Unshakeable Confidence: Facing Fear, Taking Risks, and Surviving the Falls

ziji (zē’jē) n. 1. radiant inner confidence

I’m writing this sitting on a plane ride from North Carolina en route to Ashland via San Francisco. Sitting next to me is Fred, a Texan hydrogeologist. He tells me a story. It starts with a dream. Back in the day as a single man, he promised himself that when he had kids, he would raise them in Mexico. For him, it was the perfect place for the way he wanted to raise his kids, allowing for cultural immersion and life-expanding experiences. Lo and behold, years later, at the height of his career, the kids arrived. Not the best timing. Did he freak out knowing he was at a highpoint in his career and tell himself, “Hellz no! I am not going to Mexico! Not now!” ?

Au contraire. And neither did his wife. He stayed true to his dream and they sold everything, moving their family to Mexico. The first six years were full of trials to say the least. It was challenging to find a job as a Texan hydrogeologist, even after having done work there previously. I think he may have used the words “it was actually kind of like hell.” They wondered, often, “What have we DONE?!”

BUT, over the course of about 6 years, things started turning around. He and his wife started a furniture business. It grew. It became a success. And now, after 16 years in Mexico, they are quite happy and content. In the end, he says he sees it as one of the best decisions of his life, and it has been a truly enriching experience for his kids, which was the whole point of taking that risk in the first place. Fred confirms this by saying that to NOT have ever gone to Mexico – wondering “What if?” – would have been far worse than going through those challenging 6-7 years. Fred, my friends, has Ziji.

Ziji is all about confidence. But not just any confidence. True. Radiant. Inner. Confidence.

Where the heck IS this Ziji?!

Let’s start by imagining what life was like before anything “bad” ever happened to us (sah-weet!). I’d like to use the metaphor of a house. Once upon a proverbial time, you were in a big beautiful home. You had lots of open windows that brought in lots of light and refreshing breezes. It felt spacious and free. As you looked through the windows and doors of this home and the breeze wafted over you, you got to experience life “out there.” The windows and doors allowed opportunity to come in, and for you to seek it out. Over time, as you looked out different windows and doors, you had good and bad experiences with the world “out there.” However, as you experienced the bad ones, they hurt you so deeply. They scared you. They pissed you off. You wanted to avoid those experiences and protect yourself from them as much as possible, so that you never had to experience them – or anything like them – ever again. They made you…uncomfortable. You closed those windows and doors, vowing to keep them shut forever.

What kinds of things cause us to close off to the world and shut those windows and doors of opportunity?
Well, a few examples from some of my past clients’ lives are:

  • Being told it isn’t realistic to live our passions (dreaming shuts down!).
  • A partner leaving you for someone else (trust shuts down!).
  • Splurging on yourself for once, then losing your job (generosity towards yourself – and likely others – shuts down!).
  • Hearing your parents argue day and night about money (being comfortable with money and abundance shuts down!).
  • Putting your all into applying to the best gradate school out there and not getting accepted (taking big risks shuts down!).
  • Putting on your first art show and nothing sells (believing you can be successful living your passion shuts down!).

There’s lots.

Blam! Slam! Boom! Thud! Eventually, all the windows and doors are shut, you are in a dark house, cold, dank, lifeless. But hey, YOU’RE SAFE! Woohoo!

Well, not really.

You think you’ve managed to protect yourself from those bad experiences ever happening again, but you’ve also closed yourself off to any possible opportunities, joy, and light. You don’t take risks where there is even the remote possibility of failing. You take apparent “risks” for things you are sure to succeed in, and are successful in the things you actually attempt to do. But you never take any real risks.

You only date people who likely won’t dump you. You apply for jobs that you’re overqualified for. You never take vacations or buy nice things for yourself because you need to save LOTS (“you never know what’ll happen”) and you pride yourself in being “frugal.” You have a safe job with good benefits and it’s “alright.” You paint as a hobby and your family admires your talent and tells you they are so glad you went to law school instead of art school. And you smile back. You put off starting that business of yours because you have kids, and no “responsible” mom would do that with kids so you’re doing the “right” thing.

