Episode 48 - The Fear Onion


Jen: Hello there, listeners. As you know, Pete and I like to practice good finding, and guess what we found? You! All of you who have been such loyal listeners, and who have sent us questions, shared episodes and brought other listeners into The Long and The Short Of It community. We are so grateful to you, and we hope that you'll continue to share your favorite episodes with the people you care about.

Pete: Yes, and we also wanted to take a quick moment to remind you about our Box O' Goodies, which is a weekly email where Jen and I put in our favorite resources relevant to that week's episode. It might be a podcast, it might be blog posts, it might be books, it might be videos, might be quotes, might be Ted Talks. You name it, it will potentially be in the Box O' Goodies, so you can sign up at our website, thelongandtheshortpodcast.com, and that will land in your inbox every Tuesday, along with a link to this week's episode.

Jen: Hello, Peter.

Pete: Hello, Jen.

Jen: Today I have decided to pull something off the cutting-room floor, and do a take two, because I have found myself recently referencing something quite a lot. And that thing that we are now pulling off the cutting room floor is...The Fear Onion.

Pete: Yes! It's back. The Fear Onion is back. I'm ready. This is The Long and The Short Of It.

Jen: I was talking about the Fear Onion the other day with a client of mine and I said, "Oh, well, we recorded this episode that we never released called The Fear Onion". And she was like, "And that's why you never released it".

Pete: [laughter] Yes.

Jen: But this one we shall release because the more I think about it, the more important it is to call out the stinky Fear Onion. And the reason I have found myself referencing it so much lately is because we recently recorded an episode on The Dip. I have a lot of clients in my summer program who have hit The Dip point. And in order to get them to access the emotional labor required, they have to peel the Fear Onion. So, so here we go. The Fear Onion is the idea that when you're able to name your fear and pull it away, underneath it lies yet another fear. And when you remove...when you're able to name and then remove that layer of fear, underneath it lies yet, you guessed it, another fear. And we keep pulling back the layers, like an onion, and with each layer- more and more stinky. So I want to talk about this, because I think there is a myth perpetuated that we should be seeking to be fearless, and it's just not possible. We have to acknowledge that we are hard-wired to feel fear. But what we can do is keep getting closer and closer to the root of it, so we know better and better how to deal with it.

Pete: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, Jen Waldman. I, I can't stand...one of my pet hates is when people talk about "crushing fears" and "eliminating fear from your life." You know, "eliminate fear", "crush fear". It's like, well, I don't think you can. I don't think you can. I think we need to all sit here and acknowledge: everyone is afraid. Everyone has fear. Everyone has doubt and insecurity. Everyone has a Fear Onion that they hold in their hand.

Jen: In their stinky little hand.

Pete: In their stinky little hand. And that the more we talk about it, the more we can peel it back- the more we realize we're universally connected by our fears, and that perhaps we all have the same core that sits at our Onion, which we can get to.

Jen: Mhmm. So the thing that brought up the Fear Onion in the first place, the episode that landed on the cutting-room floor, was this idea that if we don't peel back the layers and see what's underneath it, we can, for lack of a better way to describe it, marry the fear that we've labeled, even when we've outgrown it, and get stuck in that story of what we think we're afraid of. And, using myself as an example, this came up because at some point in my life I had a fear of being recorded, a fear of things being preserved for posterity. I was still telling that story after we had started releasing podcast episodes! So obviously, that story was dated. I had outgrown it, but I hadn't pulled back the layer to see what was underneath it, now that I had moved on.

Pete: Ooh, that's interesting. And not just peel it back but, the thing about an onion is when you peel it, if you think about it- the metaphor, the, the visual in my head is, the layer, like, falls to the floor. So it, it falls to the floor and it no longer is serving you...or not serving you.

Jen: Yeah. And so each of us, of course, have distinct ways we can label our own fears, but I also think it's important to call out- there are some universal labels for these fears as well. I think of them as The Fear Menu. It's like, "What shall I have today? What's on the menu? Will it be fear of missing out? Fear of people's opinions? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of my dreams?".

Pete: Yes.

Jen: And keep going and going and going. It's like an endless New York diner menu.

Pete: Fear of letting people down. Fear of living up to expectations. Fear of not being enough. Fear being too much. Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Jen: So, when we can name our fear we don't necessarily eliminate it, but we diffuse it. We take away its power to control our decision-making and steer us into places we don't want to go.

