Fear and Permission

Fear and Permission

When you speak at a Carnegie Mellon University event with Fearless as the theme, you’ve got a couple things to consider.

One: it’s TedX! It’s Carnegie Mellon! Yikes. Intimidating audience of extremely smart people with high expectations. But two: since the event is about overcoming fear, no one will be surprised when you admit to your own fears.

In the 18-minute TED format, I talked about crocodiles, killer whales, strawberries, dropping keys, and writing your own permission slip. It’s fairly personal, so if you’re not interested, no problem.

I enjoyed the event and even enjoyed my part, which is miraculous since I’m usually scared to death of such things. The TED guardians finally released the video, and you can see it here if you’re interested:

Don’t see the video? Here is the direct link.

A few notes and highlights:

Many of us live our lives out of the fear of what other people think of us. We’re waiting for someone to give us a permission slip that tells us it’s OK to be ourselves.

The exotic is rarely the scary part. Moving to West Africa wasn’t scary at all. CHANGE is the scary part. Leaving your home is scary. Walking on a stage is scary. Packing, leaving, taking a leap—those are the scary things.

Don’t try to be fearless or pretend you aren’t impacted by fear. Just try to prevent fear from making your decisions for you.

My thanks to Sachit, Yongho, and the whole TEDxCMU team for organizing the event. You can see photos of the day here.

Last but not least, my friend Jonathan Fields was the anchor speaker for the whole event, and it’s easy to see why they chose him for the honor—check out his video here. If you can only watch one of our talks, watch his!


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  • Sean says:

    I know exactly what you are saying about change being the scary part. When I decided to move to Thailand, I quickly found that Thailand wasn’t the scary part, it was the change involved. It was the fact that a lot of the people around me didn’t understand why I would want to make such a drastic change in my life, and some even looked down on me for it.

    In the end you realize you have to do whats right for yourself regardless of the fears you may have or whether or not you have “permission” to do so.

    I was at the TEDXBKK earlier this year, and I think I’d safely say you and Jonathan blew all of those talks out of the water. Well done.

  • ABCcreativity says:

    oh YAH for this!

  • Matt says:

    Very thought provoking and inspiring Chris. When I look back on my own life I realize that what you say is true; I tend to seek some kind of endorsement or approval from others that what I want to do is OK, when most of the time I already know or feel that it is OK. But without that approval I often cave to fear and put off doing things that I really want to do.

    I’m in the process of transitioning to living in Indonesia and I have to admit that it’s crazy scary when I start thinking of moving my whole family there. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have a significant impact on me. It’s not so much the actual moving part but the whole change aspect of living in a different culture, away from everything that we have come to know. But I also have to say that moving forward the way that we have has been liberating. The more steps I take toward realizing this goal the better I start to feel and the grip that fear has on me starts to weaken.

  • Janice Cartier says:

    I made a note to self when I saw this on Jonathan’s site…”strawberries” “monk’s story”, “Chris Guillebeau”..goes right into my mind’s archive of pictures I would like to play out in my life.. the freshest tasting strawberries.. in spite of the lions in pursuit .:))) thank you. Exquisitely simple and brilliant talk.

  • Patrenia says:

    Chris, this was a wonderful talk. Thank you for sharing it with us! I’m actually envious of everyone that got to hear it firsthand. 🙂 Congratulations!

  • Vincent Leleux says:

    Great stories and great talk.
    It’s amazing how you can say the most important and most powerful things with such a simplicity it seems of no importance.

    That’s your greatest power I think

    Congrats again and thanks for everything

  • Leyla Torres says:

    “Don’t try to be fearless or pretend you aren’t impacted by fear. Just try to prevent fear from making your decisions for you.”

    I strive to write, read and live up to my own permission slip on a daily basis. You are inspiring us to keep smashing through all those walls of fear.

    Thank you.


  • Jonathan Mead says:

    It’s really interesting the different ways courage is expressed. On the one hand, there are these extreme and very external actions that are supposed to be incredibly courageous. Like skydiving, or extreme sports. And to a certain extent some amount of inner courage is required to do those things. But I think sometimes the most useful and profound courage is unassuming and doesn’t call much attention to itself. Like writing that permission slip to yourself, and being honest about the way you express yourself. It’s not very flashy or crowd attracting, but it’s the kind of courage that creates personal freedom.

