Amy Noel Green
A Few Thoughts on Fear for the Class of 2019
There are a million ways to live an incredible life. You could focus on generosity. You could give the way Jesus told us all to give - to anyone who asks without reservation. You could create amazing things, opening up your heart through art or carefully crafted words, creating a human connection with others in unique and powerful ways. You could serve people, investing in them personally, conveying their worth through your willingness to see their need and spend time helping them. There are a million ways to live an incredible life, but I can think of just one way to guarantee failure. Listen to fear.
Fear seems small to you now, and it should. All your teenage anxiety and awkwardness should be starting to settle down as your hormones regulate and your body decides it has tortured you enough to consider you honorary adults. Your body makes up for the horrors of 8th grade by letting your soar into your twenties with an abundance of confidence. You will think you can conquer the world. And you won’t be wrong. You young people have energy and grit and a bizarre desire to speak truth to power.
For about a decade you’ll be unstoppable, but a weird thing happens as you age. You start to take fewer risks. You become a little more afraid, and that fear stops looking like the enemy of greatness and begins to look a lot like wisdom. So you start to listen to it. As for speaking truth to power? I’m three years from being 40 and have two sons in middle school - I spend all my time trying to speak truth to puberty.
Fear. Oh, I admit it. I’m a huge scaredy cat now. I’m less likely to go on a steep waterslide or jump into a foam pit. But I’m also less likely to try to learn a new language or make new friends. I risk less. I try less new things. I never meant to get old. It just happened, and now my time feels precious, and my bones feel vulnerable.
Fear will catch you. Faster than you can imagine you will be almost 40 and trying new things will scare you too. But then you’ll be glad that you tried all the things you’ve tried now, because the things you like now, the things you’re good at, you may quit doing them. You’ll regret it. But you will take on responsibilities and the things you’re most passionate about now will stop being priorities. But the really good news is that you’ll return to them.
I’m a total chicken, except that a few years ago, after having five babies over eleven years, I decided to go skiing again, because I remembered loving it as a child. Two years ago, I auditioned for a musical with my son. I sang a solo in Mary Poppins on a massive stage in front of hundreds of people. All because I loved theater in high school and knew I was good at it, even if singing has never been my thing and the idea of a solo was terrifying.
You may not have the time, energy, or confidence to try a lot of new things, but eventually, you’ll return to the old things. You’ll remember the things you love. The spark of life you feel now, the confidence of knowing that "I can do this," will never really go away. You’ll be so glad you built up your confidence in your youth and tried lots of new, scary things, because one day, you’ll have an opportunity and you’ll be able to say yes, because even though it might terrify you, you can overcome fear with the knowledge that “I used to love to take risks, and I am able to overcome fear.”
Years ago, I committed to saying yes to any opportunities God gave me. If something I thought that God wanted me to do terrified me and I wanted to say no because I wasn't sure how to do it, I decided that I would say, "Yes," anyway and work out the how later. I'd say "yes" in the moment and trust that God could help me overcome my fear and lack of skill or ability. At first, it meant saying yes to small talks for our church's women's ministry events, then stand-up comedy for strangers. Eventually, it meant saying yes to writing video games with my husband and talking at industry events.
Two years ago, I was asked to give a TED talk. Ten minutes, completely memorized, no note cards, no teleprompter. When I read the email asking if I wanted to fly to New York and talk about my son who died from a brain tumor and the video game we made about him, I felt afraid, but I’m so glad that underneath that fear I knew that I should just say yes and work out the how later.
Now I have a TED talk with over a million views. TED talks open doors. So, this past summer my husband and I were flown to New York and we were paid to give a keynote speech at an awards ceremony. I’ve spoken at Notre Dame, SXSW, and POPtech. I’ve been invited to the White House and Flown to Poland. And all of that stuff is super cool and a lot of fun, but what I love the most about having learned to say yes when God asks, no matter how I feel in the moment, is that it has allowed me to talk about things that matter to me. I get to talk about my son who I miss every day. I get to talk about the potential of video games as an expressive medium. I get to pepper in a little feminism and stir in a little Jesus and round it out with a little "Can’t we all try to be more like Mr. Rogers?" I have these opportunities because I’m not afraid to say yes.
In six days, I'm getting on a plane to go to China to give a talk at the World Cyber Games. I don't love flying. I have bursts of anxiety. I worry that my brain will betray me, and I'll freeze up and forget my carefully memorized talk. I'm not sure how to get around in China without Google Maps and Uber. I stress about the language barrier. But I'm going anyway, because I learned to say yes in spite of fear and doubt.
Most of you won’t leave high school with trophies from national academic competitions or scholarships to join college sports teams. So, you might be tempted to discount yourself when you compare yourself to your peers. But the biggest opportunities come a little later in life when you and your peers are old and most of them are afraid. If you learn to say yes to God now, and if you make your commitment to say "Yes," feel bigger to you than anything fear throws at you, you will be able to say yes to presentations at work. You will be the go-to when it comes to closing the deal with valuable clients. You will be able to speak about the things you love with confidence, and it will be worth more to you than a million trophies. You'll create beautiful things that put your heart on display with a vulnerability that moves people. You’ll be able to risk and sacrifice and lay down your life to serve others with boldness and grace, walking into whatever God has specifically called you to.
There are a million ways to live an incredible life, but you don’t have to be incredible. You have to be willing.
Take a moment now, and have a conversation with God. If you're willing, make a commitment to always say "Yes" to Him. That commitment is what shifts God from being just your savior to also being your Lord. And it happens to unlock a lot of wild adventures in your life, because God has always been searching for the people who are willing instead of the people who are perfect. If you made this commitment today, let me know in the comments.
Amy Noel Green is a conference and keynote speaker. She is a writer and game designer who has received international press attention for her work on the video game about her son Joel, That Dragon, Cancer.