Here's What Happens When You Live Life Without Fear for a Week

David Saracino/Thrillist

If you follow enough inspirational quote Instagram accounts, you’ve seen the adage “Do one thing every day that scares you.” But doing what scares me is… scary. Problem is, if fear dictates your life, you miss out on all the best parts -- and that yields FOMO, which is itself a fear. It's a vicious cycle, and the solution seems to be "conquer your fears -- even legit ones -- by living fearlessly." Which is why I set out to do just that for one whole week. Here’s what happened and the lessons I learned. 

MONDAY: Standup Comedy

The #1 fear in the country is, apparently, public speaking. So when it came time to plan this quest, everyone suggested I try standup comedy. Only problem is: I already do standup.  

Still, every comedian fears bombing. So I decided I would bomb, but on purpose. The most surefire way to accomplish this would be to tell jokes that I knew were bad, so I went back to the material from my first time ever performing comedy. It’s a lame story about my college roommate that I knew with 100% certainty was NOT funny.

In front of 10 scowling audience members, I meandered through the set, but the oddest thing happened: despite my worst efforts, I actually got a few laughs. Years of performing had honed my skills -- I was squeezing a response out of every line, and remembering portions that even made me crack up. It was still fewer laughs than I’d like, but I walked away feeling more confident than before. Turns out it really is the delivery.

Purposely trying to sabotage myself taught me I’m more capable than I’d realized. If you’re learning a new skill and find that you’re stuck, sometimes failing can be more useful than trying to push through.


When pitching ideas for stuff I’d be afraid to do, my first thought was “get beaten up.” And yet, for some reason, my editors shot that down. So we settled for the next best thing: getting beaten up in an official setting! I called up Diego Lopez at Williamsburg MMA, where he gives private training sessions on how to kick ass.

Diego, a true professional, does not usually spar or grapple with students on their first day of practice. But I told him it was for an article, and soon he was gladly sweeping the leg, tossing me around the mat, and putting me in chokeholds and arm bars. I spent the rest of the day icing my neck back at the Thrillist office.

Diego also gave free guru guidance about the nature of fear. He taught me that as you repeat activities that frighten you, your body and mind become accustomed to fear. The first time he sparred, his body reacted the same way as mine did -- tensing up, heart rate going berserk: reasonable responses to getting choked out.

“But if you get to that point often enough,” he said, “your body starts to react like ‘Ok, this again?’” Fighting, he said, makes everything else seem quiet. Diego’s also a standup comic, and he said that training MMA helped him skip the “stage fright” phase of performing comedy -- as bad as a tough crowd can be, they’re nothing compared to a tough fight.

David Saracino/Thrillist

WEDNESDAY: Gramercy Park

Every New Yorker has a bucket list they’d like to accomplish here -- catch a Yankees game, become an international celebrity, visit the Statue of Liberty -- the usual. Mine mostly involve accessing places I don’t fit in. Number one has always been with the richies in Gramercy Park.

For non-New Yorkers: Gramercy Park is one of the only remaining private parks in the city, a block of lush greenery enclosed by an intimidating iron fence. Access is limited to a very select few members, and keyholder privilege ranges from the expensive (a room at the luxe Gramercy Park Hotel) to the extremely expensive (a $6 million 3BR on Irving Place).  

Since my editor wouldn't let me break any laws for this piece (thus denying the world my debut as the next Banksy), I would have to let confidence and charm be my lockpicks. My approach was straightforward: ask random strangers around the park if they could let me in -- if someone with actual access granted me entry, I wouldn't be breaking in at all.

Anyone wearing a sweater over a button-down shirt became a mark. The task was simple, yet I was still on edge: what if I get a bad reputation in the neighborhood? Would their noses be turned up even higher at me? Would this affect my 401(k)?

Mustering the courage to bother strangers, I discovered, was the real challenge. Nobody around actually seemed to own a key, which meant they were just poor saps like me (only better dressed).

On my third lap around the park, I saw a man calling to his friend inside. I sheepishly walked up and hit him with my (technically true) cover story: “Hi, I’m working on this photo project …”

This is actually a bad approach, since photography is technically prohibited -- do your research, folks! Luckily, I hadn't even finished before he waved his hand: “You want in? Come on!”

It turns out that people around Gramercy Park are actually chill. Or at least that one guy was. The park itself: meh. Some nice benches, cool trees, a better sense of income inequality in New York. Not bad! I took a few selfies in front of the statue (some photo project!) and skedaddled.

I’m always surprised when people are happy to help. But why wouldn’t they be? This guy spends a zillion bucks on some private park, and he’s not gonna show it off to a kid with an artistic vision? Even if that vision is social media likes? The true challenge yielded a relevant lesson: don’t be afraid to ask. Chances are, if you would help someone out in this situation, others are willing to do the same for you. People like sharing beauty and are often happy to do you a solid. Plus, the worst they can say is no. Or punch you in the face. But that second part seldom happens.

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THURSDAY: Crash a corporate event

With newfound faith in the power of bothering institutions, I set my sights on another long-time goal: crashing a corporate event. While there are no websites I could find that track or announce conventions in New York, I figured that trying random hotel ballrooms around Times Square would give me a decent shot at stumbling upon one.