  • Tyler Tervooren says:

    So glad we can finally see it! I’ve been waiting to hear more about it. Congrats Chris.

    Fear is inherent in every person, I think, so it’s never a case of heredity or any other uncontrollable circumstance. It’s within everyone to decide which parts of their life will and won’t be controlled by it.

  • dahlia says:

    excellent. i’ve been mired in fear of change for about ten years now, even though i know that the best times in my life, the best memories, the things of which i am most proud, have come from taking chances, even in the face of great opposition. it’s a lesson i know and believe in, but for the last decade, have been unable to put into practice. i’m working to change it before another year goes by. thanks for this.

  • Frank says:

    Great TED talk! I’ve been waiting for awhile to see this (since I was unable to attend), and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

  • Fred Fredburger says:

    From Patricia Madsen at the Wisodom of Improv Blog:

    Pema Chödrön’s book, Practicing Peace in Times of War, advises her readers that instead of trying to get away from the uncomfortable feeling we have with the unknown that we develop an aptitude for what she likes to call ‘positive groundlessness, or positive insecurity.’ “We need to develop an appetite for groundlessness; we need to get curious about it and be willing to pause and hang out for a while in that space of insecurity,” she counsels.
    This seemingly abstract dictum is precisely what improvisation teaches: how to live vibrantly in a field of flux, an office of uncertainly, even an apartment of landmines. We cannot let this not knowing paralyze us. We need to stay in motion, in action during this groundlessness.

    We do not know or need to know what comes next. We create it. And we have a choice in how we enter the present. Much has been written about mindfulness, or waking up to the “present moment.” Dr. David K. Reynolds

  • Alex says:

    Years ago I walked away from a secure, satisfying job and only began to feel fear when someone expressed their admiration at my courage…


    …and yes the tiger has been scary but the strawberries have been sweet!


  • Julie says:

    The talk is wonderful! I loved it! It always amazes me how radical your message is (as for me I completely agree with it), compared to how soft-spoken and compassionate you are. That’s what, I think, makes you such a motivating, as opposed to motivational, speaker…

  • linda esposito says:

    What a simply lovely speech…and the visuals added depth,too.

    Fear is at the root of change–we even hang on tooth and nail when unhappy.

    I can imagine fewer meaningful gifts than releasing fear as an oppressive force. I believe in order to let go, we have to embrace a certain level of flexibility and acceptance for the unknown in our daily lives. I’m going to schedule fear addressing in my weekly calendar…

    My future calmer central nervous system thanks you!

  • Kate says: sound different than I thought. Also, the croc story hilarious.

    As for me I already walked into a lot of scary things in life. I learn one nothing is more scary than losing someone you love and two once you do scary things enough eventually they stop being scary like public speaking or going on interviews. My next scary thing is taking a driving test again…ahh there is just something nerve racking about being judged on your driving skills in LA…no one can drive here. Also, I failed my first test for over acellerating on a stick doing a left turn (go figure).

  • David Rendall says:

    Great stuff, Chris! My favorite part was the poem about building cages vs. dropping keys. I think I read that on your blog before and it was a perfect way to close your presentation. I hope that your talk will inspire others to pick up the many keys that you are dropping.

  • Austin Yoder says:

    What an awesome achievement to speak at TED. You’ve completely earned it with all of your hard work and dedication. This whole talk was very Seth Godin of you. I loved the proverb with the monk and the strawberries.

    So you know, I’ll be getting a free awards ticket from Doha to Bahrain after I leave India this summer thanks to the strategies in your Frequent Flyer Master and other travel hacking related articles.

    More than an inspiration, sir, you are a model.

    All the best and keep it coming.

  • David says:

    Thanks Chris 🙂 I posted a longer comment on Jonathan’s page, thanking you both too… but figured I might as well thank the source of the inspiration directly. Great thought-provoking stuff as always.

    Here’s hoping it provokes action, as well as thought, though 🙂

  • Chris Mower says:


    I enjoyed your TED talk. Thanks for sharing. Fear can be pretty nuts sometimes, keeping us from reaching great potential.

  • David Damron says:

    It wasn’t until I let the fear of success pass me by that I actually started to see success become a reality.

    I think this was a great insight into the development of our identities. Too often we, including myself, focus on small goals instead of character building. Sure, the small goals are great to succeed at. Overcoming the fear that comes with overtaking a challenge of changing ones character is a much more exciting journey that should be taken.

    Thanks for this Chris…

    David Damron
    The Minimalist Path

  • Becky Blanton says:

    LOVE this Chris! The Crocodile story was perfect! Fear? It’s all chemical and the chemical bath is sparked by our conscious and unconscious thoughts/beliefs. Unfortunately for some, it’s also in their DNA (literally). But always a fascinating topic. You did great!

  • Joel D Canfield says:

    I’ve had Jonathan’s page open all weekend, waiting for my head to be in just the right place to watch both videos, but I just had to pop in and say how refreshing it is to hear the constant undercurrent of humility in everything you do, Chris. I know you genuinely believe that if we have time to watch only one of the videos, we should watch Jonathan’s.

    Genuine humility amazes me. Someday, I’ll have it myself 😉

  • Hilary Jones says:

    Phenomenal Chris. Thank you! I’m not usually fearful of change so much (I upped sticks and moved from the UK over here to work 16 years ago) but with my business about to collapse, I’ve had to start to think about what’s next, both worst case and best case scenarios. Having to start again at my age, isn’t something I relish (and it’s certainly not what’s expected of someone with my experience.) But it’s out of my hands and I’m trying to keep the fear manageable and concentrate on the choices and (to some degree) freedom that I’ll have, once all my carefully placed and nurtured security blankets are gone. Thanks for the motivation!

  • Susan Henderson says:

    You have the knack for plopping stuff into my Inbox containing exactly the right message at exactly the right time I need to receive it. Your talk hit home with me.

    I’ve been stuck in my own cage of fear waiting for the permission slip as the key to set me free and allow me to launch a program I am very passionate about. The irony is that it is a group coaching program to help others bust out of their own fear cages: Fearless Marketing Strategies for Introverts: Stop Being Your Own Best Kept Secret. How hilarious is that?!

    Your talk gave me the courage to write my own permission slip. I am taking a bite of that big, juicy strawberry! It’s so worth it.

  • Matt Smith says:

    Chris, I enjoyed your talk and I think most fear is irrational anyway. As humans, we instinctively seek predictable comfort and order and anything that seems to upset that order causes fear to rise up in us.

    Ironically, it makes no difference if the comfort and order we’re experiencing is actually quite painful.. it’s known and predictable and so there is much inertia to keep things the way they are.

    In order to experience anything near a meaningful life, we need to recognize that the fear that drives away action and encourages us to embrace the status quo is the product of an outdated instinctual model. We must evolve beyond this limiting fear by thinking rationally, choosing our path and pushing forward.

  • Lisa says:

    “Best-tasting strawberry ever.” Loved that.

    If we give ourselves permission to acknowledge our fears and see them for what they really are (False Evidence Appearing Real), they often end up being the sweetest things we’ve ever tasted. Great talk. Wonderful stories, Chris. Thank you.

  • Rasmus says:

    Great talk. I really enjoyed the cage building vs. key dropping approach. And though it is always tempting to sit back with arms folded, being cynical and offering (in this case you) “advice” in my head, none is needed. Watching and listening to this right before I head off to work was perfect timing. Awesome motivation bump.

    Your story about packing up and going to Sierra Leone reminded me of when I moved to the US. I came here for a two-week stay, packing light as most guys who travel alone do, and ended up falling in love. It’s been over 5 years now, and I still haven’t gone back. From that, I learned that the little things we fear (like forwarding mail) rarely matter.

  • Tony Teegarden says:

    “At sometime you have to get upon the stage…or whatever the stage represents to you.”

    Fantastic metaphor.

    I find it’s my “attachment” to the “possible experience, rather than the actual experience itself that has kept me “frozen” from action in the past.

    Fantastic insight and video. I’ll be sharing the hell out of it!

    Peoples “I don’t give a shit” meter needs to hit an all time high and make that shift!

  • Lyndi says:

    Listening to the video I am getting chills and profoundly refreshed to hear what I may have already heard said in a way that hits me right at my core programming. Thank you, just thank you

  • Natalie says:

    I’m soooo proud of you Chris. The minute this video came out I jumped on watching it and I think you’ve done an incredible job. Standing up talking on the topic of ‘fearless’ is scarier than any other topic for starters.

    I love that the art of travelling has allowed you to pull on your many adventures and exploits to share in your TedX talk so that we can benefit from them.

    I know having recently taken a giant leap into my own business it’s one of the scariest things ever. However for some reason upping and leaving a country to set up in another is something I relish.

    We discussed this when we met I believe, it’s great to let everything you know so well go and discover the new, you learn from it, are inspired by it and equally so are challenged by it.

    What’s even better is that your post goes up today because it’s National Linchpin day everyone – go on and raise the flag, feel the fear and do it anyway!


  • Noel Malone-Miskovsky says:

    Thanks Chris! It has taken me over a year to get my titanicly creative brain to get going in a direction! Fear has been part of what has held me back. After talking with Donna Antebi on the phone for two hours yesterday I now realize where I want to take PinkDivaCafe and how to do that. It’s about making a choice and going for it, without a care of what anyone will think.

    Now, PinkDivaCafe is about to launch a Redefining Sexy tour to promote marriage and inspiring young girls to respect themselves in our own Bravo TV attitude sort of way. Again, it has taken me over a year to find this direction and if it weren’t for many of your posts, I may have given up!

  • James Stoodt says:

    I really enjoyed the brief talk at TedxCMU. Fear drives political ideologies, willingness to change ones life, career decisions, etc. Yet we often are unable to understand it or tackle it when it arrives at our doorstep. Thank you for your perspective on its hidden nature and your insights for taming it.

  • Playstead says:

    Great speech Chris, it’s a nice kick in the ass.

  • LunaDreams says:

    Would just like to say how much I enjoyed this video and how helpful it is! My partner and I have both recently quit our jobs to travel…I’m looking forward to it very much, but have all the niggles of; am I making the right decision, etc etc… I know it’s fear of change and the unknown holding me back, but this is also exactly why I want to go…to face this fear & to not live the life everyone holds out as being “normal” – mortgage, 9-5 job and so on. Everything I’ve found on here has been so inspirational 🙂 thank you! We leave in two weeks, wish us luck!! :)) xxx

  • emma says:

    Great talk, Chris! And thanks for the link to Jonathan’s. I’d never been over to his place before, and was blown away by his talk.

    Your comments about the need to take that chair on the stage really hit deep. I can point to an alarming number of chairs and stages from which I’ve run in terror, with well-articulated justifications in hand. Sucks to see the pattern, but hopefully it’s now unraveling and I’m building a different m.o.

    Funny how I’ve been willing to physically jump off a cliff but balk from taking the metaphorical leaps.

    Great stuff.

  • Luce says:

    Great post Chris. Jonathan’s piece on fear of failure is very real for many people. When he forces us to think about the recovery as well is where it hits home. I looked back at some failures in my life and realized that I did recover from all of them and grew as a person from those experiences. You are also right when you say that most of us need validation before taking any risk in life. Funny that most of the time we need this validation from someone else than ourselves. If we listen to our gut feel most of the timed we would take more risk and follow our passion…..and if we fail then we know we will recover….


  • Jeff Gardner says:

    Most excellent Chris … great message, expertly crafted, skillfully delivered.

    All good, although I think you were a bit of a sook with the croc:)

  • Laura Cococcia says:

    Right on Chris! I went to TEDX in NYC a few weeks ago and was amazed at how people could put such compelling topics in 18 minutes. I wanted to hear more, of course, but the cool side of it was that everyone’s attention span was top notch during the whole event – no eyes glazing over at long speeches. Congrats!!

  • Diana Castillo says:

    Thank you so much for this message! is very encouraging! thank you 🙂

  • Indy says:

    Great talk Chris, thank you.

  • Jill MacGregor says:

    Really enjoyed this, Chris. Time to enjoy a strawberry.

  • Hamilton Shields says:

    Cheers, Chris, for dropping keys.

  • Reuven says:

    Great Ted talk.
    Thank you.

    I liked your stories.

    Working a few years now on my own getting out of cage.

  • Megan says:

    Congratulations! Speaking at TED is such an amazing dream come true!

  • Brooke Thomas says:

    Fantastic talk Chris- thank you!

  • Dan says:

    Chris, after reading this post I immediately linked what you wrote about to another story I had recently read. An awe-inspiring story of a Boston University graduate who decided to tackle his own fears and start his own company that turned into a multi-million dollar one.

    A great read, his book Young Guns helped me get over my fears and try and attain my personal goals.