By the way, we often write off living our passions and dreams with the excuse of needing to be “responsible.” Yet we seem to have the definition of resposible mean to only do things that are completely safe. No risks. Risks are “bad” and “irresponsible.” Well, perhaps Fred didn’t pick the “safest” option, but it didn’t qualify as irresponsible…at least not in Ziji land, or to his happy kids who now travel the world and dream big.

The result of not taking any real risks is you never know what might actually be possible should you live life full-out. Risks and all. And you’re scared as hell that you don’t have all your bases covered and something is going to sneak in through one of those windows and doors and knock you around again. And it probably will.

What a crappy place to be.

So what is the real fear here? And once again…where the heck is this Ziji?
Why do we protect ourselves with such fervor? It’s not because of what is actually happening in the NOW. Usually, it is because we don’t think we’ll be able to take what comes next, that we’ll be able to handle it again, or because we imagine the worse case scenario and we know we just don’t LIKE being uncomfortable (and its myriad manifestations of intensity)!

In her book Unconditional Confidence, Pema Chodron describes getting knocked down by ocean waves. Life is like standing at the ocean’s edge. Eventually, there will always come a wave that will knock us down. When the huge scary ones in life arrive that look like they will knock us down, we either try to run away or stand up with all our might to keep from getting knocked down. We try to protect ourselves.

Thing is, the ocean is powerful. The waves we’re talking about here always knock us down. It’s just part of being human. So you see, it doesn’t work to run away from them. It’s part of being alive. They always catch up to you, and if you run they just get ya from behind and you eat a bunch of sand and it gets in your eyes and in your undies. You can try with all your might to be “strong,” plant your feet, and not get taken out…but it’s exhausting, and once you’re knocked down, you’re just more tired at the end of it all. Sometimes you get held down a long time under water and get spun around like in a washing machine, and you barely make it up for air. Other times, you get a bunch of sand in your mouth and water in your ears. But what we seem to fail to notice is: we ALWAYS get back up!

Maybe one time we got knocked down and it took a few weeks…or months…or years to get back up. Another time it took a few days. Another time a few minutes. No matter what, we always stood back up. Shaken, but standing.

So our fear in the end isn’t in the waves themselves...it is the fear that we might not get back up.

These waves of life do recede. And we always have the opportunity to get back up. And we HAVE gotten back up many times in the past. So instead of trying to protect yourself, remind yourself of all the times you have gotten up in your life. THAT is where true radiant inner confidence – Ziji – comes from. And you can’t develop Ziji without having been knocked down and getting back up again. You need to know that you can stand up again and again. You always do! I’m not saying it is always fun. It’s way different than body surfing. I’m just saying you always get up, so stop worrying about that part.

If you start to embrace the waves, and if you cultivate your Ziji, your inner confidence, when these waves take you down, you will get up faster and faster each time. And the waves will feel smaller and smaller each time. You will stop focusing on protecting yourself from the waves, trying to figure out ways for them to stop happening, working out to stand your ground. Instead, you will accept that waves happen. You will have the confidence to know you will get back up. And somewhere deep inside, you will know that wondering “what if” is a hell of a lot worse than getting knocked down and getting back up. ZIji is inside you. In all of us.

The waves in life WILL happen, whether you accept them or not (they have!).

You WILL get knocked down (it’s happened!).

And you WILL get back up (you DID!).

You have enough. We all do. Build your Ziji, your radiant inner confidence, and you will be willing to take those risks, get knocked down, and get back up because THAT is living. Keep the windows and doors open, let in the light and the opportunities. The rewards are priceless: joy, fulfillment, passion, unshakeable confidence, contentment, peace of mind, growing beyond your wildest dreams, doing what you never thought possible, inspiring others around you to do the same.

So do it. Ziji Up! The perfect antidote to fear is action…even small action.

Bring it: make a list of the times you’ve been taken down by a wave and stood up again. See this as proof of what you already know: you have all you need inside of you.

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