On Becoming Fearless...in Love, Work, and Life


By Arianna Huffington

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Author, syndicated columnist, occasional actress, and businesswoman Ariana Huffington examines the ways in which fear affects the lives of women, and the steps anyone can take to conquer fear.

Observing that her own teenage daughters were beginning to experience some of the same fears that had once burdened her

— How attractive am I? Do people like me? Do I dare speak up? —

Arianna Huffington was compelled to look at the subject and impact of fear. In stories drawn from her own experiences and with contributions from Nora Ephron, Diane Keaton and many others, she points toward the moments of extraordinary strength, courage, and resilience that result from confronting and overcoming fear.

Her book shows us how to become bold from the inside out: from feeling comfortable in our own skin, to getting what we want in love and at work, to changing the world.


Copyright © 2006 by Arianna Huffington

"On Fearlessness" essays are individually copyrighted as follows: © 2006 by Nora Ephron; © 2006 by Susan L. Smalley; © 2006 by Diane Keaton; © 2006 by Kathleen M. Eldon; © 2006 by Melina Kanakaredes; © 2006 by Marcy Carsey; © 2006 by Sherry Lansing; © 2006 by Agapi Stassinopoulos; © 2006 by Jody Williams; © 2006 by Debrah Constance

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Quotes on pages 81– 82 and 152 from Anna Quindlen's Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children speech are reprinted by permission of International Creative Management, Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Anna Quindlen.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group USA

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Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com

First eBook Edition: September 2006

ISBN: 978-0-759-56827-3

Also by Arianna Huffington

The Female Woman

After Reason

Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend

The Gods of Greece

Picasso: Creator and Destroyer

The Fourth Instinct: The Call of the Soul

Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom

How to Overthrow the Government

Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America

Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America

For my mother, Elli, whose fearless spirit
permeates this book.

For my daughters, Christina and Isabella, as they
find their paths to fearlessness.

And for Kenny, my Huffington Post partner,
whose love and support have made my own
journey more fearless.


I REMEMBER IN February 1997 taking my then seven-and five-year-old daughters to an exhibition of Shakespeare's "Unruly Women" at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. There was Portia in The Merchant of Venice, who takes on the whole Venetian legal world and uses the law to bring new, deeper insights to it. There was Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and Rosalind in As You Like It, both of them "take no prisoners" women who ruffled the feathers of those birdbrains mindlessly parroting the status quo.

Fearless women come in all shapes, forms, ages, and professions. As Shakespeare put it, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."

I wanted to take my daughters to that exhibition because it's never too early to teach women fearlessness. But now as I watch my girls in their teenage years, I'm stunned to see all the same classic fears I was burdened with: How attractive am I? Do people like me? Should I speak up? I wonder if their fears are more intense than mine were at their age or if they just seem more intense. I had thought that with all the gains feminism has brought, my daughters would not have to suffer through the fears I did. Yet here is our younger generation, as uncertain, doubting, and desperate as we were, trying to fulfill the expectations of others. What happened to our bold little girls?

As Mary Pipher puts it in her bestselling book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves." Fears in teenage girls manifest in many ways: depression, eating disorders, drugs, casual and confusing sex. Young women, fixated on looks, thinness, and sexuality, are losing themselves in trying to gain approval from peers, grown-ups, and the overheated pop culture that surrounds them.

And yet, through the many case studies I've read, through the stories of women I admire, and, above all, through my own experience with my daughters, again and again I encounter moments of extraordinary strength, courage, and resilience, when fears are confronted, even overcome, and anything seems possible. It was my longing to somehow make these moments last that prompted me to write this book—for my contemporaries, for our mothers, for our daughters.

CLINICAL ANXIETY DISORDERS associated with fear affect more than 20 million Americans. Science has shown that fear is hard-wired deep in our lizard brain. What differentiates us from one another are the situations that activate our individual alarms of danger. An armed burglar invading our home? A boyfriend not calling? An odd comment from a friend over lunch? An upcoming wedding toast you're expected to give? Starting a new job? Having to ask your boss for a raise? Saying good-bye to a bad relationship?

Fears—such as fear of snakes, heights, and closed spaces—are not biologically specific to gender, but some do tend to be more prevalent among women than men, including anuptaphobia: fear of staying single; arrhenphobia: fear of men; atelophobia: fear of imperfection; atychiphobia: fear of failure; cacophobia: fear of ugliness; eremophobia: fear of loneliness; gerascophobia: fear of growing old; glossophobia: fear of public speaking; katagelophobia: fear of ridicule; monophobia: fear of being alone; rhytiphobia: fear of getting wrinkles.

Every fear has a name. Whatever it is that frightens you has frightened someone before you. Fear is universal. It touches everyone—but it clearly doesn't stop everyone.


There have been many, many moments of fear in my life, but seven of them were critical—times when the fear was overwhelming but which taught me that it was possible to break through to the other side. To fearlessness.

•      The first experience of fear I remember was a particularly strange one. I was nine years old. Over dinner one night, my mother started telling my younger sister and me about the time during the Greek civil war, in the 1940s, when she fled to the mountains with two Jewish girls. As part of the Greek Red Cross, she was taking care of wounded soldiers and hiding the girls.

She described the night when German soldiers arrived at their cabin and started to shoot, threatening to kill everyone if the group did not surrender the Jews the Germans suspected (rightly) they were hiding. My mother, who spoke fluent German, stood up and told them categorically to put down their guns, that there were no Jews in their midst. And then she watched the German soldiers lower their guns and walk away. And just hearing it, I remember the fear rising inside me, not just fear for my mother and the danger she faced but fear for myself. How would I ever live up to this standard of fearlessness?

•      It was 1967, and a group of Greek generals had just staged a coup and established a dictatorship in Athens, where I lived. There was a curfew, and soldiers were stationed at every corner. I was seventeen years old and afraid—torn between the fear that paralyzed me and the desire to ignore the curfew and walk to my economics class so I could fulfill my dream of going to Cambridge University. I ignored the curfew and walked to class.

•      When I finally got into Cambridge, I instantly fell in love with the Cambridge Union, the university's famed debating society. But, to put it mildly, the Cambridge Union did not instantly fall in love with me. Even before starting my unrequited love affair, I had to overcome the barrier of having a heavy Greek accent in a world where accents really mattered. More important, I had to overcome the fear of criticism and ridicule. If I didn't, I knew I would never be able to speak fearlessly in public.

•      In 1988, when I published my book on Picasso, I found myself in a battle with the art establishment. My sin was that I had dared criticize Picasso as a man, even while acknowledging his artistic genius. The book was called Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, and the art world would not forgive me for exploring the destroyer part—a not inconsiderable facet of Picasso's life. And this, after all, was a biography. My Picasso experience elicited two fears: the fear of being disapproved of by people I liked and respected, and the fear of being caught up in a public controversy.

•      The most heart-wrenching fear—confronting the possibility of great loss and one's own powerlessness to do anything to stop it—hit me when my younger daughter, Isabella, was not yet one year old. One night, completely unexpectedly, she had a fever-related seizure. I was alone with her. Seeing my baby turn black and blue and realizing she was unable to breathe brought me face-to-face with a chilling fear.

•      In 2003, I ran for governor in California. During the campaign I was confronted with the fear of being caricatured and misunderstood. Of course, it's in the nature of political campaigns to turn your opponent into a political caricature. But I saw firsthand how different—and how much harder—it is if you're a woman, how much more exposed and vulnerable you feel. I remember sitting at the airport, waiting for a plane to Sacramento, deep in thought about all of this, when a young woman put a note in my hand and then disappeared:

Ms. Huffington,

I didn't want to intrude, but I wanted to thank you for your statements during the September 24th debate. You helped make it clear why women in particular should not vote for Schwarzenegger. While some have complained that your behavior was inappropriate, I realize that well-behaved women rarely make history. Thanks for taking on the fight.

Janice Rocco

•      My mother, who lived with me most of my life—through my marriage, childbirth, and divorce—died in 2000. Her death forced me to confront my deepest fear: living my life without the person who had been its foundation. I did lose her, and I have had to go on without her. But the way she lived her life and faced her death have taught me so much about overcoming fear.


Beyond the major moments of fear in our lives, there are many other times we sacrifice our personal truth to go along, be approved of, or just plain be "nice." Because despite all our advances, there's still a huge premium on women being "accommodating" and "team players" who don't "rock the boat." As Marlo Thomas once said, "A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold." Or, as a friend of mine operating in the treacherous political world of Washington's Beltway told me, "It's good to be a team player, but you also have to know the difference between all of us standing together and all of us jumping off the same cliff." If you let them, the hungry little gremlins of compromise will devour your soul bit by bit and come to dominate your life. They feed the fear of being left out, the fear that survival will be impossible outside the tribe. No wonder fear shoots through our veins, constricting our blood flow and shutting down our creative energy—we are in survival mode.

When we are in the grip of survival thinking, the dominant illusion is that once we vanquish the enemy facing us, overcome the obstacle in front of us, get over the next hill, life will be secure, free of problems, perfect. Then we will be fearless. Then we can start the life we've been planning on. But that long-awaited day never comes because there is always another enemy, another obstacle, another hill.

To live in fear is the worst form of insult to our true selves. By having such a low regard for who we are—for our instincts and abilities and worth—we build a cage around ourselves. To prevent others from shutting us down, we do it for them. Trapped by our own fears, we then pretend that we're incapable of having what we want, forever waiting for others to give us permission to start living. Pretty soon, we start to believe this is the only way.

The most common response to this crisis of self is conformity: "The individual," Erich Fromm writes in Escape from Freedom, "ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be. . . . This mechanism can be compared with the protective coloring some animals assume."

So, ironically, the woman who appears well adapted may be the one who has simply become most comfortable being governed by her fears, while the "neurotic" one is still gamely struggling to reach fearlessness.


Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. Rather, it's the mastery of fear. Courage, my compatriot Socrates argues, is the knowledge of what is not to be feared. Which is to say, there are things we should be afraid of—we want to stay alive, after all. We will never completely eliminate fear from our lives, but we can definitely get to the point where our fears do not stop us from daring to think new thoughts, try new things, take risks, fail, start again, and be happy.

Fearlessness is about getting up one more time than we fall down. The more comfortable we are with the possibility of falling down, the less worried we are of what people will think if and when we do, the less judgmental of ourselves we are every time we make a mistake, the more fearless we will be, and the easier our journey will become.

I remember once talking to my eight-year-old daughter before a school performance. She kept saying she had butterflies in her stomach because she was afraid to go on the stage. What if, I asked her, the butterflies were actually there because she was excited to go on the stage? She considered the idea. In fact, it became a little joke between us. "I'm not afraid, Mommy," she would say. "I'm excited." The more she repeated it, the more she believed it and the less afraid she was. Since fear is such a primal reaction, making the choice to move forward despite fear is an evolved decision that transcends our animal nature.

IN THE CHAPTERS ahead, I will provide a road map for achieving fearlessness in every aspect of our lives, a straight-to-the-point manifesto on how to be fearless. How to be bold. How to say what we need to say and do what we need to do in a way that has us embracing, not fearing, the reactions of others. Why speaking out is almost always better than silence. How to assess what's holding us back from being our best, most honest selves and what we must do to change. Why the world will be a better place if we actively work for the things we want and believe in.

I have my own key to overcoming fear. I look for the still center in my life and in my self, the place that is not susceptible to life's constant ups and downs. It doesn't mean that I don't lose my head and that I wouldn't rather have success and praise than failure and criticism, but it does mean that I can find my way back to that center, that secure structure of inner support, so that all my negative emotions, and especially my fears, become opportunities to achieve fearlessness. If we can find that greater inner freedom and strength, then we can evolve from a fearful state of living to a state of freedom, trust, and happiness.

We have so much potential, yet we hold ourselves back. If my daughters, and women of all ages, are to take their rightful place in society, they must become fearless. This book is dedicated to them and to that goal.

Nora Ephron on fearlessness

I THINK OF myself as a fairly brave person. When I was young, I was exceptionally brave about things other girls were wussy about, like snakes and scary movies, and I was very proud of myself.

There's no question in my mind that women tend to be more fearful than men—or else they're allowed by the culture to be more fearful—but I was never really like that: I was a tomboy and an athlete, and my parents were determined that all their children (four girls) be exceptionally brave about their opinions, et cetera. I'm a great admirer of that virtue called manliness, which is highly underrated in women, and to me it includes choosing to be brave rather than fearful.

I probably have a certain amount of impatience with fearfulness and an absolute determination not to be fearful when it's possible to overcome it. But I don't expect to be particularly brave when forced to confront my own death. I wish I were going to be, but I doubt I will.

I used to be afraid of flying, but one day my husband pointed out to me that it was narcissistic to think that my particular plane was going to crash. That amused me and made sense, so it was sort of the end of my fear of flying.

