Fear Is The Mind Killer

I’m a big fan of science fiction and years ago I read Frank Herbert’s international bestseller, DUNE.  There was one quote in the book that I’ll never forget, it was so powerful that I put it to memory.  Here it is, “I must not fear.  Fear is the mind killer.” When I think deeply about it, it’s true. Fear is the mind killer. It makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do.  It affects everyone and can have crippling consequences.

When life shows up and fear appears; some people Forget Everything And Run (FEAR) while others, Face Everything And Rise (FEAR).  I choose to live my life by the latter, and each time I rise above my personal fears I’m more confident, and successful for it.  The late Greg Plitt says so eloquently, “Behind every fear is a person you want to be. When you guys find a fear, that fear will either create you or destroy you.  Fear is self-imposed meaning it doesn’t exist.  You can create it, and you can destroy it too.”

You see, fear isn’t tangible, it’s all in our heads.  As Will Smith said, “Fear is not real.  The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.  It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may never exist.” Now before I go too deeply into this topic, let me be clear that I’m referring to the fears we have about our future, not the logical fear that is real when posed with the decision to run into a burning building.  That fear is our mind’s way of telling us, “Hello, going in there can literally kill you.” Again, what I’m saying isn’t to totally disregard when your mind talks to you, I’m just asking that you recognize it for what it is.  Fear is a way of communicating with ourselves but we must evaluate the warning and then make a decision.  Fear shouldn’t control you, you should control you.  A siren on a police car doesn’t control the car, the driver does.

When I was in high school I had a vision, a dream so big that I knew if I had any chance of making it to the Big Leagues that vowed to hit at least 200 balls every single day in my batting cage.  Why?  Not just because I had a relentless work ethic.  It was because baseball was my passion, my obsession, my everything.  I lived it, breathed it and loved it, but did I have fear and insecurities? Absolutely.  Growing up as a fatherless mama’s boy in Mineral Wells, Texas I was very insecure, unconfident, and silently struggled with fear every day that I may not be enough to make it professionally, but despite all that I pressed on pursuing my dream.  I acknowledged my fear but didn’t allow it to dictate my actions nor did I give up when presented with obstacles. Then came college and here’s where the story really begins.

When I first arrived at Miami. I have that deer in the headlights look.

After high school, I was given a baseball scholarship to attend one of the premier Division 1 baseball schools, the University of Miami.  I was going to be a Hurricane and I couldn’t be more excited and afraid.  As a small town country boy, I would be taking my boots, flannels, southern drawl, and my ‘88 red extended cab Chevrolet truck to the streets of Miami, Florida.  I was thrilled about the chance to play for the Hurricanes, but every now and then, that little voice inside my head would replay my fear of not being enough.  It would say, “You’re not going to last a week down there, Aubrey.”

The drive from Texas to Miami was scary as hell because this was the first time I would be away from home.  Here I was barreling down I-20 with nothing but uncertainty before me.  Thoughts of rejection danced in my head.  How the hell was a small town kid like me going to fit into the loud, obnoxious culture of Miami?  How will I get along with some of the best players in the country at a real powerhouse program?  Am I going to be good enough to cut it?  What if anything goes wrong? What if I fail?  What if the coaches and teammates don’t accept me?  Fear, doubt, and uncertainty filled my terrified unconfident mind at times, but I was able to hear it then brush it aside because my vision of being a Major League Baseball player was stronger.

Finally, the day came for the first baseball practice. It was the spring of 1997 and I was at Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables, Florida.  Nervous excitement gripped my every sense.  I was really looking forward to meeting all my new teammates and coaches and happily anticipated an exciting season as a Miami Hurricane, but that damn nagging fear kept popping up.  As I walked into the locker room the atmosphere just exuded confidence, and I immediately felt like a small fish in a big pond.  I felt like I was the only guy in that clubhouse that was absolutely terrified.  I had never seen so many guys who looked and acted as though they belonged.  These guys all seemed like real baseball players.

Once practice started I quickly, for whatever reason, became the resident punching bag and here’s where shit began to roll downhill.  This made me feel like an injured fish bleeding out in the water surrounded by sharks but these guys around me weren’t just any sharks, they were fucking Great Whites and I was a feeder fish.  It was our first team stretch and there I was gathered in a circle with twenty-four other guys who had decided it open season on me.  Each and every guy was ragging on my accent, my hair, my cowboy boots, flannel shirts, and especially my virginity.  How did they know I was a virgin?  I thought then.  Was it the way I carried myself?  Did they take one look at me and think, “There’s no way any chick would bang that guy.”  I didn’t stand tall, I’d walk around with my shoulders hunched, head down and eyes fixated on the ground, but did that really tell everyone I was a virgin?  Perhaps. Whatever it was, I was a target and I took slings and arrows nonstop.

