Breaking down the barriers of fear |

Breaking down the barriers of fear

Photo courtesy of Evan Zislis
Staff Photo |

My favorite picture is a photo of myself on my first day of kindergarten, standing at the bus stop with my arm around my big sister. I’m wearing Magnum P.I. short shorts and striped soccer socks pulled up to my knees. I’ve got freckles, great big ears that stick out the side of my face, and a big sign around my neck with my name on it so the school knows which bus to put me on at the end of the day. Imagine a six-year-old Alfred E. Neuman with tinted prescription glasses. I’m about as awkward as I could be.

What makes the photo so fabulous is not the confidence on my silly mug, but my T-shirt. I remember wearing that silly shirt every day for about two years. At the time, I’m sure I had absolutely no idea what it said. I liked it because it was bright yellow with this great big moon and a golden sparkly sun, with beams of rays shooting out in all directions. The moon is smiling this big smirk — and in huge sparkly letters, the shirt exclaims “I can’t wait until tomorrow because I get better looking every day!” Can you imagine that kind of confidence from a 6-year-old! That’s just awesome! I haven’t been that cocky since kindergarten.

Confidence is a bizarre and confusing blend of contradictions. It fluctuates between utterly elusive to entirely overblown, usually completely out of sync with what is most helpful or appropriate. In order to kick-start some renewed self-confidence, I’ve recently had to reconcile my own self-doubt with that fearless 6-year-old in me.

We tend to make up stories that frighten us out of taking deliberate, intentional action. We put people on a pedestal so high, the air gets too thin to breathe. We create fantastic lies about why something is too hard, too scary or too bold for “little ol’ me.” And instead of holding our heads up high with confidence, we tremble and cower from the very opportunities that help us to become the superheroes we are meant to become.

Looking back on my first two years as a consultant, some of the people I was too afraid to approach turned out to be my best clients — and now some of my best friends. In fact, I recently learned that a few of them were too intimidated to contact me; which I find a little hilarious. That we create these barriers out of nonsense and fear-based fantasy is human — we shouldn’t blame ourselves for being complete Nancy chickens. I think it’s probably OK to feel timid from time to time. It shows humility, modesty and a reverence for those we admire.

But sometimes we need to put on our grownup underpants and psych ourselves up for the big game. Life doesn’t wait until we’re ready — it’s happening right now, and we are already good enough to get out and play! From one chicken to another, I’ll tell you this — there’s something to be said for faking it until we make it. Getting in the game is all about doing your homework, feeling confident about your strengths, putting on a genuine smile, and being present and authentic. Everyone out there is simple flesh and blood. No matter how big they may seem, they are human — complete with weaknesses, vulnerabilities and blemishes that make them mortal.

Fear of rejection, disappointment and embarrassment — it’s all made up horsecrap. When I get intentional about the person I want to become, sometimes all it takes is a ridiculous photograph from an age when I didn’t know any better. I know now, there’s a special kind of redemption when we realize that we’re all human. Remembering this makes us all seem a bit more approachable — more loveable. And any kindergartner can tell you, that’s what it’s all about!

— Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email

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