Jonathan Fields, the author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, speaks at TEDxCMU 2010 – Transcript
How to turn fear from a source of anxiety and paralysis into fuel for action and achievement.
Jonathan Fields – Author, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
Good morning everyone. So I’m leaving with my Twitter a claim here, you can’t do a thing about it. So cool!
We’re going to start with a few questions this morning. And my first question is – can anyone tell me what the number #4 fear is in the world? Any guess, just shout it out. Spider phobia sticks.
The number #4 fear and granted that the surveys can change a little bit but very often is listed as death.
Does anyone know what the number #1 fear in the world is? Just like a no brainer for everybody here right? Public speaking.
Does it bother anybody here that people are more afraid of speaking than dying? I’m just wondering.
There’s also — there’s a little-known number one point one fear – does anyone know what that one is? That’s actually point one.
Now the number point one fear – we’re going to move through this, this morning – so take two seconds here. And just turn to the odd strange bizarre human being sitting next to you and say hello.
Okay. Don’t get too friendly. No chest bumping in the aisles. Calm down.
Guys I have 18 minutes!
Okay. And so I’m going to move on now. I’m going to move on now. And I want to take you back to a time in my life, about nine 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 that I became a dad and that was the most magical and still the most magical thing in my world.
It’s also the year I did something a little bit odd. I signed a lease on a six-year lease on the floor in a building in the city that lived and with the goal of opening what I hoped to be the premier Yoga Center. Which if I was a guy who came into the yoga world, maybe I 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 everybody around me, I had no experience, no reputation, no investors, no clients and no damn business doing this, with a three-month-old baby and a family and a home in town, do you think that may be a little bit fearful? Just slightest bit of anxious.
The city by the way — and this is the support that I got — by those closest to me. And 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.
So I go to bed that night, a little bit freaked out about what I was doing, was it the right call? This is my dream. This is the thing that I think is going to make me come alive. Nervous, anxious; can I handle this?
The city was New York. The date that I signed the lease – September 10, 2001.
When I woke the next morning, my city was literally in flame. And I was a longtime New Yorker.
And what you hear my voice now talking about this isn’t well – yeah, it’s nervous about talking here but that’s not what really you’re 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.
And the first thing that happens that morning is my thoughts started fleeting 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?
And then the other thing I was bouncing between was – what am I doing? Am I seriously going to launch a business into this – into this a bed of pain and morning in 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?
And as the day progressed and I was talking to my wife. We started to realize we did, in fact, know somebody who was working in 108th floor in one of the towers. A father, a friend of ours is a married father, the two-and-a-half year old and a nine month old son. And then they actually just finished with their dream home a few months earlier at the suburb. So we put my daughter into the car, drove up there to the house where there was a vigil going on hoping for some word that sadly would never come.
And as the day progressed and as people made their way home, that ended up being just our friend, the wife, and my wife and me and my daughter who was sleeping with two kids and the two moms went up and put the nine-month-old to sleep. And they asked me if I would go and read the two-and-a-half year old the story.
And I remember it’s like I’m there today. I remember walking up the steps, not knowing what to expect. And opening his door and seeing him just sitting there.
[Well Flannel PJ’s Half-Cocked], his favorite book in his lap. And wondering who you are you – you know, what are you doing here? Knowing that I was a guy who had to now try and just in some way make him feel okay. And I sat down and read the story to him.
Slowly he laid back and he fell asleep. And in that moment as I was sitting there something in me change. Something in me changed. There was a realization that this is it. My friend did not go to work that morning expecting everybody to come home but it happened. This is our bite at the apple.
And as I look back on that moment, there’s something that Steve Jobs said a number of years later in actually his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, where he said remembering that you’re 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, in my mind as I am thinking okay, going back to the yoga studio and the lease that I just signed, and the huge amount of money I am about to spend to make this business a reality; am I really going to do this? 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 lovers].
So as we went home and I made the decision to actually go forward with it. I was asking these questions. I was saying to myself: Do I launch my company or walk away and do arise both fear and anxiety? And based on large part of that moment on what had just happened, in that room with this two-and-a-half year-old boy, the answer was yes.
And I went ahead and launched it and that studio, [then repaired] seven years grew into one of the largest most successful studios in New York City, and potentially in the country where more importantly than that I had an opportunity over that period 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.
And it became this magical experience for me and actually in December 2009, I sold that company. But this whole experience stirred in me something that led me to want to explore deeper, to try and figure out what is it – what is it that makes people – some people able to just move past fear, to move past anxiety, and actually do these things which terrify them. And what is it that makes people just stop cold? And we’re going to go into that. There are three big questions that we’re going to explore.
But first, I want to ask you a question. I am going to show you a picture in a second. And I am going to ask you a question about it before you see it, so you can really focus in on the answer.
And the question is very simply – what color are the laces? What color are the laces?
Okay. Can anybody tell me what color laces were? White. Does everyone agree the laces were white?
Okay. So pretty much 400-something people in the room said, okay, one second, white laces.
But a second question, what about the girl? What color of dress she was wearing? White girl. Take a look at in sunglasses. Is the girl lying down on the dock reflected wearing a white dress? And the question is: why did nobody notice her, and I’ve done this – and 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 started 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 it’s about the things that we don’t notice. The questions we don’t ask and the things that 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 has moved through it, who has launched a number of businesses, who has changed careers, made huge change in life, how do you handle it? And my answer is always a question that – which is fear of what?