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The Risk Is the Reward: The Importance of Facing Fear

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I have always loved food. I loved the way it felt, the way it smelled, the way it could be manipulated, and the way it could become something unrecognizable, and yet more amazing than any raw ingredient could have led you to imagine.

I went to culinary school. And I excelled in school. I got jobs in restaurant kitchens, and under some good chefs, I learned. It was exciting and it was hard. And then I got scared. I got scared that I could give my life to something that I might not succeed at. So I quit and did something easy.

Fear is a funny thing. It is at the same time one of the most useful and one of the most destructive things we have.

Fear was really useful for a long time. When death was a daily risk, fear kept us alive. It was a brilliant and powerful response to real risk. And the ones who did it best were our ancestors. That’s why we’re here.

The flip side of that gift of life is that our ancestors passed that skill on. I now have a powerful fear response in a world where my daily risks are, thankfully, practically nothing. But my mind has to use it for something. So it gets applied to the biggest risks I have—being vulnerable, failing, looking stupid, losing connection.

What I so love about fear is that it can tell me what is most important to me.

My fear that that person will tell me “no” reminds me how important love is to me.
My fear that I don’t make enough money to have kids reminds me how important family is to me.
My fear that I’m not going to get invited to come along reminds me how important connection is to me.

My fear that I might invest my time, my hopes, my heart, and my soul in something and “fail” at or that people will see how much I care and then on watch me fall flat on my face is the best indication that it is important to me.

It doesn’t make fear less real. But knowing this can make it less powerful.

So I learn to face risks, to ask, to plan for what seems out of reach. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the only way to tap into what matters to me most.

What are you really afraid of? That you’ll be judged if you don’t succeed immediately? That people will find out you really want something?  That they’ll find out you’re actually human?

I’ve been afraid of things my whole life. I suspect I will be afraid of things until I die. That’s not really important. That I’ve always found my way back to food and cooking one way or another, through teaching, though the Whole Life Challenge, reminds me that I trump fear, that hope springs eternal, that nothing can keep me from what I love.

There’s a reason people say “Why do we fall? To learn to get up.” Facing fear isn’t a lifetime of ecstasy, it’s a practice in doing what you love that leads to moments of brilliance that stay with you for a lifetime.

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Michael Stanwyck
Michael Stanwyck is the co-founder of The Whole Life Challenge, an idea that developed during his seven years as a coach and gym manager at CrossFit Los Angeles.

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in philosophy as well as a degree from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, and feels food is one of the most important parts of a life - it can nourish, heal, and bring people together.

Michael believes health and well-being are as much a state of mind as they are a state of the body, and when it comes to fitness, food, and life in general, he thinks slow is much better than fast (most of the time). Stopping regularly to examine things is the surest way to put down roots and grow.

He knows he will never be done with his own work, and believes the best thing you can do for your well-being starts with loving and working from what you’ve got right now.