The Filament Blog

The Fear Jar

Mar 01, 2023

I stared at the crisscrossing colored lines of the NYC subway system on my phone screen. It never ceases to intimidate me - not just because the system itself is complicated, but because I have to find the few lines that are actually accessible. I found one route that I thought might work. I exhaled and ran a hand through my hair, putting down my phone.

A constant stream of thoughts passed through my mind. What if the elevators are down in the subway? What if my shoulders get too tired and I can’t push myself home? What if I can’t find a restroom when I need one? I could feel the fear translating into my neck and scalp until I could feel the beginnings of a migraine.

After massaging my temples and doing some meditation to relax my nervous system, I put on my push gloves and started my journey uphill to the nearest subway station. I did this over and over through the next week - panicking lightly, and then just doing the scary thing. And as I did, something interesting happened. What once felt terrifying started to feel easy.

As I nailed my initial route into the city, I started challenging myself to take bigger risks. One afternoon, instead of taking reliable transportation home, I decided to take a shortcut, pushing my way through the cold wind up a dozen blocks to Union Square. I knew that this particular station was accessible and wanted to try it alone. When I got to the station, I found a broken elevator.

At first, I was exasperated and a little vindicated, like, “SEE?! THIS IS WHY I DON’T DO THIS”. But after weighing my options and more breathing (I was very oxygenated in New York), I went and talked with an attendant who told me that I could go to the station in the opposite direction, take the elevator there and then take the subway back to Brooklyn in the right direction. So, I jumped on a bus and headed to the next stop.

I did more scary stuff in those two weeks than I do in 6 months living in Utah. Something about this trip called me to be braver, bolder and more courageous and I came home feeling like a different person. I felt fearless and confident and invigorated. I could only attribute this new confidence to one thing: doing tons of scary stuff.

The effects of this were so profound that it made me pause to reconsider my lifestyle. I’ve created a very comfortable, safe space for myself in Utah, wherebut it’s easy to stick to my cozy routine. Something about the challenges and tackling fears made me feel so alive that I wanted more of it. I wondered, how can I keep this momentum? I needed a way to fight complacency and keep challenging myself.

Then the idea came to me. I rolled over to my kitchen, pulled out a round fish-bowl like vase from under my counter and pulled out a pen with a pad of blue sticky notes. I drew a big red heart on a sticky note, colored it in, and then slapped it on the side. My fear jar was complete and ready to be filled. Every time I take an action that scares me and expands my life, I add a piece of paper to the jar. I have added papers for everything from setting boundaries to expressing my opinion in a meeting.

Here are a few specific ones I added this week: I put in a paper for telling a beloved friend that I would rather keep in touch via text or audio message than the phone. Another note came from sending in an audition tape for a casting call. And another for asking someone out on a date.

When I go to do a scary thing, I experience a real, physiological response that makes me want to throw up. Something as simple as communicating reasonable boundaries still makes my blood pressure skyrocket. But it’s getting easier. Now I only feel a little throwy-uppy.

I’ve noticed immediate changes. I feel less fear about responding to emails and texts. I am clearer about exactly what does and doesn’t work for me in various settings, like at work, at the gym, and with loved ones. I feel less anxiety in general because I am starting to trust that I will actually clearly advocate for myself rather than sell out in order to please people, or look nice.

My fear jar sits on my counter and every day I ask myself, what will I do today that scares me? The practice has been transformative. Oh, and I am gonna buy myself a hella nice espresso machine once I get to 100 scaries. So that’s fun, too. If you are looking to expand your life and your sense of aliveness, I highly recommend a fear practice. You’re just a jar, some paper, and a bit of courage away from your new bold horizons. :)