Fear is a liar.
Fear will break your courage, steal your dreams, and tell you that neither you nor your art will ever amount to anything.
Of all the many hurdles that stand between writers (or any other person) and their dreams, fear is often the hardest to fight, and the easiest to surrender to.
For many years, I lived in fear of failure. I refused to write, despite the stories that burned inside me, because I feared that if I tried and failed I would lose the only identity—that of writer—that had defined me as long as I could remember. I went to law school instead of pursuing a career in writing, because I wanted stability I didn’t believe I could get from writing. I continued to practice law even after my first novel, Claws of the Cat, was published in 2013.
I told myself there would always be time to travel more extensively in Japan, to climb the Nihon Hyakumeizan (hundred famous mountains of Japan) and to break through the wall of fear that kept me chained to the security of a lawyer’s life.
Last September, as I faced the upcoming tenth anniversary of my father’s death, I decided to face my fears, take a sabbatical, and spend a year in Japan climbing mountains and writing at least two books (one mystery and one nonfiction book about my attempt to become the oldest American woman to climb the hyakumeizan in a single year). It was time to take a chance and pursue my dreams, despite my many fears.
And then, in November—just as my husband and I prepared to sell our house and move to Japan—I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. Fortunately, we caught it at Stage 1 (a side note: ladies, please get regular mammograms—the one I had last November literally saved my life), but instead of heading off to Japan, I found myself facing major surgery (double mastectomy) and four months of intensive, dose-dense chemotherapy.
In my former life, that diagnosis and the fight against cancer would have killed my dreams. I would have let my fears—of the cancer returning, or not having the strength to complete the mountain climbs—derail my plans. I would have retreated into a place of self-pity, excuses, and sorrow, and accepted that climbing mountains (much less writing books about it) was a job for people younger, stronger, and more capable than me.
But that cancer diagnosis taught me a very important lesson: none of us has a guaranteed tomorrow, no matter how safe and secure our lives may seem. Fear will always predict your failure—but if you never try, you can’t succeed.
The photo at the top of this post is me at the summit of Mount Daibosatsu—which I climbed on May 27, 2018, six weeks after finishing chemotherapy and two weeks to the day after I received the “all clear” CT scan that showed no cancer remaining in my body. Between then and now, I’ve climbed eleven more of the Hundred Famous Mountains—and started writing a book about my odyssey from cancer to Japan’s most famous peaks. Like writing, mountain climbing requires me to strengthen and hone my skills, to focus on the task at hand, and to overcome my weaknesses and fears—one word at a time, one step at a time—to achieve the goal.
For years, I did not write because I feared I could not do it well. I feared I would fail, and that failure would define me. For years, I did not even try to climb a mountain—for the very same reasons.
Today, I have climbed a dozen mountains (with 88 more scheduled between now and May 19, 2019). I’ve written half a dozen published books (technically, #6 does not release until July 3, but I’m giving myself credit for it anyway). I didn’t do these things because I’m any better, or smarter, or stronger than anyone else, but because I fought and struggled for my dreams. I trained myself to do the job and persevered until I got it done. Every step of the way, I had to fight my fears.
If I can do it, you can do it too.
Listen to the voice that burns inside you. Struggle to achieve your dream. It won’t be easy—nothing worth having ever is—but start from your goal and work backwards, breaking the process into manageable steps until you reach the place where you are today . . . and then move forward, fulfilling those steps, until your dream becomes reality.
If you’re like most people, fear will be your traveling companion all the way along that road. It will whisper words like “failure,” and “hopeless” and tell you that your dream is doomed to fail.
Do not listen. Keep writing. Or singing. Or dancing. Or doing whatever it is you need to do to reach that dream that burns inside you.
And through it all, remember: fear is a liar.
Do not let it keep you from your dreams.
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