Pete: Yeah, and how I think about this is, (I'm sure I've mentioned this on one of the episodes in the past), but I think of it as a dance. Is, we dance with our fear- because sometimes it leads us, sometimes we lead it- but it's ever-present, and it's universal, and it's always there. So rather than crushing it, I think of dancing with it. And that sometimes the partner can change, if you're able to shed a layer, but that you're always in a dance with some version of fear, I think.

Jen: Ooh. Now, of course, the choreographer in me wants to know what kind of dance you're doing. Is it a Tango? Is it a Jitterbug? Is it the Lindy Hop?

Pete: I mean, in my head I have the Tango, but I, like, I am absolutely not qualified to be busting out a Tango. But in my head, I'm doing the Tango.

Jen: Oh my gosh. Now I have a visual of you dancing with me. And uh, not pretty. Not pretty.

Pete: That's, that's definitely The Long and The Short Of It.

Jen: Oh my gosh. Can you imagine what we would look like doing a lift?

Pete: I really can't. So, what...I don't know if this is throwing us off the deep end, but what, what are you afraid of at the moment, Jen Waldman? Recognizing that fear is universal and ever-present and always in a dance with. Is there things that come to mind, at the moment, for you that you're working through?

Jen: Yeah. So, after I read Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (which is an incredible book that I recommend everyone takes a look at), I did her Values Exercise. And, I looked at that in relationship to my Golden Circle, that came out of my Why Discovery using Simon Sinek's framework. And I don't know if we need all this context, but I'll say it anyway. You know, in Simon's framework, you excavate the meaningful, impactful stories from your past in order to identify your Why Statement, and your, and those are ideas that basically choose you. You don't necessarily choose them- they've happened and so they exist. Whereas Brene's Values Exercise, you choose. You choose the two things that are important to you. So, I was expecting that the two things I would choose would be very much in alignment with the Contribution and Impact side of my Why Statement...which they're related, but they're not. So, my two values are Integrity and Legacy. And I think my...so my fear of being recorded (once we pulled that back), what I recognized underneath that was the fear of being, quote, "wrong". And then when I pulled that back, that was the fear of being out of integrity. So once I combated the fear of being recorded and now it's about living with integrity, what giving up my fear of being recorded has allowed me to do is actually concentrate on legacy. Which is, will I actually record things so that they can outlive me? And, I think that is also very scary.

Pete: Yeah.

Jen: So I haven't pulled back all the legacy layers yet. But I've pulled back so many of the, what I thought were the recording layers, and found out that they were the integrity layers. So I'm working on the legacy side, 'cause I really want to get to the bottom of the ways in which I'm holding myself back from doing more work that can outlive me.

Pete: Hmm, I like that. I just had an "a-ha" moment as you were talking. About my own fears, and what I suspect might be other's fears out there listening. Which is I, like, I've done a lot of work thinking about fear. And I think my most feared fear is...I think it's letting other people down. And what I just realized is that, that might be because I'm an Upholder.

Jen: Ooh.

Pete: That might feed that, the fact that I'm an Upholder- which means I, I am motivated to uphold promises to others and to myself. I mean, that makes sense that if, if that's the way that I approach a lot of my work, and motivation, and getting things done. Is, Gretchen Rubin talks about a framework, which I know we've mentioned a few times, is that it kind of makes sense that one of my biggest fears is the fear of letting others down, because it's, like, baked into my existence to not do that. Wow.

Jen: Oh my gosh. So I'm having this sort of, like, jaw-dropping reaction because I realized the fear of being wrong, which leads to the fear of being out of integrity, is absolutely related to my Questioner tendency.

Pete: Wow.

Jen: I love the idea of using what you know about yourself to pull back the layers of the Fear Onion and go, "Okay, well, if I know that I'm someone who I have to have all the information- I have to have done all the research, I have to have all the logic leaps. You will not poke a hole in my story.". So, of course, my fear is I didn't do enough of that. "You're going to poke holes in all of my stories. Everything I believe is going to fall apart. There is no integrity to this house of cards.". Hmm.

Pete: I also feel like Gretchen Rubin should sponsor this podcast, 'cause we've mentioned her quite a few times. Shout out if you're listening, Gretchen. You're welcome. The other fear I have at the moment, just to share because we're sharing, is an interesting one and it's very meta, which is: I am going to be delivering a TEDx Talk in September.

Jen: [applause] I'm applauding.