This shit went on for weeks.  Not a day would go by during team stretch that someone would scream, “Hey it’s time for the Aubrey Huff virginity update.”  I was so embarrassed, sad, scared, and mad, but I hid it all under an uncomfortable smile like none of it bothered me.  But it did.  You see, I wasn’t the confrontational type.  I had zero balls and was scared to death to defend myself.

It hadn’t dawned on me until later that this was just a form of hazing. One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s ‘The Four Agreements’ is “Don’t take anything personally.”  This is stellar advice. The guys were testing me to see if I had what it takes to play for the Hurricanes and if I could mentally handle the pressure that was sure to come during the baseball season.  They were all just trying to toughen me up for not only baseball but life.  Looking back now, I’m grateful for what they did, yes; that sounds crazy but while they were having their fun, they also wanted to make sure I would be a productive part of the team.  I won’t lie that as the abuse continued on a daily basis I dealt with it the only way I knew how, by isolating myself.  Each day I’d go from school, to practice, then to my apartment, which I shared with two seniors on the team who were some of the main instigators.  It was like that movie, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY with Julia Roberts.  I couldn’t escape the torment. Once back at the apartment I’d lock myself in my room and basically cry myself to sleep every night.  I truly was a scared, pathetic little mama’s boy.  The hazing and torment was like fertilizer for my fears and insecurities, it nourished them and made them grow out of control.

I took this abuse, which only got worse and more aggressive, for another two months before I had my fill.  I clearly remember the day I said enough.  I finished practice, got dressed in my street clothes and walked out of the locker room filled with what confidence I had remaining that I’d never see it again.  I was going back to Texas. I was done, enough was enough.  The torture, the daily fear, and mental abuse had finally hit its apex.  Fear had won and I was ready to give up on my dream of becoming a Major Leaguer.  When I got back to my apartment I called my mom back in Texas.  I bitched and whined to her about everything.  I told her how I hated the culture, the coaches, my teammates, the school, blah, blah, blah.  The reality, which I didn’t realize until later, was that deep down inside I hated myself for being such a scared little pussy.  I told her I was done and I wanted to come home.  She tried desperately to convince me to stay and told me I would always wonder “what if” should I quit and come home.  I didn’t care.  I was willing to live with that.  She finally conceded and told me she would fly out the next day and drive back with me.  I hung up and began packing immediately.  I tried to draft a list of pros and cons, but all I kept coming up with were reasons to quit.  The fear had conquered my mind to the extent I couldn’t see, I was blind to the negative ramifications of giving up on a scholarship and leaving this powerhouse baseball program.  Gone was the vision I’d held for so long of being a Big League player.

The next evening arrived and my mom was there helping me get ready to leave with my tail between my legs.  Then something divine happened, looking back now, I know God intervened and threw me a much-needed life lesson.  It was around six o’clock at night and my senior roommates were getting ready to go to a college formal dance with their girlfriends.  I heard the front door slam, then heard the voice of another teammate, I recognized it, it was the team leader, the alpha of our pack you could say.  He had come to meet my roommates and head to the dance together.  He was the guy everyone on that team aspired to be.  He was confident, good looking, a hit with the ladies, and had an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that I desperately wanted.  He wasn’t afraid to tell you how it was no matter how uncomfortable, and people loved him for his brutal honesty.   If he thought it, he said it without hesitation.  This guy was everything I wanted to be but I didn’t know how to.  He seemed so free and self-assured.  Everything looked so easy to him on and off the field.

About thirty minutes passed as I waited for them to leave so I could sneak out like a coward and leave school forever. I was frustrated and just wanted to go, all I could think about was getting the hell out of there then a knock on my door tore me away from my pathetic thoughts. I got up, opened the door and there was the Alpha standing in my doorway completely naked.  I could tell by the look on his face he was confused to see an older woman sitting at the edge of my bed.  He stood there dripping wet, a six-pack in his left hand, and an open beer in the other. He didn’t even flinch, he looked back at me with a look of disgust and said, “Hey man, you got any soap?” I was pissed, to say the least, his rude and indecent behavior was exactly what I’d been dealing with and I also thought of my poor mom behind me. I didn’t say a word as I slammed the door in his face and locked it.  Feeling vindicated, I turned to my mom and whined, “See what I have to deal with here, Mom?”  Now my Mom isn’t one for one-liners or quippy phrases but her response surprisingly woke me up.  She just shrugged, laughed, and said, “You know, honey, for a guy that big, you’d think he’d be a bit more endowed!”  I had never in all my life heard my mom say something that funny.  We both laughed until it hurt.

