I was standing at the top of a water slide at Water World, trying to muster the courage to go down. But the tunnel looked dark and the slide looked fast, and I was scared.
I was 26 years old.
For various reasons, I grew up a timid, easily frightened kid. I feel a lot of empathy for the Gen Zers “coddled” into insecurity about their own strength and resilience.
Like them, I grew up terrified of the world. My mind told me there were lions lurking behind every tree.
I didn’t have a history of overcoming challenges, so whenever a new one came along, I freaked out. I thought I was too weak to handle the world. When a client snapped at me at work, I’d melt down.
Like many younger folks, I suffered from frequent bouts of anxiety and depression.
Time for a new therapist
Eventually, I realized that something had to give. I couldn’t keep living this way.
I left my old therapist, who (with the best of intentions) tried to coddle me practically into a nursing home. I found a men’s coach who practiced antifragility – and helped me begin my metamorphosis.
I knew if there was any hope for me, I needed to see myself as stronger than the obstacles we all face, and I threw myself into the task. Most of my friends had developed a sense of internal strength by climbing trees and scrambling up boulders as kids. I had been too scared to do that when I was younger, so I assigned myself an intensive remedial education that would make me see myself as capable and even brave.
Terrifying challenges (like dating)
I started aggressively seeking out challenges so I could conquer them. I tried to hit the Navy SEAL fitness guidelines (and got pretty close). I had been scared of dating, so I started taking dance lessons to push myself to interact with women I was attracted to. I even started a variation of the Wim Hof method, in which you (safely) immerse yourself in ice cold water in order to cultivate spiritual growth.
A few years later, my life is transformed.
I got over my fear of dating and met an amazing girl. I’m 31 now, and I recently flew across the world to be with her in Nairobi. In a city nicknamed “Nairobbery” for its ability to part travelers from their valuables, I take the proper precautions, of course. I’m not an easy mark. But I also don’t let the danger of muggings or the occasional bomb threats stop me from living my life.
I decided I wanted to volunteer with an international relief organization on the ground, so I solicited a street-savvy friend as a guide and spent some time in the crime- and poverty-ridden district of Eastleigh so I could see how people lived who truly needed my help. Now I’m training with an incredible NGO to embed into broken communities and help the folks there to rebuild their lives.
Raising less fearful kids
In the meantime, I also left a soul-numbing but cushy job to become a freelancer–something which ushered in the life of my dreams. But it wouldn’t have been possible if I still saw myself as too weak to face the actual obstacles in the world.
I no longer suffer from anxiety and depression, and I’m more free than ever to build the kind of life I want to live.
So why am I telling you this story? I’m not a parent, and I’m aware that my ability to give advice on matters of parenthood is very small.
But I will say that a life lived in fear was far more dangerous to my well-being than many of the “dangers” – a.k.a. life – that I was scared of.
And conversely, now that I’ve let go of much of my fear, I feel strong and peaceful and joyful almost every day. By taking the plunge – into life, love and uncertainty — I learned I could swim.
Julian is a commentator focused on antifragility and mental health. He’s written for National Review, The American Conservative, Playboy, The Hill, and Lawrence Reed’s bestselling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor. He sometimes blogs at https://theevolvingman.com