Turning Fear Into Fuel: Jonathan Fields at TEDxCMU 2010

Transcriber: Helen Chang
Reviewer: Ivana Korom Good morning everyone. I’m leading with my Twitter acclaim here,
and you can’t do a thing about it. It’s so cool. I’m going to start with a few questions
this morning. My first question is, can anyone tell me
what the #4 fear is in the world? Any guesses? Shout it out. Audience: Spiders, phobias, snakes… The #4 fear, granted the surveys
kind of change a little bit, but very often is listed as death. Death. Does anyone know what
the number one fear in the world is? Audience: Public speaking. That’s like a no-brainer
for everybody here, right? (Laughter) Public speaking. Does it bother anybody here that people
are more afraid of speaking than dying? (Laughter) I’m just wondering. There’s also a little known #1.1 fear. Does anyone know what that one is? Audience: Speaking at TEDx. (Laughter) That’s actually .1 for certain people. The #1.1 fear, we’re going to
move through this, this morning… (Laughter) [Having to say hello to the person
sitting next to you] [in a lecture hall on a Sunday morning
before coffee!] So take 2 seconds here and just turn to the odd, strange,
bizarre human being sitting next to you, and say hello. (Laughter) (Audience chatting) [Say hi…I dare u!] Okay, don’t get too friendly. No chest bumping in the aisles. Calm down. (Laughter) Guys. I have 18 minutes! (Laughter and chatting) Okay. So I’m going to move on now. I want to take you back to a time
in my life about 9 years ago. The year was 2001, and it was a pivotal
year for me, for a number of reasons. The biggest of which is that’s the year I became a dad. That was the most magical and still
is the most magical thing in my world. It’s also the year I did something
a little bit odd. I signed a 6-year lease
on a floor in a building, in the city that I lived in, with the goal of opening,
what I hoped to be, the premier yoga center. If I was a guy who came in
from the yoga world, maybe that wouldn’t be so odd. But I was a guy, who not too long before, was a venture capital lawyer
in a large firm. So, according to pretty much anybody
around me, I had no experience, no reputation,
no investors, no clients, and no damn business doing this, with a 3 month old baby, a family
and a home in town. Do you think
that maybe a little bit fearful? Just the slightest bit anxious? The city, by the way – this is the support that I got by those closest to me – by the way,
the night that I signed that lease, I have to tell you, for some odd reason,
I slept like a baby that night. It was really great. (Laughter) So, I go to bed that night, a little
freaked out about what I was doing. Was it is the right call? This is my dream. This is the thing that I think
is going to make me make me come alive. Nervous. Anxious. Can I handle this? The city was New York. The date that I signed the lease… September 10th, 2001. When I woke the next morning, my city was literally in flames. And I was a long time New Yorker. What you hear in my voice now
talking about this, isn’t… well… yes, it’s nervous about talking here. But that is not what you
really are hearing. What you’re hearing is, for those of us
that were in the city that day, as far from that date
as we remove ourselves, it’s still right there,
It’s still right there. The first thing that happens that morning is my thoughts started flipping
between two worrying things. One was, who did I know? Because everybody knew somebody
if we were in the city. Who did I know? Did I know somebody
that was in the towers that day? Then the other thing
that was bouncing between was – What am I doing? Am I seriously going to launch
a business into this? Into this abyss of pain,
and mourning, and sadness? And remind yourselves also,
that at that moment we didn’t know if this was the first of many,
or, if this was it. As the day progressed,
I was talking to my wife, we started to realize
that we did, in fact, know somebody who was working on the 108th floor
of one of the towers – a father, a friend of ours, who’s a married father of a two and a-half year old
and 9 month year old son. They had actually just finished
with their dream home, a few months earlier,
out in the suburbs. So we popped my daughter into the car, drove up there to their house where there was a vigil going on hoping for some word
that sadly would never come. As the day progressed,
and as people made their way home, it ended up being just our friend,
the wife, my wife and me, and my daughter, who was sleeping,
and the two kids. The two moms went up
and put the nine-month-old to sleep. And they asked me if I would go and read
the 2 and a hlaf-year-old a story. And I remember. It’s like I’m there today. I remember walking up the steps,
not knowing what to expect. Opening his door, and seeing him
just sitting there. Little flannel PJ is half topped,
his favorite book on his laps, and wondering, “Who are you?
