Facing your fears can be the most exciting thing that you do

Think of the thing that scares you most in life. Now, go and do it. It will be the best thing you ever do.

Challenging yourself; doing the difficult, uncomfortable, terrifying thing, is a powerful, positive, transformative force in life.

Think of it like exercise.

You need to be "fit" in every element of life to cope and that requires training – effort, dedication and pushing against resistance.

Flexing your fear

By facing our fears and doing the difficult every day, we can see the cumulative value of our work. Each little step makes us stronger and moves us forward. It gets just a little easier every time.

It can be anything, like reaching out to a mate for help, public speaking, volunteering, asking for a raise, talking to that individual you like while worrying about rejection.

(Obviously this does not include things that will actually put your in real danger like jumping off a cliff without a bungee or playing with deadly animals - these aren't personal challenges, they're just stupid).

Walking the talk                                                                                                              

One of my own challenges lately has been busking. I have been teaching myself guitar for a couple of years and don't mind a bit of a sing.

So, one evening I drove to the walkway under Stanmore station in Sydney, and had a crack.

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In the car on the way, I almost threw up. I stopped and pulled over. I went to the pub and had one lonely beer first. "What on earth are you doing?" I asked myself. "You're going to get laughed at, told to piss off. Who do you think you are, just going and singing at people?"

The real world effect

Now, it must be noted that I play guitar, as one real guitarist friend put it, "like you're trying to kill it." I sing like Eddie Vedder's unfortunate cousin doing an Eddie impression. So I wasn't going to win adoring crowds with my musical genius.

Here's a tip. There's a place where people are beautiful and warm and open and positive. It's called "real life". If I posted a video of myself playing and singing online, a thousand anonymous trolls would pile on and tell me how much I sucked.

But here, in a bleak Sydney Rail tunnel, people smiled and made eye contact. One woman didn't have any money but said she was going to get some and came back to drop some coins into my hat.

An exchange of experiences

Another bloke dropped $1 and $2 coins into my hat, for as long as I held a note … "Laaaaaaaaaaaa …" Ting, ting, ting, ting, ting … He was surprised by what big lungs I had.

A man and his autistic son watched for three songs. Then the boy dropped some coins.

"Why?" he asked loudly. I stopped and said "Well, the challenge, to get some practice at guitar, singing and performance and maybe buy a bottle of wine to take home."

One guy shouted "Nice axe!" (It's my daughter's three-quarter size acoustic. I'm not in KISS.)

I had warm, light conversations with a wide variety of people. The smiles and good humour in the cold at the end of a work day was a revelation. And I can make about $50 an hour having the time of my life, it turns out.

A face for radio

I have also had the profound pleasure of talking to men about friendship on talkback radio on the ABC recently. Men want to reach out and talk to their mates about how they're feeling but they say they "don't want to take the risk."

Bottling up pain is easier than facing the fear of getting laughed at or judged. But, for those who face the fear and open up, the rewards are instant and immense.

A young friend asked some advice last week. She'd come into some money – and huge responsibility for a young person - and wanted to help out some friends who were in a pinch. She really wanted to help them but was afraid she wasn't doing the right thing with her money.

Take a risk on others

As it turns out, she did it. She's going to make money on the deal and the tears and hugs of gratitude and joy she received were overwhelming. She saved a house and two businesses. What an extraordinary thing.

So challenge yourself, again and again. It gets easier and easier. You really can teach yourself the downside is only in your head and learn, by repetition, that the upside is real.  

Challenge helps you realise your potential. It helps you become the best person you can be. Who wouldn't love to get better and stronger every day?

Now, where's that bag of spiders I was going to empty down my pants?

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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Do you have a particular fear you'd like to face? Share your experience in the comments below.

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