I only truly identified my greatest fear in the last decade or so, at this point I also identified my greatest strength and recognized that what I thought was my greatest weakness was simply not true. I was recently asked to give a twelve minute Zoom talk on my most irrational fear, I recorded a version of this talk and posted it below in its full unedited form, (#nofilter #nopostproduction)
For those prefer to read, the full story is below.
My most irrational fear, I have many fears, often, some of them mild, some of them intense. Did I lock the car? Am I lost on this walk? Can I meet this month's payroll? Is my business going to go bankrupt? Are these people going to insult me? Is this person going to kill me? Am I going to die at this moment?
I am trans, whilst I’ve never truly known what this actually means, it has been something I have lived with for as long as I can remember. It was also, for many years a secret I held inside me, more than a secret, a great source of shame, and a daily source of pain. I truly believed, for most of my life that if anyone found out, my world would end, I would have no ability to find a place in society and I would need to exit this world. For most of my life, I never realized that what I thought was my greatest weakness was actually my greatest strength. That the very thing I was terrified the world would discover was actually my super power. That embracing EVERYTHING that is me on the inside would give me the power to fly. One day, when I had resigned to being a fat hairy caterpillar I actually allowed myself to become the butterfly I was always going to be. Of course, you can't become a butterfly without going through a metamorphosis, for me this was a very painful period, lasting around two years. A time when I was verbally or physically attacked every single day I left my home, a time where I lost nearly all of my friends and put my family through so much pain. Nights out in a bar or club, on my own, would, on occasion, result in me being dragged out of the premises with my arms and legs and thrown onto the street, and on one occasion into jail. I was terrified, daily, of so many things.
But, my greatest fear turned out to be none of these things, my greatest fear built over many, many years. Growing inside of me, a fear that was in opposition to all other fears, a fear that finally broke me free from the painful, lonely prison cell of my mind. This powerful fear was the fear of regret. I realized that in every moment of fear there are two feelings, ‘what might happen if I do this’ and ‘how will I feel if I don't do this’. What If I don't do at forty, what I knew I should have done at thirty that I could have done at twenty. And that by the time I am sixty, or seventy I am no longer physically able to do it. The powerful fear of regret can be a tool to overcome all other fears! On those days when I was at home, too scared to go through the front door for a fear of what might happen to me in the street I started to imagine what my life would be like if I never left the house. The thought that became dominant in my mind was that I would actually rather die living, than live dying. A life where we do not embrace who we are, where we do not take the risk, a life where we carry an ever increasing burden of regret is no life to live at all. I used this feeling to walk out the door and embrace everything that happened to me as another step towards freedom.
Because I'm a glutton for punishment, during this same period I also tried to build a tech company, both of these journeys have run in parallel for the last 15 years. And nearly all of the feelings of fear are actually transferable. They are also not limited to these two endeavors, anything I do where there is an element of fear, I couple it with the fear of regret. Asking myself ‘how will I feel, once this moment has passed, if I did not do the thing, because I lacked courage’, if the answer is ‘meh’ then don’t do it, if the answer is more regret to add to the burden, then do it, no matter what the consequences your irrational fears are telling you might happen. I remember the first business meeting I had to go to as CEO of my new company, I sat outside in the car, my knees shaking with an irrational fear of inadequacy, who was I to go into this place and say I was CEO of a company. The first time I had to travel to a conference and get on a stage and give a talk was another of those moments. Interviewing someone to join my team for this imaginary business of just one person was another. There have been many moments when I have been terrified, and in everyone of those moments I just imagined how I would feel if I didn't do the thing when I had the precious opportunity.
As if life was not challenging enough, over the last decade, I also took up the hobby of hiking. Usually on my own, in fact nearly always on my own.
I'd like to bring in a guest…..
Kate: Hey ‘Other Kate, where are you?
Other Kate: ‘Hi, I'm in the Hollywood hills on a little day hike’
Kate: ‘Ah great! We’re just talking about the hiking trips you like to do. Can you describe them a bit more?’
Other Kate: ‘Well, when she says hiking trips these things usually end up a bit more of an adventure than that! Several years ago I went to a camping store and bought myself a backpack and all the gear to go camping. I had a map, rented a car and drove to the mountains. I was terrified! I set off on the trail, way up into the hills, on my own, and as darkness fell realized that there was no way I could get myself out of this place until daylight. I pitched my tent on the top of the mountain, off the trail. Got out my stove, made some tea and cooked dinner. This is a place where every irrational fear you can imagine exists, hiding in the darkness, hiding in the silence and racing through your mind. But there was such a sense of empowerment and freedom, as I sat there on top of the world, knowing that I would have this memory for the rest of my life, that when I am 60, 70 and if I'm lucky beyond Ill be able to revisit this part of my mind, when my body is no longer able. I'll be able to feel the air, through every sense and know that I did something that otherwise terrified me. These are the places that now exist in my mind, all of these things occupy the space that would otherwise be filled with regret.
Kate: ‘Okay, that sounds a little intense! Do you do like being terrified?’
Other Kate: ‘No! I do these things not because I like being terrified, but because I know to truly be alive I have to be prepared to die. And that when my turn comes to die I know that I can let myself go without any regret crossing my mind. Six years ago, I faced that moment, an accident with a wild deer left me on the forest floor at midnight with my neck cut open, I faced each breath as if it was my last, I had an intense sense of calmness and satisfaction with the choices I have made during my life. I believe this calmness actually saved my life, I don’t know how, but each calm breath led to the next and a week later I awoke from a coma and four months after that left the hospital almost fully recovered.
Kate: ‘Other Kate, that is a little intense! Please be careful out there! I’m not sure I'd be able to live without you! See you when you get home!, bye’
Other Kate: ‘Thanks, see you later!’
Kate: Ok, I apologize, that was a little intense! There is no way you would catch me doing that! I am the lazy one, I'm the one who can't be bothered to get off the couch, I'm the one who is too scared to go on the stage or attend that meeting.
‘Other Kate’, as she has become known, is my superhero. She is the one who thought it would be a great idea to drive to some mountains in Montana and hike for two days to a 9,000 ft wilderness.
She wanders through the forest, crossing rivers and loses the trail in the snow. I get to go along for the ride and have those moments of awe as I take in the view!
But then night falls, and I am left to deal with the consequences of being in the middle of nowhere, I have to build the fire, find somewhere to put my hammock and deal with the terrifying darkness! But so far, I’ve woken up the next day, alive.
When I’m scared or lazy, and really need to do that thing, Other Kate steps up, she knows exactly when to appear and brings me what I need in that moment.
We all have our Other, once we learn to identify her we can let her be the brave one, and whenever we feel lazy or scared in moments when we don't really need to step up, we can just kick back and give ourselves a break. We don't need to berate ourselves when we cant be bothered, or feel inadequate, because we know that when we face our greatest fear there is a superhero inside of us who can appear and save the day.
Do you have conversations with yourself about things you’re scared of? Or something you can't be bothered to do? If you do, then find your other, let her out to be the shero whilst you kick back and take it easy!
Whoever you feel you are inside, whatever you feel you should do then let your ‘Other’ do those things or be that person, and in this way you will never have to face the fear of regret.