While we all strive to embrace our confident, take-no-prisoners alter egos, it can definitely seem impossible to find the courage to face what scares us most. This was certainly the case for Michelle Poler, who came face-to-face with some of her biggest fears when she chose to pack up her belongings and move to New York as a young twentysomething student. But instead of running home and giving up on her adventure, Poler decided to embrace her new environment and challenge herself to live 100 Days Without Fear. After asking her Facebook friends to help her brainstorm a list of frightening tasks, Poler set about conquering one new fear every single day for 100 days — and, as you may have expected, her courageous experiment went VIRAL. We recently got the opportunity to sit down with the amazing lady herself to learn more about her #girlboss journey to fearlessness and get the inside scoop on how we can all learn to live a braver life.
B+C: What inspired you to attempt to conquer 100 fears in 100 days?
MP: Living in NY is what made me realize I needed to face my fears head-on. After moving here I knew this city was not for the fearful, so trying to stay in my comfort zone was practically impossible. I was missing out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences because of my many fears. But moving to NY has always been my dream; I couldn’t allow my fears to get in the way for another day. Also, it was a school project, so I took that as an opportunity to build a branded experience, since I was doing a masters in branding at SVA. I challenged myself to brand an emotion: FEAR.
B+C: Was it difficult to find so many unique things that challenged you?
MP: Finding the 100 challenges was the hardest part. Good thing I decided to ask my 1,000+ Facebook friends for their help. Everybody started suggesting things I should do, but I only added to my list the ones I was really afraid of, like posing nude, singing in public, giving a speech (which is now my career), crashing a wedding, holding a tarantula, and skydiving, among others. Once the project went viral, I started receiving thousands of emails a day with ideas to face my fears, and that made it *way* easier. By far the funniest suggestion I got was to submit myself as a painter at the Bodypainting Day in NYC. My model/canvas was a 70-year old dude, completely naked, that I had to cover with paint and do art on him (I’m not a painter BTW). I wrote the word “fearless” all across his body and afterwards we became good Facebook friends. I faced that challenge in the middle of the street in front of my husband, my brother, and my in-laws. You have to see the video.
B+C: We know it’s probably hard to choose, but which fear would you say was the most difficult to overcome?
MP: It is definitely hard to choose one. Some were emotionally challenging; others were physically challenging. If I had to choose one emotional fear, it would have to be giving my TEDx Talk, which was fear 100. But the decision to face that fear is what marked the beginning of my speaking career. It also allowed me to share my story with the world and inspire hundreds of thousands to go after their own fears. Thanks to that, I now get paid to inspire audiences around the world. I couldn’t ask for a better job! In fact, I’m at the airport coming back home to NY after speaking at Microsoft Israel as I answer these questions.
B+C: What was the biggest thing you’ve learned from this experience?
MP: I learned that every fear, which I used to perceive as an obstacle, is actually an opportunity. So every time I feel the fear, I take that as a sign that I should go for it. I learned how to differentiate comfort from growth when making decisions. The growth choices are always the ones that gets us uncomfortable but are also the ones that will take us further. On the other hand, the comfortable choices we make will only take us back into safety. So if we want to grow, we must be willing to get uncomfortable. It goes like this:
Should I start a poscast?
Nah, I’m really bad at interviewing people.
Hmm… Am I afraid of it?
Heck yeah, what if I’m terrible at it?
Then I should totally start a podcast.
(You can now find the Hello Fears Podcast on iTunes.)
B+C: Now that you’re on the other side of the challenge, how are you incorporating what you learned in those 100 days into your everyday life?
MP: My project became a lifestyle. I don’t keep count of the fears that I face now — I just say yes as much as possible and dare to try new things on a daily basis. Something that has helped me quite a lot this year is my 2017 New Year’s resolution: to fail. By turning my fear into my goal, I’ve been able to make bolder decisions throughout the year and take bigger risks. If things go right, awesome; if not, at least I’m fulfilling my resolution, and I have a new story to share in my presentations. I always get the question, “Can you share a story about a time you failed?” I still don’t have a good answer for that.
B+C: You’ve recently started a new 100-day challenge (wow, you go, girl!) called Courage Is. Can you explain what inspired you to tackle the topic of courage?
MP: Ever since I finished my 100-day project two years ago, I started noticing courageous actions that either I or people around me were doing. Some people don’t even know how courageous they are, but as a fearful person myself, I get to recognize those acts. I realized that courage is contagious very early in the game. On that note, I created this new 100-day project that highlights daily acts of courage. The idea is for those who can relate to the action to feel proud of themselves and acknowledge their own courage, and for those who can’t relate to it, to give it a thought and maybe even a chance. I see these illustrated posts as daily reminders for people to get out of their comfort zone. Also, I am not an illustrator, so making the decision to illustrate 100 posts was a fear I decided to face. I cannot begin to tell you how happy this project makes me on a daily basis. Plus, I see the impact that it’s been having on my followers. The more vulnerable I get, the more others can relate to it, like the therapy post I recently uploaded where I talked about the panic attacks I started getting after I got married and realized my life was too comfortable for a 24-year-old girl.
B+C: If you could say one thing to a young woman who is putting off doing something she really wants to do because she’s too afraid, what would it be?
MP: Precisely because of that thought, I launched a new YouTube series called Dear Younger Self. I certainly can’t go back and do things all over again, but I can talk to young women all over so they can do things right — choosing to be brave instead of comfortable. One quote that helped me see life differently is from Confucius: “We all have two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one.” I started living my second life at 27; I wish I could’ve started earlier. So I would tell that to anyone who is too afraid to take action. I’d say, start living your second life, which requires you realizing that we cannot allow our fears to get in the way of our dreams and that the only time we fail is the time we fail to try, because otherwise we would be allowing our doubts to kill our dreams. Finally, I would ask that person who is afraid to do what she really wants to do: What is the BEST that could happen if you take action? In order to put growth into motion, we must focus on the rewards, not the risks like we are wired to do.
Do you have any hacks to help us be more courageous every day? Tweet us by mentioning @BritandCo.
(Photos via Stephanie Geddes)