My mom and I during my first season in the Major Leagues

A wave of realization washed over me at that moment. If my mother could see the humor in that, then maybe I have been way too uptight about this whole situation. Maybe I just needed to hit reset, grow a pair, stop being so afraid and just have fun.  It was right then that I decided to stay and do just that.  No more would I allow their taunts, hazing, teasing, whatever you want to call it to upset me.  I was in control of my own emotions, not them.  I got to choose how I responded.  I didn’t have to be fearful.  Later as I waved to my mom at the airport, I also waved goodbye to the mama’s boy version of myself.

Home run during the regional championships at Mark Light Stadium in Miami 1998.

With my new perspective in place, I went to practice the next day and you know what, I was different.  During stretch I fired back at the guys much to their surprise, and guess what, they were cool with it, it’s as if they approved.  I was changed and they were accepting.  From that point on I never looked back.  I went on to make 1st team All American my sophomore and junior years.  I still to this day stand in many of the top 5 offensive stats in Miami Hurricane’s history.  I was inducted into the University of Miami Hall of Fame in 2008 and then went on to become a two time World Series champion with thirteen seasons as a pro.  Not bad for a man who started his first year in college fearful, socially awkward and a virgin.

Looking back, I know none of my life, specifically my successes, would have happened if I chose fear that day.  I often think what my life would have looked like had I walked out of that room and driven back to Texas.  Maybe I would have gone on to great things, but I doubt it because my mindset would have been fucked.  I would have always looked upon myself as a quitter with a thin skin, someone who can’t take the heat so to speak.  I would always be ready to give myself permission to give up anytime something difficult came along.  That Aubrey would have always questioned and regretted the opportunity he had been given then squandered.

As I have reflected on my life I have discovered there are three things we tend to fear the most:


1. Fear of change

What you need to realize is that change is constant and inevitable, period.  When I was headed to Miami, I was terrified of the change in culture, afraid to meet my new teammates who no doubt were more talented than I was and scared to be on my own for the first time in my life.  After I made my shift I realized that in order to grow things must change and that it’s normal and healthy.  Change always feels odd or uncomfortable at first, but as time goes you gain more confidence.  Today, I’m always looking for an opportunity for change and growth.  When I’m not growing and changing I feel like I’m literally dying.

2. Fear of the opinions of others

Have you ever said this to yourself, “What are people going to think if I do this, or say this?” If you have, stop!  You are not what others think about you, nor will you ever be.

You need to realize the only type of person that hurdles their opinions at you is a person that has a flaw of their own that they have yet to overcome.  I call these people haters.  Think about that. Being a hater is a form of envy, so don’t get mad at the person for envying you.  To a certain extent we value opinions of our closest family and friends, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen, or agree with those opinions.  You’re put on this Earth to live a life of purpose.  What’s in your heart?  What do you love to do?  What lights you up?  Find out what that is, and go for it 100 percent without letting anyone’s opinions sway you.  Remember it’s your life, not theirs.

3. Fear of failure

I guarantee that nobody on this planet has become successful without failing many, many times.  I see failure as a small success.  Every time I fail at something I grow.  But here’s the rub.  You have to love what you’re failing at.  If you don’t love it, you won’t have the resolve to follow through.  Steve Jobs said it perfectly, “People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing and it’s totally true.  And the reason is that it’s so hard that if you don’t, any rational person would give up.  It’s really hard.  And you have to do it over a sustained period of time.  So if you don’t love it, if you’re not having fun doing it, you don’t really love it, you’re going to give up.  And that’s what happens to most people, actually.  If you really look at the ones that ended up being “successful” in the eyes of the society and the ones who didn’t, oftentimes it’s the ones [who] were successful loved what they did, so they could persevere when it got really tough.  And the ones that didn’t love it quit because they’re sane, right?  Who would want to put up with this stuff if you don’t love it?  So it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of worrying  constantly and if you don’t love it, you’re going to fail.” And here’s another great one from Tom Hanks in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, “It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard ever body would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

So what is standing in your way?  What is holding you back from becoming the person you want to be?  We all have obstacles, there are always things that present challenges.  If you truly want something you’ll suffer the pain, the taunts, or what I like to say, the slings and arrows, to get it. Nothing in life is free, in fact, anything worth value takes commitment, strength of spirit, time, attention and isn’t always pleasant.  A quote I love to recite whenever I feel fear creeping up is also from Steve Jobs but it fits perfectly here.  He said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.” How true is that?  I like to sum up that quote a bit more simply, “One day I’m going to be dead, so who gives a shit.” Think about that for a second guys.  One day we will no longer be on this planet, and neither are the people that are around judging you.  We know we’re all going to die so when you’re on that death bed and you take stock of your life, don’t have regret, don’t say to yourself I wish I had done, x, y or z.  Lay there fulfilled that your life was full of life, love, passion, faith, adventure, peace, and happiness.  That you played the music that was inside of you, that you led your life on your terms.  Don’t let fear stand in your way because we know that fear is the mind killer, don’t let it also be the life killer.