keep me from panicking by encouraging me from the ground. She shouted things like “keep going, Badger, I got you – you’re doing great!” in the most positive, confident tone. It really felt good to have someone rooting for me, which took a lot of the edge off of the unnerving first climb. The feeling reminded me of my high school football team, a very tight-knit crew, and the sort of selfless concern we had for each other, the pride we took in each other’s successes.
Even though this woman was obviously female, I believe that kind of collective spirit is what activates groups men and romantic relationships to really push the envelope. The most amazing things can happen when you have a group of guys believing in each other – or a couple believing in each other. You don’t have to wonder “what would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” or “what happens if I fail?” The idea of retreating or giving up never enters your mind. You don’t know how, but you know the team is going to press on.
My God, that’s a great feeling. One of the sad things about the prescribed pathway for the “standard American male lifestyle” is that it takes men away from the opportunities to experience that kind of teamwork again. Watching the game with the guys until your wife won’t let you put off your Honey Do list any longer, until you have to go to work and drone yourself out for a Lumbergh manager who doesn’t give two rips about your performance except to the degree it won’t get his ass chewed by his own boss, does not engender the sort of psychological rush I am talking about.