What are you doing here?” Knowing that I was the guy who had to
now try in some way make him feel okay, I sat down and read the story to him. Slowly, he laid back. He fell asleep. In that moment, as I was sitting there,
something in me changed. Something in me changed. There was a realization that this is it. My friend did not go to work that morning
expecting never to come home, but it happened. This is our bite at the apple. As I look back on that moment, there is something Steve Jobs said,
a number of years later. It’s actually his 2005 commencement
speech at Stanford, where he said, “Remembering that you are
going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking
you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason
not to follow your heart.” So driving home that evening, my mind is,
I’m thinking, okay. Going back to the yoga studio
and the lease I just signed and the huge amount of money
I’m about to spend to make this business a reality. Am I really going to do this? It’s something that I have to do now, because I feel this is our bite
at the apple, this is my shot. Am I filled with fear and anxiety? Yeah. Big time. But, this is my one chance.
I don’t get do-overs. So, as we went home, I’ve made a decision
to actually to go forward with it. I was asking these questions. I was saying to myself,
“Do I launch my company, or walk away, or do I rise of fear
and anxiety?” Based in large part at that moment
on what had just happened, in that room, with this two and a half-year-old boy,
the answer was yes. I went ahead and I launched it. That studio, then, over a period
of seven years grew into one of the largest,
most successful studios in New York City. And, potentially, in the country. More importantly than that, I had
an opportunity over that period of time to touch the lives
of tens of thousands of people, to impact people’s lives, in a deeper way. From around the world, we trained
hundreds and hundreds of yoga teachers at the same time. It became this magical experience for me. Actually, in December 2009,
I sold that company. But this whole experiences stirred in me something that led me
to want to explore deeper, to try and figure out what is it,
that makes some people able to just move pass fear,
to move pass anxiety and actually do these things
which terrified them. What is it that makes people
just stop cold? We’re going to go into that. There are three big questions
we are going to explore. First I want to ask you a question. I’m going to show you a picture
in a second. I’m going to ask you a question about it
before you see it, so you can really focus on the answer. The question is very simply,
what color are the laces? What color are the laces? Okay. Can anybody tell me
what color the laces were? Audience: White. JF: White? Does everyone agree that laces were white? No polka dots? No pink? Nothing? Good. So pretty much four hundreds and something
people in the room here said, okay, one second, white laces. Second question. What about the girl? What color dress was she wearing? What girl? Take a look in the sun glasses. There is a girl lying down on the dock,
reflected, wearing a white dress. The question is why did nobody notice her? I’ve done this. I’ve actually kept the slide up
for a minute, and nobody sees the girl. Why doesn’t anyone see her? It’s because nobody told you
to look for her. Nobody told you to look for her. What I start to realize, in my exploration
about fear, is that very often, it starts with the questions that we ask,
and the things that we observe. But also beyond that, the really big thing
is t’s about the things we don’t notice, the questions we don’t ask,
and the things we don’t see, that really take that fear,
and just let it blossom. So, I’m asked a lot,
and I’ve written about, “How do you handle fear? You seem to be somebody
who’s moved though it, who’s launched a number of businesses, who’s changed careers,
made huge changes in lives. How do you handle it?” My answer is always a question back,
which is, “Fear of what?” The three big fears,
that always come up, are fear of failure, fear of judgement, and, oddly enough, fear of success. There is a real fear of success. It freaks people out. Think of business for a second,
and say, “But if this scales too quickly,
I’ll never be able to handle the demand, and they’ll shut me down,
and it’ll destroy my life.” That’s actually a real concern. But the real thing, the big thing, when you go back to the top ten
phobia list, of these three, the thing that’s always on there,
is fear of failure. Fear of failure can be
this devastating thing, because we just ask this question, we ask, “What if I fail?” And instead of just creating
a realistic scenario, say, “Okay, this is what happens,
I’ll get through it.” What we do is we create
a doomsday scenario. I know nobody in this room has done this, but you probably know some people
that may have done this. You spin in your head, “Oh my God, if this thing collapses,
I’m going to lose everything – my home, my relationships. I’m probably going to get thrown out
of the country, if not the planet, I’m going to live in the [unclear]
they’re going to take away my shoes. I’ll have to eat raw fish
for the rest of my life.” The biggest disaster on the planet. Then, that creates this thing
that shuts us down. It just takes the fear and anxiety
and ramps it up big time. Then we do something even more powerful. We take the doomsday scenario,
and we hit SPIN. Nobody has done that either. Right? So what happens when you hit SPIN is sadly, even though we’re sitting
in this beautiful University Hall and some of the brightest people
in the world I’m sure are in here, we are so much closer to Pavlov’s dogs
than we would ever like to think. Because the way our brains work,
is repetition breeds belief. We can start with a thought, a fact,
a scenario, or a vision. In our minds, regardless
of whether it starts in truth, the more we repeat it, the more we believe
that to be the absolute truth. The only possible outcome. Not “a” mental model,
but “the” model of the world. There is no other option. The more we buy into that, the more we buy into the fact that this is the only possible outcome
for this thing, the more we’re absolutely engulfed
with fear and anxiety, and the more it becomes paralysis. We can’t move. We can’t move. But there is one thing
which is even more insidious than that. It stops us. Our focus on this stops us
from asking two other questions, which are mission critical to our ability
to re-frame fear, and move through it. Those two questions are – What if I do nothing? What if I succeed? So, let’s go back. We’re going to cycle back, and go through these three questions. What if I fail? It’s important to ask this question.
