As a child I remember standing at the top of the stairs to my basement looking down into the darkness. On an afternoon much like any other winter's day as a child, I was in the midst of playing a hockey game with myself (and my very vivid imagination) on the main floor of my family's house when my yellow Nerf ball slipped through the staircase railings and fell into the basement.
The light switch was readily accessible to brighten the staircase portion to the lower level, but I knew that chances were the ball had made its way into the darkness — darkness that could only be lit by a series of pull strings sporadically placed around the unfinished mystery.
I always had the option of calling for my mom, but who wants to do that? That would require admitting that I was still afraid of the dark, something that she wouldn't care about but that my 12 year old ego couldn't stand.
In keeping my perceived "manliness" in place, far too many hockey games ended early, or experienced longer than usual intermissions that only ended when my mom finally needed to go downstairs to get something for herself, a trip that I would quickly become her companion for.
It wasn't until several years later that I decided enough was enough. I let my desire to play override my fear and I stepped into the darkness. What initially felt like a terrifying pit quickly transitioned into a major source of happiness. Amongst that darkness was my new arena, far more spacious than what I had previously restricted myself to upstairs, and with far fewer interferences by travelling family members.
Why did I share this story with you? Because for me it was the first time I had directly experienced the reality that life truly does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
Admittedly, even after stepping into the darkness, the fear would still occasionally arise (thanks in large part to my aforementioned powerful imagination), but I always knew that I could get through it. What once seemed scary and impossible to do was now within grasp and had been overcome in the past.
While I'm sure we all have fears that are far more legitimate than a dark childhood basement, I firmly believe that the same approach almost always applies. Do we choose to step into the seeming unknown? Or do we choose to forever stand on the edge of it, as I did at the top of stairs, eternally wondering what it would be like to take the plunge?
If Not Now, When?
Even if what's on the other end of facing your fears isn't as glorious as the new play space was for me as a child, there is undoubtedly a certain power that comes with saying "yes." Every courageous step opens more and more doors to potential greatness by helping you to realize that there is more than what you currently know, trust, and feel safe within.
The truth is that even much of what you now consider "normal" was once outside of your comfort zone, and either courage or circumstance thrust you into it and ultimately beyond it.
Whether you buy into the belief behind YOLO (you only live once) or not, this is certainly the youngest you are ever going to be in this life, so if not now, when?
Learn From The Examples Of Others
The world is filled with living examples of people whose chose to rise beyond fear and do something great:
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team
Albert Einstein wasn't able to speak until the age of 4, and had several teachers say that he would never amount to much
Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor and was told that she wasn't "fit for television"
Eminem was a high school dropout that struggled with drugs and poverty
The Beatles were rejected by a major recording studio and told that they had "no future in show business"
All of these scenarios could have easily justified fear taking over, but instead all of these now-famous individuals decided to do what scared the crap out of them, and in doing so, gave themselves the opportunity to become great rather than falling into the greatness-defeating trap of complacency and comfort.
I also find motivational stories and/or videos incredibly helpful when I'm trying to overcome fear. In particular, I enjoy the work of Prince Ea, with this video being among my favourites: