When I first started this blog, my goal was to share the stories of ordinary people who took control of their happiness to create an amazing life. I wanted to inspire my readers to take action towards a happy and meaningful life. That is why I am so happy today to share with you the story of Kendra Wright, a real badass girl who created 3 years ago a project called the Year of Fear.
Kendra Wright is a blogger, writer, speaker and location independent entrepreneur. Since creating the Year Of Fear Project in 2013, she has completed over 700 self-assigned comfort zone challenges. Kendra specializes in teaching others how to break through fear and uncertainty, productivity slumps, and create better work-life balance (without abandoning the inner hustle).
The Year of Fear project consists of challenges that would push the limits of her comfort zone. In the first year, she went through 365 challenges, one for each day. Soon, her project started to intrigue others and eventually became a movement. Today, I share with you my interview with the awesome Kendra Wright.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your background and your current activities?
I teach people how to face fear, embrace risk and create a life on their own terms. I am a digital strategist and a writer, speaker and blogger. I am currently an online entrepreneur and writer.
You were born with a severe disability, cerebral palsy. How did this disability impact your life in your early years? Has it influenced the way you approach life, success and ambition?
The one thing that was unique about my childhood is that I was never expected to be more than average. Most people that have cerebral palsy are wheelchair bound, have issues with vision, speaking and hearing, body movements and so on. I was given this free pass to just be average. A lot of times when there were things that were challenging physically, like walking on field trips or getting my first job, my family was very protective of me. I didn’t have a lot of confidence when I was a kid and I spent most of my early childhood just trying to blend in, just trying to be normal. I had braces on my knees and I spent my childhood sticking out but not in the way that you want to be seen. This gave me a lot of confidence issues, I was really shy. I spent most of my childhood learning how to walk. When the other kids went to recess, I went to therapy. Every single day. I just wanted to blend in and not rock the boat. I just wanted to be seen as normal. Normal was a step up from what I felt.
A few years ago, it hit me that my childhood was really hard, and I just imagined that everybody had some version of cerebral palsy. I imagined that everybody had something in their childhood that was very hard and felt impossible to get over. I thought that we were all connected in that way. I realized that my childhood was very challenging, really dark, in a way that many people rarely see. Learning to cope and thrive with cerebral palsy was one of the easier things I had to tackle in my childhood. We were very very poor, and there was a lot of dysfunction at home. So I just assumed that everybody had a rough childhood. I think the way it has really influenced me is that it made me extremely empathetic. I really had to climb from the bottom, and it also made me not have a lot of tolerance. I really feel for people, but I don’t accept their excuses on whatever it is that’s stopping them. We all have limitations of course, but we also have an opportunity to decide what we will do with those limitations. I had to literally fight science to be alive. We all have challenges. I truly believe that your life is your responsibility and everything in life is just a mirror of all the decisions you’ve made. Your relationships, your health, your wealth, your mentality, are just a bunch of stacked decisions together. I don’t really accept everybody’s excuses about why they can’t make an impact or change that to some extent.
In 2013, you started a project that would later become a movement, the Year of Fear project. Can you share what lead to the Year of Fear in your life?
A few things. First, I was just a total wimp ass. I just didn’t have a lot of follow through, I didn’t have a lot of grit. I didn’t know how to stick with things when they got hard because I essentially got a free pass my entire life to just take the easy route and to give up. I don’t think it happened to me intentionally, it was just a byproduct of always being asked “are you okay? Is this too hard?”
I wanted a challenge. There were all these things in my life that I was starting and stopping. In 2013, I was really working on self-awareness and self-development. I just realized that fear was one of the core components of so many of the things I wasn’t accomplishing. In reality, if I could change my relationship with fear, couldn’t that really ripple out to every area of my life? I also wanted to get out of doing the same things over and over again. I wanted to try new things. I grew up without a lot of variety ; I didn’t get to travel, I didn’t get to try a whole bunch of new things and just felt this urgency to fill my life really full. Those are a few things that lead to the Year of Fear project.
Who or what inspired the Year of Fear project?
I did a lot of work with Tony Robbins in the beginning. He has a lot of work around fear and that really taught me to start looking at fear as something to run towards instead of away from, something to wake you up and show you what’s important and really means a lot to you. If something isn’t a little bit scary, doesn’t feel a little bit risky, there’s probably isn’t that much of your heart and soul in it. A lot of the things you care about, the work and life projects that matter will have some elements of fear layered into them. So I did a lot of work with Tony Robbins in the beginning and then just over time, just being around and watching innovative people and what they did, and seeing that they were still afraid all the time really inspired me to keep going.
“Start looking at fear as something to run towards instead of away from, something to wake you up and show you what’s important and really means a lot to you.”- Kendra Wright
And also too, when I was completing the project, expanding your comfort zone and exiting your comfort zone becomes addicting. Cause it makes you feel alive. And although I do think there is value in the comfort zone, the thing about leaving your comfort zone is that you go out, you learn, you grow, you expand and then you come back to regroup, to reflect and review and think about what you’ve learned and then you go out again. People think that I hate the comfort zone but no, it’s a great place of rest and recovery and reflection and it’s needed, valuable and important. However, most people just live there. They never go on a journey outside of the comfort zone, and that is important. It’s the yin and the yang between the two and that constant expansion that’s really powerful and important to live a really cool, epic and awesome life.
When you realized that fear was holding you back, you decided to “punch fear in the face”. What is the first thing you tried outside of your comfort zone?
I don’t really remember, I’ll hit 800 challenges by the end of this year. So we’re many, many comfort zone challenges in. But I think there is one that is really memorable to me, and it is a very small one. I often use this example because it really shows you the power of expansion over time. When I first started the project, I always struggled with body confidence issues. I was pretty fluffy as a kid, and I was kind of an ugly duckling. I just never really felt confident in fashion. The fear of fashion and the struggle with body confidence paired together lead me to be really shy around clothing and m
y body. I live in texas and we get triple digit heat. I would never wear shorts because I was embarrassed of showing my knees. I didn’t like the way my knees and legs look and that probably ties with having cerebral palsy. I remember in the beginning I wanted to challenge myself to start wearing shorts, so I started wearing them and it was really uncomfortable for me to just wear shorts, which was really ironic cause now I am really fashion savvy and into it. But it started with shorts.As I was more comfortable wearing shorts, I remember asking how I could push myself more in my fashion and find new ways to expand what I’m wearing. And then I decided to buy a skirt. This is the first skirt I ever bought. Beautiful vintage A-line skirt, and I swear to you, just thinking of buying that made me want to barf all over myself because that felt so outside of my comfort zone!
I remember buying that skirt and thinking it was beautiful and being so excited about wearing it and I put it in my closet and probably didn’t wear it in like, 6 months! Eventually, I wore it, and the next year I started wearing skirts more, which was 2014. In 2015, I just continued to push myself challenge-wise and now I’ve become known as someone who wears skirts. When I do speaking engagements and public appearances, I wear them. That is a version of me wearing skirts now. The thing about comfort zone expansion is how it compounds over time. So I started out doing these very simple things, learning to wear shorts confidently, learning to ask for what I want, standing up for myself, saying no, some of those things were the hardest things in the beginning that I really remember. And of course I had a lot of incredible experiences too but, those were really big in the beginning for me. And now obviously the challenges are way bigger but it didn’t start that way by any means.
You often say that your project changed your relationship with fear. What does it mean to you, and how does it translate into your everyday life?
I think the big difference between my relationship with fear and most people’s relationship with it is that when I feel afraid, I use it as a signal to move forward. I’m not talking about the kind of fear that’s stopping you in front of a bus. It’s the kind of fear that makes me doubt myself and think hey, what will people think or hey, I’m not sure of all the steps. That kind of fear. Which is prevalent in much of the things that we do. When I feel that fear, I lean into it. It really allowed me to do some incredible things, like travel, and work on some amazing projects, or really put myself in the spotlight. You know, having the background of having cerebral palsy, many people see me as confident and outgoing now, but it’s still really uncomfortable for me to be in the spotlight, and I think that stems from having a childhood where I wanted to be out of the spotlight. My entire life because I felt like having CP and having braces on my legs and having rules bent for me because of my disability put me in the spotlight and I hated that. My relationship with fear is while most people run from it I run toward it. It translates into my everyday life when I’m fully using the gift that the universe has given me, living up to my maximum potential, leaning into my ability to help other people, living a really full life and collecting a lot of incredible experiences. When you get older you view life as a credit and debit system and when you can’t go out and do all these crazy amazing things out of the amazing experiences you created when you were younger. I just feel like I’m creating this bank of experiences and if tomorrow I kick the bucket, I will have lived a very full life and I’m really happy. And I have had more experiences in the last few years than most people their entire lives.
What does fear represent to you now? What did it represent before the Year of Fear project?
Now it represents opportunities. Before it kind of represented a road block and now it represents a path I need to take.
How did you transition from project to lifestyle with the Year of Fear?
2013 was the first year of the Year of Fear project. When I did the Year of Fear project in 2013, I didn’t expect it to become a movement or a lifestyle. It’s a project I did for me, for growth, for fun and adventure and experiences. When you do something every day for 365 days in a row, it is an opportunity of looking for new adventures or new things you’ve never done before and that is going to build a habit. It’s going to basically hardwire a radar for new opportunities to say yes. 2014, which is the year after the project first was created, I still did pretty epic stuff, I went hot air ballooning, I did white water rafting, I moved to a new city for a month that I have never been too, explored or knew anyone else in. I did huge bucket list items, left the music industry, and took this fully remote position that allowed me to travel and get a lot of freedom and flexibility. I did a lot of really cool things. On paper, if you would have told me 5 years before that would be my year, I would have thought I was the ultimate badass. Now, what happened is at the end of the year, I realized that I felt underutilized.
If we think of life as a timeline, there are big, big milestones like buying your first car, buying your first house, having your first kid, you know, backpacking Europe, etc. In reality, those moments are only 10 to 15 percent of your life. And most people are sleepwalking until they get to those moments. They are waiting for those moments to feel alive. What I discovered after creating the Year of Fear project is that although those moments are great, real life happens between the milestones. What was happening in the first Year of Fear project is that I was doing something new every day. I still was doing those big things too but I was really focused on living well day to day. And the year after the Year of Fear project, I was still doing those big milestones but the little day to day stuff was getting away from me a little bit. And I realized that it was a practice. That it needed to become a lifestyle and I needed to find a way to integrate this into my life more consistently, to create checkpoints and checks and balances. So yes, I love the big moments but I didn’t feel fulfilled because I didn’t have a lot of small memories throughout that year.
After that, I decided that I needed to find a way to create more of a lifestyle. I decided to do another Year of Fear to document it and be more purposeful, but I always kept this in the back of my mind. How would I create a lifestyle out of this when I’m not inside a full Year of Fear? And what I discovered is the 80/20 on that lifestyle is to create one experience or memory every week that you can really remember. Something new, something different. It doesn’t always have to be big, you know, it can be smaller, but the 80/20 lifestyle of comfort zone expansion is something that I am really interested in. So that’s how I learned to create a weekly checkpoint with myself to make sure I was creating a memory worth remembering.
How did you realize that the Year of Fear was becoming a movement? What difference did it make?
I realized it was becoming a movement because people kept talking to me about it. People were introducing me as the Year of Fear girl. And when people starting finding out about the different challenges I was doing, they were reaching out to me and saying ‘’wow!” I remember one day I posted about was my fear of dancing in public. Again this probably goes back to my childhood of cerebral palsy and my struggle with body confidence, but I hated dancing in public. I felt like everyone was looking at me, so I decided that I was going to get over that fear. I started taking these dance classes called ecstatic dance, also known as five rhythms. Just a freestyle dance class for an hour, there’s no talking on the dance floor, it is a really safe space to just dance. And if you feel completely horrible, it doesn’t matter, somebody is always worse than you! I did this for 6 months once a week, and after six months, the dance floor became home for me, it became a comfort zone. Which is really ironic because it was a place I feared before. And I remember writing a post about this saying that I was so afraid of the dance floor and now it’s become home and a comfort zone to me and I just described the challenge it was. People were reaching out to me about it, and I just realized that when I was sharing my stories it was inspiring other people. Multiple people from that single post started going and learning to dance in public and now it was really cool and so really the Year of Fear project helped me live my life well, but seeing other people live their life well, that has been the biggest payoff for me. Knowing that I can help other people creating those memories worth living and that life they would look back on, that’s pretty much like crack to me. I love it.
What part does productivity play in your personal development?
Productivity is everything in what I do. I am a huge time nazi and I think that if you can’t manage time well and make it work for you, you will struggle to get anything you want in life. So I treat time like it’s the most precious commodity on earth. Even the filthiest richest people can’t buy it back.
(Kendra did an interview on her planning process on the Asian Efficiency podcast)
Can you share how you incorporate adventures in your calendar?