Pete: A rousing round of applause from Jen. I'm delivering a TEDx Talk in September and it's sort of thrilling, sort of exciting, and absolutely terrifying, and very meta because what I'm talking about, which many of the listeners have heard me talk about, is that Imposter Syndrome is a good thing- which will be very ironic given I will be the ultimate imposter speaking on a TED stage. So there you go. That's the other thing I'm thinking about in terms of fear at the moment.

Jen: Okay. I know we're talking about fear, but I also just want to, like, call out some language choices you just made, which were "sort of", "sort of", "absolutely". So the two positives got a "sort of", and the negative got an "absolutely". So I challenge you to reframe that, Mr. Shepherd. Um, can you talk a little bit about what you're afraid of with the TED Talk? Like, what is the fear?

Pete: I think this is the, this is the...what I think is the root of all Onions, of all Fear Onions, right? My assertion is, and I think I said this in a recent episode, that the root of all Fear Onions that we possess in our dirty little hand, our smelly little hand, is the fear of other people's opinion. And that manifests itself in so many different ways. I think the fear that you just described around legacy, the fear that you described around integrity is actually, if you peel it back even more, is because of a fear of what other people might say, what other people might think, of what other people might do. I think all of our fears, for better or for worse (I haven't figured that part out), come down to a fear of other people's opinions. And I'm sure that's the case with the TED Talk, for sure, as with everything else.

Jen: Which, to bring it back to the questions we always, always ask, makes it even more vital to know who it's for.

Pete: Yeah.

Jen: So that the opinions you're worrying about are those of the people you seek to serve, and not of every single human being on planet Earth.

Pete: Yeah. I, (this is a slightly side riff but related), I was giving a talk a couple of weeks ago to Slack at their office in Melbourne, and we were actually talking about being clear in who your work is for. And that, not only is your work not for everyone, it's for no one more than it's for someone. And, I used them as the example, which is: Slack is considered one of the most successful high-growth startups of all time. They have ten million daily active users, which means ten million people use Slack every single day- which is ridiculous and crazy and wild. And yet, there are four billion people who have access to the Internet, which means 99.9975% of people on the Internet don't use one of the most successful software companies of all time. That they have a 0.0025% of those that use the Internet- they are the perfect example of your work is not for everyone. Even when you're that successful.

Jen: Oh, that is so inspiring to think about. It's such a relief.

Pete: Oh, is it? I thought you were being a little bit sarcastic of, like, "so inspired".

Jen: No, I'm actually quite inspired by that because I think it gives you so much permission. So much permission to release the fear of most people's opinions, and instead to focus on serving the people you seek to serve.

Pete: Yeah, and that's what I intend to do, or try and do, with said TEDx Talk.

Jen: Oh my gosh, Peter. It's funny because I know you're, you're feeling the fear. You're doing it anyway. From the outsider perspective, you know, from a, you know, I am not you- it seems like the most inevitable, obvious event. It's like, of course Peter's giving a TEDx Talk on Impostor Syndrome. Any fortune teller could have told you that was coming down the pike.

Pete: Yeah, so this is, I think this is another really interesting thing about fear (which I think is why it's so important to talk about), is that we assume that no one else has fears. Or we think that maybe they've got fears, but we think it's a different fear. That, like, people would never be afraid of giving a TEDx Talk, or...There was a perfect example of this in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Which I've, this is the second time I've referenced that show, I've been watching a lot of it. Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy were having coffee together, and Jerry was saying to Eddie Murphy, "You were fearless. Like, that was always my perception of you.". And Eddie Murphy was like, "I was terrified every single time I got onstage. I was absolutely terrified. You were the confident one. You were the guy that had it together.". And Jerry said, "No, I just pretended like I did, because I know that that works. I'm, like, completely terrified as well. I'm putting on this facade that I feel confident, but I'm terrified.". And both of them had this moment of, "Huh, you were terrified. I had no idea.". And so I think that's, that's just a fascinating thing to consider as well, is we, we don't realize that other people are just as afraid as us.

Jen: So it turns out that TEDx speakers, and comedians who drive in cars and get coffee are all part of that same Fear Onion patch, and down at the core, you're going to find that everybody has fears. Fears of other people's opinions, among many other layers that are part of the Fear Menu that the Onion possesses. We're mixing metaphors now, but...So I guess, is what we're saying that we have to accept that in our stinky little hands we'll always be holding the Fear Onion, and the question is, are we bringing it to the dance with us?

Pete: Exactly. What are you going to do with your stinky little Onion? Perhaps, dance with it. That is The Long and The Short Of It.