Life After Fear
Whatever you are most afraid of will continue to show up in your life until you face it. Facing your fear is the start to a life of freedom. Not managing your fear. Not overcoming it. Facing it. Fear hangs around in one form or another until you have braved the fire and gone through it. When you do, fear can become your truest and most valuable steward to keeping you surefooted on your hero’s journey.
It’s a long process. Most people keep fighting or ignoring fear until one day, the big kahuna of fear shows up. That’s when you have to decide once and for all if you are going to step up or step off. That’s how my life as I know it now all began.
Off the Sidewalk and Back on the Road
It was several years ago when fear first really caught up to me. I’d been managing it for years. I’d gotten quite adept at it. Or so I thought. I’d built two successful businesses and run the gauntlet of many professional fears. I’d learned to deal with the fear of failure. The fear of risk. The fear of inadequacy. Subconsciously, the fear of success. Fear was running the show and driving me relentlessly, reaching through me and touching everything I did. As my investment increased, and the stakes got higher, my fears grew happily right alongside them.
There’s a Native American Indian story in which a child is told he has two wolves inside him—love and fear. The child asks, Which one grows? The answer: whichever one you feed. My fear was very well fed. Fear drove me to keep pushing forward, not just to continue succeeding but to increase my level of success. My entire identity was constructed of this series of business pinnacles I’d achieved. I did my best to ignore my fear, while being driven by it, until one day, I hit the wall.
It was summer. I was walking down the sidewalk in New York when I hit it, head on, with one horrifying realization staring me in the face: Holy shit, I’m totally missing it.
The ‘it’ was life.
I thought I was in ‘it’. I thought I was doing ‘it’. But in that moment, it was so clear that I was nowhere near ‘it.’ I was moving numbly through life one errand, one meeting at a time, as life passed me by without even a thought.
It took a wall to stop me. I was so numb, I’m not sure I really felt it when I hit it, but it was effective. It stopped me in my tracks. Literally. This new fear of going through the rest of my life on automatic was so much greater than all the other fears. It propelled me into the wall of realization that I couldn’t, that I wouldn’t, live that way anymore.
I froze, and the flood of emotion that the wall of fear was holding back, poured out. I was standing there, thinking, No, no, no. I can’t cry, especially in the middle of the street. Especially in the middle of Manhattan. This was a fear that showed up for me often because until that moment, I steadfastly refused to face it: if I start crying, would I ever stop?
I don’t remember how I made it home, but I do know I cried the whole way. I called my sister, and, grieving, I admitted everything: how lost I felt, what a mess I felt like, that I was heading toward rock bottom. The admission of truth was the first stepping stone to healing. For the first time ever, I recognized the lie I’d been telling myself: intelligence wasn’t leading me. Fear was. And for the first time, my fear became a signpost pointing me in a new direction rather than an adversary keeping me from it.
Surviving My Story
When I finally stopped crying, I was exhausted. But I was clear. And as I looked around in this clear space I found myself unexpectedly smack dab in the middle of my life. And there was no going back. My autopilot was broken.
The interesting thing is that fear felt different too. It was no longer this impossibly heavy, suffocating, scary jailor. Hope illuminated it for what it was: a guide.
I had no idea what to do first, so I rolled my sleeves up, and I started cleaning house. In sorting through my internal rubble, I discovered a different kind of piloting system. It felt natural rather than automatic. Later I would realize it was my instincts. They’d always been there, but they’d been overrun time and again by fear. Stifled by a lifetime of performing like a highly trained show horse, my instincts had lost the ability to run free.
You see, we spend our lives developing beliefs about who we are, what we can do and what we can’t. We write stories about ourselves, and we become our stories. But inevitably we outgrow those stories, and that’s when they become our prisons. I was starting to see the story I had gotten trapped inside, but I didn’t know how to get out. So I just started with the small things. I cut my hair. I cleaned out my closet. And I listened.
The Voice of Your Heart
Go to the horses. That’s what I heard. It didn’t seem logical at all, which actually made perfect sense because my logic is what got me where I was in the first place. It seemed instinct would get me out of it. So I listened. And followed. First I went to Central Park, but I knew right away that wasn’t right. Those horses were trapped and numb too.
I headed down to Chelsea Pier, where by chance there was a riding arena, a man and a horse named Austin, who was offering to teach natural horsemanship. That sounded exactly right. I needed something natural to bring me back to life.
I rode in that arena within view of the Hudson River and the Empire State Building, but none of that made an impression on me. I was just so struck, so moved, by experiencing this closeness with this big, living warm creature. He started to teach me about the wisdom found in reconnecting with myself and leading with my heart. I had been so busy leading from my head I had completely discounted the intelligence of the rest of me and all that was around me.
I kept listening. To more horses and the land they lived on. My fears were still there, but they weren’t in control. I was learning from them, not running from them. I made a decision. I moved to Colorado. I sold my businesses. I gave up my story and set out to find out who I truly was. And I did it with a horse as my guide.
The Lessons of Fear
Horses are prey animals. As such, they have ultrasensitive ‘radar’ systems that enable them to read their environment, including humans who try to interact with them. They use this same system when they are interacting with humans, scanning our intentions and body language to get the real read on what’s going on.
As a result, horses connect with you of their own free will when you are present. When you are real. When you can make contact with your own core—and your own fears—and listen. That’s when horses take notice. And that’s how you know when you are truly connected. We all think we are—until you really feel it for the first time. The noise in your head stops. You gain clarity in direction and confidence in conviction.
In 2006, I founded Vista Caballo, a private 160-acre ranch in Dove Creek, Colorado, designed to enable other people to learn the same lessons I did. You see, fear can cloud our thinking and inhibit our instincts, which are critical to us finding our path. Misunderstood and misused, fear becomes a bully and a jailer. Properly understood and used, it provides information to keep us safe and lead us toward everything we desire.
The horses at Vista Caballo run free. They can hang out in 8-acre corrals or roam our open range near the back of the Baby Grand Canyon. They’re not stalled, and they rarely see a saddle. They run when they want, eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired. They live by instinct. That’s important because it means they respond to humans only when they sense that same kind of deep, centered instinct. And that’s exactly what Vista Caballo guests — visionaries, executives, athletes, artists —come here to rediscover: the center of themselves. Our gates are open to anyone who wants to find their edge and lose the fear.
It’s quite a ride, and it’s been quite a journey from Manhattan to Dove Creek. But no matter what changes, and things always do, I know that now, once and for all, I am truly, freely living. Here’s how I know: fear keeps showing up. But instead of being afraid of it, I ask it, What do you have for me to learn today? Meeting what shows up fully present, for me, is living. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now. And it feels great. Fear and all.