    Great post, Chris!

  • Kristine says:

    Well said…you faced the demons of fear and were able to share a very well put together presentation with lots of KEYS for others. Keep up the good work.

  • Aaron says:

    You are an EXCELLENT speaker. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    The “change” and “Obama” analogy was so true. We expect other people to lead the charge – and often fail to take responsibility for what we should. It’s easy to blame others when we take ourselves out of the mix – and other people fail to live up to what we wanted them to do.

    I loved the “stage” metaphor, as well. I’ve never heard it described that way, but you’re right on about that.

  • Alison Andrews says:

    I loved your speech. Have recently taken a small step out from caring what people will think and blocking all of that out and going for it no matter what! Hopefully I’ll tell you something about it later…

  • Drew Long says:

    It can’t be said enough: fear stops us before we start. Thanks, Chris, for presenting on this topic and sharing the video. I also loved Jonathan Fields. What a great event that must have been.

  • Alisha says:

    Well said and very inspiring! Thank you Chris! 🙂

  • Irene Gutteridge says:

    Very nice. It is obvious that that moment, being there, for a TEDX event was a very very pinnacle point for you. The strawberry ending says it all. Congrats on conquering that fear. Irene.

  • Beth Jennings says:

    Well done on a great post, we can all relate to what you say

  • Priya Rudradas says:

    Thank you so much Chris for this talk. I recently quit my job to pursue music. Talks and blogs like yours helps validate the pursuit.

  • Phil says:

    Chris – impressive stuff. I think you must be pretty fearless to get up in front of that crowd and give such a strong performance. Thanks for sharing.

  • tochi brown adimiche says:

    i join my comment predecessors in saying “thank you!” for this speech. excellent, simple, direct, clear presentation. that is the best sort.

    i heard this at exactly the right time… again.

    isn’t interesting how you can feel fearful on the inside… yet people on the outside rave about how fearless you are? LOL i concur.

    the cage and keys quote from hafiz was very appropos. we drop keys, even as we release ourselves, continuously. i will remember that, and be more conscious of it.

  • Keith says:

    Chris – the scariest thing I’ve ever done was speak at my mother’s funeral. And I’d get up and speak about her again in a heartbeat – keep being brave!

  • Wyman says:


    Great job on with your talk. I also appreciate that you are not afraid to share links to other awesome people.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks Chris. I picked up this post from Jonathan’s site.

    Great talk and a very powerful point about the Strawberry; worthy of deep reflection.

  • Graham Phoenix says:

    Fear is what keeps you sharp and alive! Fear is what makes it exciting. If I am not feeling the fear I am not living on the edge, and I like being on the edge! That moment before you start speaking, when the stomach is churning and you forget what you are going to say…….. ‘Priceless…’

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Excellent job, Chris — you seem so natural on stage! Thanks for such a wonderful talk. Too many times it takes drastic measures (death, sickness, layoff) before we finally allow ourselves to make a change for the better.

    Thanks, too, for the link to Jonathan’s presentation — also very inspiring.

  • Nedra says:

    Overcoming is a huge feat a lot of us want to accomplish, I really liked your storytelling approach in how it happens in our daily lives.

    Great job, it’s quite an accomplishment to speak for over 10 minutes in front of an audience and to make them feel emotions and reactions. Very inspirational!

  • Russ says:

    Great speech Chris! Very inspirational and motivational!

  • heidi says:

    you’re awesome Chris! Thanks for continuing to inspire – look forward to seeing you in one of the 50 states!

  • Divya Varudhini says:

    very inspiring! thank you! *off to pet my crocodiles.

  • CelestiteBlue says:

    Thank you!

    Makes me think of one of my favorite moments in Sandman by Neil Gaiman – it’s in a story about a playwrite who keeps dreaming about falling off a cliff in a dream, and wakes up before it happens. He almost gives up a huge breakthrough in his career because he’s afraid. The beautiful moment at the end of the story gives you the idea: “Sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”

    I’m at a leaping moment in my own career, and I think about this a lot.

    I’ve jumped off metaphorical cliffs in a lot of different ways in my life, starting pretty young, and I can’t think of a single instance when it hasn’t paid off. It has also always involved a certain period of scariness with the air whooshing past me and not knowing where I was going to land, though, too.

    Keep up the good advice, it’s wonderful to get support from another nonconformist!!

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