When I do my weekly planning process, basically what I do is time block. Every Sunday I sit down and I plan my week, and I color code. Blue is for business, green is for self care, purple is for my writing process and pink is where I block off personal and adventure stuff. If I can’t find something really cool, something fun that is really unique, then I look at a list of ideas that I have and I schedule one that week. Sometimes I’ll schedule more but it just depends on what is going on in my week. I incorporate adventure into my calendar in my weekly planning process.
What place do rituals and routines have in your adventurous life?
I have a pretty solid morning routine from 6 to 8 AM working on my brain space. I keep Friday nights open because I like to have a great dinner by myself and watch Ted talks. I think that rituals and routines keep me sane. I have a very fast paced life, there is a lot going on, and rituals and routines are a safety harness that pulls me back to center. Getting enough sleep has become a very crucial part of me staying sane. Planning my week, being aware of my energy cadence, and so on. Usually, Mondays are not a good day for me to plan a whole bunch of deep work. My deep work happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Usually, I like to go out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, since I was in deep work all day, I want to be with friends and have fun. Mondays and Fridays are more recovery days for me. Just being aware of my energy and planning experiences at times that work well for me. As a very heavy introvert, it’s still a challenge for me to go out and do new things, so I just need to be aware of what my energy is like.
Weekly planning as a ritual is the number one tool that makes my life a decision and not just going with the flow. One story that I’ve told before is the pilot and the passenger. If you imagine your life, your goals, your projects to be like a plane, and you are the pilot, you can decide when to come up and when to come down. If you’re getting burnt out, you can land the plane. Most people are the passengers in their life. The plane is going to come down either way. As a pilot, you can decide to land the plane, or as the passenger, you can just hang on for the ride.Most people land the plane when they burn out. Weekly planning for me is becoming the pilot of my life and not just the passenger in this crazy ride through the sky. I’m constantly checking in with my energy and what’s going on and making sure that I’m not just working my life away and that I layer in adventure, experiences and learning opportunities, that’s really important to me.
Journaling is an important habit in your life. What impact does journaling have on your happiness?
Journaling helps me remember the amazing things that happen in my life. When I got to the end of 2014, the year that I was very unfulfilled even though I had the most epic year, it was because I couldn’t remember what happened in my year. Journaling helps me remember the small amazing things that happen in my life, it also helps me discover lies that I tell myself, for example, there’s a big thing that I am stressing out on or freaking out over, and I review my journal and realize that it wasn’t a big deal. That is one way that I found to calm myself. It really teaches me how to grow, through reviewing different stages of growth, it shows me the moment when I was losing it, the second stage where I was growing and the third where I can deal with it more gracefully.
What does “productive happiness” mean to you?
Productive happiness means to me building your life in a way that feels good to you. Productivity is different for everyone but it is a way that supports and leads you to get the experiences and accomplishments that you want out of life. Some people need more downtime, some people need more work accomplishments, some people need more travel… It is life management in a way that will lead you to your greatest chance for happiness. Whatever that means for you.
What is the next step for the Year of Fear movement?
Right now I just created a course called Facing Fear. It is finding ways to more effectively teach people fun, interesting, innovative ways to deal with fear. I feel there are a few people talking about fear these days, the difference about my way is I believe facing fear can be fun. It doesn’t always have to be scary. If it is always scary, then it’s not going to be sustainable. You don’t have to jump out of airplanes, or bungee jump or all that stuff! I think fear can be broken down into smaller components. The day to day decisions that we can make can really push out the walls of our comfort zone. I try to be teaching fear in a way that can be fun, interesting and unconventional. It’s not just about facing your fear but also breaking out of routines. The thing about comfort zone is that it’s really just a rut, a pattern, a groove that you fall into over and over again. I am teaching people to just take a new way home from work, or learn to approach people that intimidate them or inspire them. I am finding ways to teach it more effectively, scalably and to connect people facing fears. I just built the course and it’s new so working through that and what is the best ways to inspire my students. And of course, what are my next Year of Fear challenges. I’m always looking at that. I can’t teach without being in it and learning and constantly growing and so I’m always looking for what’s the next challenge for me that sounds exciting and fun.
So there you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Spotlight interview! To learn more about Kendra and the Year of Fear project, you can find her at www.heykendra.com.
What are your takeaways from the interview? Are you inspired to do your own comfort zone challenge? Let me know in the comments below!
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