You don’t blow it off. But, in asking it, what I want you to do
next time, is take that question, and instead of creating
a fantastical doomsday scenario, what I want you to do is create
a very realistic scenario. What if I fail? Write it out. Create a picture. Make it a movie. Make it as vivid as you can. But that’s only half
of the “what if I fail” question. The other half, is how will I recover? Give equal attention to that picture. Plot out exactly what you’ll do
to get yourself back. What most people find
is that doing that alone goes a long way towards disempowering
the fear of failure, because as long as almost everything
is recoverable, it may suck a little bit, it may be hard,
but it’s recoverable. Take that scenario now,
the realistic scenario, set it aside. Then we move on to the second question,
which is, “What if I do nothing?” For a lot of people, what if I do nothing
seems like a no-brainer question, but the reality is, for most people, the “what if I do nothing”
is the most horrible scenario out there. Because if there is an opportunity, if there’s something you are not doing now
that would make you come alive, because you are being paralyzed
by fear and anxiety, if those opportunities
present themselves over and over during the course of your life,
five, ten, twenty, thirty years from now, and you keep backing away, doing nothing, oo you think if you’d just keep going
sideways in life, you’ll just hum along? If you’re a little bit unhappy now,
do you think 10, 20, 30 years of doing nothing
will keep you a little bit unhappy? No.
If you’re a little bit overweight now, do you think 10, 20, 30 years
of sitting behind the desk and eating cheesecake for breakfast
will keep you the same weight? If your relationships
are a little bit tense now, do you think if you do nothing,
it’ll still be a little tense, 10, 20, 30 years from now? No! There is no sideways in life. Simple fact is life applies friction. There is no sideways. There is up or down. Life can spiral us organically,
to slowly ground us to a halt. It’s not a bad thing or a good thing.
It’s just a thing. Part of our job is to apply lubrication
and energy to change its trajectory and go up. There is no sideways. So when you answer
the “do nothing” scenario, you create a very realistic picture
of what would my life look like if I do nothing. What most people find
is when you track that out, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, years, that is a far more terrifying scenario
than failure and recovery. Create that scenario in your head,
set it next to the failure and recovery. Now we get to move to the third one.
The third one. This is where we have fun, because so far we have been talking about reframing and disempowering
fear and anxiety. Now we talk about hope. Now we move to the other side
of the equation – where am I going, and we ask the final question, what if I succeed? What if I succeed? Right now, I have another question for you. Who, in this room, is sitting here,
not doing something that they believe in their heart has the opportunity
to make them come alive? Maybe it’s introducing yourselves
to somebody you’d like to connect with. Maybe it’s starting a company. Maybe it’s starting a project. Whatever it is. Who is not doing that thing? Who would do it if you were 100% certain
you would not fail? A couple of hands? So we’ve got like 50% hands up,
and 50% who are in denial. (Laughter) Which is okay. So the fact is, what I want you to do now, is if you have that thing in your mind, what is that thing, with the opportunity
to make you come alive, that you are not doing because you don’t
have the certainty right now. You’re freaked out about failing. Close your eyes. I want you to place yourself
five years in the future. I want you to paint a picture
as if you’ve already done it. You are there. That fantasy scenario is done. The thing you thought you couldn’t do, and you were freaked out about trying,
is done. You are there. You’ve achieved it
beyond your wildest imagination. What’s that look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? How does the air feel
against your face in that place? Then I want you to do one more thing
with that vision. Now I want you to hit SPIN. Helen Keller once said, life is either
a daring adventure or nothing. And I’m inclined to agree. I cannot resign myself to the notion of living the rest of my life
in a vacuum of regret. I cannot resign myself to the notion
that I’ll have spent time on this earth never having done anything
to actually come alive, out of fear. And, I cannot, I cannot fathom,
the notion, that in some way, through my action or inaction,
I may have taught my daughter, a little girl, to do the same. So, as you move forward from this morning, the challenge I issue to you is take that thing
that we just put into your mind, that you’ve been putting off
because you are afraid of failing. Take it and bring it present again, and ask the three questions. What if I fail, and recover? What if I do nothing? By God, what if I succeed? Thank you. (Applause)

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