The Willingness to Be A Fool

By Kevin Marshall

So it hit me the other day, why don’t I seem to be accomplishing the things that I would like to be in life? Why do I get so close to the edge of the cliff from which I’m about to paraglide off of, then stop. Clearly, I’m ready. I’ve climbed my way to the top, got my paragliding equipment ready to go, feel energized, know my target, but . . . then I stop.

It doesn’t matter whether the goal is personal in nature or professional, there’s an utter reluctance.

I looked deep within the other day, in a moment of stillness, and found that underneath was fear — fear of judgement, fear of being a fool.

There’s a lot of fears I’ve overcome in my life — lots of anxiety: social anxiety which prevented me from dating, health anxiety which prevented me from fully experiencing life, fears about quitting a stable career and becoming an entrepreneur, fears about living abroad and traveling, fears about moving out of relationships that were bad for me and fear of moving forward with ones that were good.

I’m very grateful to see that each time I’ve confronted and pushed into each fear with action and resolve, life took a positive turn. Years of staticness, confusion, and indecisiveness were broken by a clear inspiration to take a certain type of action. The action was always one that I previously feared taking. Yet once I did, I would always see, fairly early on, that it was the right action.

Fear is like this invisible fence. We can see past it to the other side, where we want to be, but often don’t understand what’s keeping us from getting there. We’re often not aware that there’s fear in the way, blocking us from our destination.

Without this awareness of the core fear that’s obstructing our path, we’ll often take easy actions towards our goal that are less risky and require less courage, but are also less impactful and rewarding. These actions can be in the form of ‘idle busyness’ — like making business cards for a business we don’t think we’re good enough to start instead of getting on the phone and calling potential customers.

How I Became Afraid to Be a Fool

I remember quite clearly being bullied in fourth grade. Only a year before, my family had moved to a new area and I had to make all new friends. In this new town, friends were harder to come by it seemed. The kids at school were wealthier, more judgemental, and more vocal about their judgements. There were more ‘cool kids’ than I remember in my previous town. While this new environment was a drastic change from my previous one, I had not changed, I was still the same old kid from my previous world. I remember being a relatively open-hearted kid who said, without fear, whatever was on my mind. One day, I remember walking home with a new friend I’d met at school, as his house was near mine. As we approached his house, he invited me in — he wanted to show me something cool, since he knew his parents weren’t home. I of course accepted, and within minutes of entering, he brought me over to his dad’s gun rack. “Isn’t this cool?” he asked? “Let’s open it and take out one of the rifles.”

I was scared. I’d been raised in a family that taught that guns were dangerous, especially without adults around, and everything in my body told me this was unsafe. So with full honesty I said, “Umm. . no, I don’t want to, I gotta go. Bye!” He couldn’t’ believe it. The next day at school, my new friend had spread the news, I was a sissy, a dork, and not worthy of respect — in short, I was a fool.

The news spread rapidly with the popular kids in my class and it was at that point that I internalized the fear of being the fool. The rejection of my peers was such a powerful force in my life from that point on. I stopped engaging with kids in my class, starting looking at them with eyes of fear — fear of rejection — instead of with the peaceful and rather indifferent eyes I’d had before. The fear of being a fool, stayed with me all throughout the rest of my schooling, even up until about the third year of college, where I finally began to question these harsh internal judgements of myself. The fear of being seen as a fool to my peers prevented me from dating all throughout high school and much of college and it reduced my willingness to make friends. Instead of seeing opportunities for new friends in new strangers I went to school with, I only saw my new classmates as threats to be weary of.

“Best not to say anything, better to remain silent, than look like a fool” went my thoughts.

Becoming a Fool: A Conscious Choice

I wish I could say that I’ve worked through all this core fear in my life; that I’m now a social butterfly that puts himself out there with joy and confidence in each new social situation. That would be a lie though. The good news is that I’ve worked though so much of this, thanks to the help of a lot of teachers of awareness — one of the biggest ones being don Miguel Ruiz, whose Four Agreements I read in my 3rd year of college and whose teachings that I should question my thoughts helped me gain the awareness that I was actually judging myself in this way (amazing that I didn’t even realize it back then). Though a few self-help books, meditation, and guidance by great mentors, I began to see how to question these judgements in order to gain some of my power back. Therapists helped too by getting me to see specifically which actions I was hesitant to take, and encouraging me to take such actions, even if they were uncomfortable.

Yet, right now, as I write this, I find myself still scared to be a fool. Scared to be judged, whether in person or even online — scared of what others think of me. The fear is so much, that I find myself uncomfortable about taking the kinds of actions in my life necessary to achieve the things that I clearly want.

Even starting this blog, CafeTruth, there’s fear. “Let me just write it, but I don’t want to spread it too much, what if people actually read it and don’t like it?” Underneath that thought is the core fear again: “What if they really don’t like me? What if they think I’m a fool — that I’m an idiot? What if they criticize me?”

And this is precisely what I want to embrace — being willing to be criticized, being willing to look like a total fool in the eyes of others.

The Road Ahead: A Fool’s Path

So now the goal post must be moved. The goal post used to be: *act but only so long as it doesn’t put you in danger of looking like too big of a fool.*

The new goal post must be: *Act, but only so long as it puts you in danger of looking like a fool — for as long as you’re not in danger of this, you’re not fully expressing your art — the art of what you really are.*


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