Public domain image of theatrical people looking in mirror
In the end, we always find a way to look ridiculous.

Source: The New York Public Library

An ongoing refrain for my self-reflection practice is the idea of "purposeful behavior." Reflecting on what underpins my behavior (e.g., thoughts, actions, motivations, emotions, desires, etc.) helps bridge the gap between my authentic self and my behavior.

Such reflection has recently drawn me to the subject of fear. Fear and confidence are primordial counterparts that play an outsized role in determining the behavior of most living things. When we feel afraid, we think, believe, and act differently than if we are overflowing with confidence (though exaggerated feelings of self-confidence seem to indicate fear-based roots, in my opinion).

Fear not only informs how we act, but it informs how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Fear is what drives much of mainstream media coverage. Fear helps drive financial markets. Fear keeps someone in a safe office job for thirty years while causing another to leave the same job searching for meaningful work. Fear causes us to compare ourselves to others, degrading our sense of self-worth through various societal, cultural, and technological norms. Fear is why people vote, and fear keeps others from voting. Fear is everywhere.

And while fear seems to inevitably permeate every facet of our world, it's how fear manifests in my life that has recently caught my attention. I believe that understanding and addressing my own fears will help continue the momentum towards a less fear-based world. Or, perhaps I'm too afraid to tackle significant, societal fear-based issues, and I feel more comfortable reflecting on my life while hiking through the woods.

I've begun questioning the merits of my seemingly obsessive-compulsive desire to fix my hair all of the time. As if passersby may notice a "misplaced" hair on my head. Am I afraid of what others might think of me? Am I afraid of "stacking up" against so many other people in the world? This is a pretty small and trivial instance of how fear might manifest in my life, leading to actions whose roots I have never questioned. Regardless, I now ask, "for whom do I fix my hair?"

Actor with a lacquer mirror

Source: The New York Public Library

With deeper roots, the road of self-reflection takes me to more significant places. During my sabbatical from freelancing, I've begun digging beneath the behavior which has dominated my career, which seems to manifest primarily from financial fear. My fear of not having enough money has inspired me to move cities, change jobs, take on more projects than I can reasonably manage, and attempt to monetize various practices in my life. Money, money, money.

What about this essay that I'm writing and publishing? Have I articulated my thoughts from fear-based roots? Is that act of publishing in-and-of-itself fear-based? Perhaps I'm concerned with how people will perceive me based on what I've written, or maybe I fear that nobody will read it at all. I've let fear block me from publishing my writing in the past, which led me to begin publishing drafts.

Clarifying what underlies my behavior helps create continuity between my authentic self and my actions.

Fear, like confidence or any other emotional state, serves a purpose. Behavior predicated on fear isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be trivial and other times, hugely beneficial. I just want to ensure that I'm making fear work for me, not the other way around.