Do Life Differently: Where Fear Looms Largest

Do Life Differently: Where Fear Looms Largest

Jeff ReeterBy Jeff Reeter9 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Chapter 3 “The Significance of Significance” in Do Life Differently: A Strategic Path Toward Extraordinary by Jeff D. Reeter


Where Fear Looms Largest

It’s possible to feel fear at any of the three levels, but it looms largest in the territory of survival (probably because you’re at the base of the mountain looking up). Wherever fear looms, we are prone to see only with our eyes, not with our hearts. And before we know it, our dreams have vanished into thin air.

This is where most people falter. This is what keeps most people down. We are all too quick to back off of our desires and settle for the safety of certainty before we’ve even given ourselves a chance at something better. And though we may not be thriving where we are, we have a remarkable ability to console ourselves with thoughts like, “At least I kind of know what to expect here. It’s not really that bad.”

I’ve heard it described as “my familiar”—a comfortable place. Some people actually claim to enjoy living in a tent for weeks at a time, huddled among a crowd of people! Yet familiarity doesn’t change the facts: you’re still in a state of survival, sitting at the base of what was supposed to be a really great, high-mountain adventure… going nowhere. In this earliest stage of leading yourself, I encourage you not only to step up, out of survival and into something new, but to step out—away from the crowd—to forge your own trail.

I understand that we’re often reluctant to change. Especially at base camp, it’s common to perceive safety in numbers and console ourselves with assurances such as: I’m doing all right here, aren’t I? So many people are here, including most of my friends and family. It’s feeling more like home every day. So, what’s the point in climbing higher? However, when the natural next step seems to be to take no step at all—just lose yourself in the crowd and hope for the best—you’re actually inviting trouble.

I want to propose a different course of action: do what you came to do and don’t let fear throw you off. My wife, Cindy, and I love to hike and climb in the mountains. Best of all is when our sons are with us and it’s a Team Reeter adventure. Whether it’s a fourteener or an easy ascent to a beautiful vista or waterfall, I’ve noticed that, before we start, there’s always a little anxiety. Especially on the tougher climbs. If we’re not careful, we could easily talk ourselves out of going at all. It never fails, though: once we set out on our adventure, we end up having so much fun, and enjoying such incredible sights, that it’s hard to remember why we were anxious in the first place.

Leaving the comfort of base camp in our lives is similar. The first steps away from the trailhead are often the hardest, at least in our minds. However, nearly everyone feels that way. Instead of getting caught up in your anxiety, congratulate yourself that you made the decision to get off the couch and shoot for something better. Then remind yourself: “I came here to climb a mountain,” take a deep breath, and…go! Before you know it, you’ll be thanking yourself and planning your next adventure.

Not Everybody Stays

At different times in life, no matter how accomplished they are, everyone ends up in survival mode. But not everyone leads themselves beyond it. To me, this is the real tragedy of this level—that so few ever see even one summit in their time on earth. They never go after that “Mission accomplished!” moment that makes the effort of the trek worthwhile.

It is true that at the beginning of every journey is where the most uncertainty exists. No one can predict everything that lies ahead. Yet that doesn’t stop people from taking trips to amazing destinations around the world every day, and it shouldn’t prevent you from setting out toward the amazing goals you carry within your heart.

If you are existing at survival level anywhere in your life, you do not have to stay there! Survival is not supposed to be a settling ground. Rather, it can and should be a starting point. By taking one intentional step after another, you can lead yourself out of survival and away from the crowd, to the next level and the next, and begin to change your life.

Life’s avalanches do sometimes push people back down to base camp through no fault of their own. People who are thoroughly leading themselves in one arena, such as their marriage, can end up in survival conditions somewhere else, such as their job, because of circumstances beyond their control or because of others’ poor choices. The difference is, they don’t stay long enough to acclimate. (That’s necessary for summiting Everest, not for excelling in your life.) They don’t make this level their home away from home, and therefore, it doesn’t become their permanent “mode.”

If you’re living by default in any regard—having resigned yourself to the minimum existence (or sometimes the minimum effort) as a parent, an employee, a lover, a citizen; if you’re hiding away in the crowd, content to be average—you’re in the dangerous realm of survival in that particular area. And the longer you stick around, the more prone you are to claim its motto: “It is what it is; I just need to live with it.”

Given enough time, that is exactly what everyone who opts to stay at survival level will teach themselves to do: live with it. And each time they do, they put more distance between themselves and the life they could have had.

I’m urging you to pack up your tent and strive higher because the clock is ticking, and the passage of time only increases the distance between you and your destiny. First of all, mountains continue to grow taller, both literally and in our mind’s eye, the longer we wait. (Check out and for data on the annual growth of mountains like Everest and the rest of the Himalayas.) Secondly, to loosely paraphrase Newton’s law of inertia, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Things in a sedentary state deteriorate—our bodies, our relationships, and our skills. Opportunities evaporate when they’re not acted on. Finally, as with the mountains of earth, there are only certain seasons in which you have a realistic chance at summiting. Experts call them “climbing windows.” Failing to seize the day to lead yourself upward and out of survival can, at some point, mean not only missing the goal but also the journey.

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