February 9, 2022

Fear isn’t the Enemy: Eileen Gu’s Striking Words on how to Overcome Anxiety.

 

What’s the difference between fear, excitement, and anxiety?

Fear can be our worst enemy. There is a pandemic of anxiety. But what if we change our perspective on these feelings?

Maybe we need to question our perception of these emotions and take a nonjudgmental approach? Why do we label certain feelings as negative? What happens when we actually enjoy the rush of adrenaline instead of trying to stop it?

This morning, I read an essay written by gold medalist Eileen Gu in The New York Times. She describes her relationship with fear in a way that could be of benefit to all of us (even if we don’t plan to throw a triple backflip on skies anytime soon).

Gu is about to become the superstar of the Winter Olympics 2022. Her dad is American, her mom is Chinese—and she decided to compete for China, despite the fact that she grew up in California.

Her decision to represent China at the games has sparked some controversy, but I love the way Gu is dealing with ongoing criticism. She wants to inspire women to “break their own boundaries.”

As many women (and men) struggle with anxiety these days, I feel Gu’s essay perfectly describes how to develop a healthy relationship with our feelings.

She wrote, “‘Fear’ is really an umbrella term for three distinct sensations: excitement, uncertainty, and pressure. I’ve learned that the nuanced indicators of each of these feelings can be instrumental to success when recognized and positively leveraged, and harbingers of injury when ignored.”

Wow! This is the most grounded description of fear I have ever heard.

She continues to differentiate between the empowering effect of adrenaline and the limitations arising from uncertainty. Gu writes, “Every freeskier’s goal is to recognize the minute differences between excitement and uncertainty in order to maximize performance while minimizing the risk of injury.”

We don’t need to be a freeskier to apply this to our daily lives. We can have a similar experience as authors, parents, and partners. What we call fear is often just a feeling of excitement that we learned to label as fear.

Being a professional athlete, Gu knows that pressure can be limiting, but she also takes a nonjudgmental perspective when she writes, “Pressure can be a positive force for competitors who leverage it to rise to the occasion, but it can also single-handedly dictate competitive failure.”

And again, this is helpful for athletes but also a powerful reminder for average folks like you and me. Competition is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s more about how we approach it.

The next time I feel my heart pumping before an important meeting, I will think of Gu’s wisdom. And I invite you to explore any feelings of anxiety by simply asking, “Am I excited or scared? And what’s the difference?”

There had been a lot of talks and necessary discussions on China’s role in hosting the Olympics. There are valid accusations against the government of China.

But there is also this 18-year old athlete who wants to build a bridge between two different cultures. Gu is not only an outstanding athlete but also an inspiration to young women (and men) around the world to develop a healthy relationship with fear.

She worked hard to get into this position. And let’s not forget that she will return to the United States after the games. It might look as if the Chinese government is using her fame to fit into their own propaganda, but if she wins another two gold medals, there is no way to silence her.

She will become the voice of a generation of young people with American-Chinese heritage—no matter if either of the two governments likes it or not.

Gu is here to stay. She is likely to dominate freeskiing for the next decade.

And I can’t wait to read her next essay—because, on top of being a gold medalist, model, and accepted into Stanford University, she is also an amazing writer.

I wish her the best of luck for her next competitions and hope that she continues to use her voice to inspire others. I hope that she uses her popularity to speak up on topics like freedom of speech and human rights—but I understand that she will wait for that until her return to California.

She didn’t make the rules, but it looks as if she knows how to play the game.

Maybe it’s because she knows how to deal with fear?

 

 

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