After failed at attempts at convincing people at a hotel I had a corporate event to go to (“Who are you meeting?” “Uhhh…”) and trying to follow a catering cart onto a freight elevator (“You’re gonna need to check in at the front desk”), I felt like a terrible liar. It turns out, though, that getting the stink-eye from hotel employees isn’t that bad! Nobody’s gonna arrest you for trying. [Editor’s note: Thrillist is not responsible if you do get arrested for trying.]

The third hotel I tried was huge, with several floors of open lounges (and free wi-fi!). Just off of the main lobby were several large company conferences. I scouted out one with nobody checking the door, then slipped into a huge ballroom full of tax attorneys listening to a talk. My heart was pounding the entire time, afraid I’d have some hotel-sponsored cops busting in and outing me as a fraud in front of a hundred CPAs. Or worse: audit me.

Nothing happened, of course. I took a couple selfies, snagged a free danish and a Fiji water, and went upstairs to connect to the lobby wi-fi. On the way, I actually passed by another conference of travel agents having a meeting and walked right in -- having a Fiji water is about as good as a lanyard for announcing, “I belong here.”

Everyone knows that when you act like you belong somewhere, people believe it, but what I hadn’t realized is that you start to believe it yourself, too. Diego was right: my body had become accustomed to the fear, and now I walked where I pleased with no worries.

FRIDAY: Eating Bugs

Time to switch up fears, as clearly I had overcome any resistance to gate-crashing. Ever since a childhood incident involving a dare gone wrong, I’ve had a revulsion towards bugs, and especially eating them.

Luckily, this ain’t the playground anymore -- this is New York City, where culinary options for bug-eating abound. Fresh off my palate-cleansing Fiji water, I decided to get lunch at Toloache, a well regarded Mexican restaurant known for serving cricket tacos. The waiter didn’t blink when I ordered the chapulines, but I shuddered as he placed them in front of me.

What do cricket tacos taste like? Not much -- but the texture feels different from anything I’ve ever had. After a few bites I was pulling cricket legs out of my teeth, which became strangely routine. My girlfriend, who dined with me, did not grow accustomed to this move.

Overall, I’d give them 4 out of 5 stars: crickets are too crunchy for my taste, but add in guac and onions and it starts to taste pretty good. It turns out that maybe if everyone likes a food, there’s something to it. Since then I’ve been eyeing bugs with newfound appreciation: a whole new branch of the animal kingdom is available for culinary experimentation.

David Saracino/Thrillist

SATURDAY: Dance Like Everybody’s Watching

Ingrained in every man other than Ben Vereen is the fear of being laughed at for his dance moves. At Thrillist company parties I have no problem making a fool of myself on the dance floor. But that’s in front of people I know, in a setting meant for dancing. What about a place that’s not so ideal?

The results are as follows: at International Bar, a dive in the East Village, people scowl at you. They’re there to drink, and the limited space means that you’re constantly bumping into patrons. "Fearless" doesn’t mean be rude, so this was inadvisable. At Irene’s Pub in Greenpoint, the elderly Polish patrons (& bartender) will put Sinatra on the jukebox, come out from behind the bar, and dance with you. At The Creek & Cave in Long Island City, a random group of friends from Jersey will buy you shots. Your mileage may vary, but I will say that it helps to be an amazing dancer.

People who go to bars, by and large, are there to have a good time. And while dancing may not have been on the itinerary, most people are one “SexyBack” away from getting on the floor themselves. Try it yourself and you may end up meeting some cool people. Or you might make a fool out of yourself. Is that really so bad?

I’ll go even further and say sometimes a party needs a fool. You ever see an empty dance floor, people milling about? Nobody wants to be the only one out there. Entire evenings have been transformed by one unabashed oaf willing to break that ice and give everyone else the excuse to go second. It doesn’t even matter if he can dance or not. It only matters that he tries.

SUNDAY: Rap battle Strangers

A week of living completely fearlessly takes a toll on you -- especially the fighting -- but by the end of it I felt like I could do anything. As Sunday rolled around, there was only one thing left to do on my list: rap battle strangers.

I’m not a rapper. And like most New Yorkers, I’m wary of taking up space on the sidewalk. But it turns out when you make a giant sign that says RAP BATTLE ME, people don’t mind that you’re making a scene. At first, it was near impossible to find anyone willing to take me on. In the age of viral videos, a skinny nerd is actually a more frightening battle opponent -- everyone assumed it was a trick. Even outside the Supreme store, I couldn’t find any challengers.

After cajoling enough strangers, though, we found some formidable opponents: some girls outside of Wendy’s, a guy trying to impress his girlfriend, a homeless dude with insane rhymes. By the final battle, my skills had improved considerably, and I finished my verse to applause and surrender from my opponents, a group of hyped kids.

When you live fearlessly, people aren’t always sure what to do with you -- are you being serious? Are you just plain crazy? After facing all my fears, though, I realized they were unfounded -- I didn’t get arrested, or kicked out of a bar, or have vengeful crickets attack me. And the upside is huge: you might just get a free drink out of it, or chill in a private park, or meet some cool rappers. While it might not be feasible to do something every day that scares you -- you’d probably end up dead after a few months -- facing your biggest fears makes the rest of your life that much less scary.

Compensation was provided by Cotton. The opinions expressed herein are the author's and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Cotton.