After September 11, I was full of fear about all the things people were fearful about: subway attacks, germ warfare, smallpox, et cetera. It was a terrifying time; my heart was in my throat. Like everyone I know, I got my doctor to give me a prescription for Cipro in case of an anthrax attack. The Cipro pills are useless now, it's years afterward, but I keep them in my medicine cabinet as a reminder of how frightened I was. But I wasn't a total wuss: I never bought a gas mask. I have friends who did, and I felt about them the way I felt about the girls I grew up with who were afraid of snakes and scary movies.

On the other hand, I should probably admit that now that I'm older, I tend to avoid all scary movies. If I accidentally find myself at a movie that turns scary, I cover my eyes and I don't uncover them until the scary-movie music is over.

I have not seen a snake lately, so I have no idea how I would respond. Although I recently killed a mouse with a broom, so I would probably be all right.

Nora Ephron's latest book is I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.

Fearless About the Body

The Perfection of Imperfection

THE MOST INTIMATE relationship we'll ever have is with our own body. It's the headquarters of our fears and anxieties. It's also the cause of many of them. Which is why we can never really be fearless until we stop judging our looks and accept them.

I've always loved Orinthia's classic, brimming-with-chutzpah speech in George Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart. Having seen the play a number of times, I've noticed that it's actually better when Orinthia is played by an actress who is not conventionally beautiful, because then it makes the point more clearly that Orinthia's confidence in herself comes from a deeper place than her looks or her achievements. The king, with whom she's having an affair, challenges her: "It must be magnificent to have the conscience of a goddess without ever doing a thing to justify it."

She replies: "Give me a goddess's work to do; and I will do it. I will even stoop to a queen's work if you will share the throne with me. But do not pretend that people become great by doing great things. They do great things because they are great, if the great things come along. But they are great just the same when the great things do not come along. If I never did anything but sit in this room and powder my face and tell you what a clever fool you are, I should still be heavens high above the millions of common women who do their domestic duty, and sacrifice themselves, and run trade departments and all the rest of the vulgarities. . . . Thank God my self-consciousness is something nobler than vulgar conceit in having done something. It is what I am, not what I do, that you must worship in me."

Granted, it would be nicer if all this confidence were directed at something a little nobler than getting the king to marry her. But the essence of Orinthia's declaration is that fearlessness and confidence in ourselves come not from what we do, or what we accomplish, or what we wear, or how we look, but from a deep and complete acceptance of ourselves. We are who we are no matter what we look like or what we achieve.


For eons, beauty has been a big measure, often the only measure, of a woman's worth. The urge to attract seems to be hardwired in us—even a biological necessity. In her book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff writes that "beauty is a universal part of human experience. . . . It provokes pleasure, rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes." Across different cultures and different eras, as long as human beings have existed, beauty has been at the heart of how women have been treated. It has also been central to women's survival, since beautiful women often attract strong protectors. It's no wonder it became a paramount preoccupation for us.

Did you know that over seven thousand years ago red pigments were already being used as lip color? The beauty products industry may, in fact, be the world's second-oldest profession—if you believe the old axiom about the world's oldest. Today, according to Etcoff, between the L'Oréals and the Clairols and all the rest, some five hundred different shades of blond hair dye are manufactured to please the estimated 40 percent of women in the United States alone who add blond to their hair. Some two thousand jars of skin care products and nearly fifteen hundred tubes of lipstick are sold every minute. "More money," Etcoff writes, "is spent on beauty than on education or social services."


Insecurity about our looks comes into full bloom in adolescence and is now almost a rite of passage. I still cringe at how self-conscious I was as a teenager. Let's start with the fact that I was freakishly tall for a Greek girl, standing five ten at thirteen, when my classmates were five nothing. I remember the trauma of being excluded from the school parade, which included all the tallest girls at the school, because I was, yes, too tall. Add to that unruly curly hair, heavy acne, and thick glasses, and, well, you get the not-so-pretty picture. I was only happy when I was lost in my books.

The rest of the time I was consumed by fears that I would never have a boyfriend, never be attractive to boys. I kept comparing myself to all my beautiful, diminutive classmates as I towered over them in my exquisite awkwardness. I kept getting A's in school, but it didn't matter to me because all I really cared about was how I looked.

The good grades were my ticket out, but I still took a lot of these fears with me to Cambridge. I began dating, but was also constantly doubting myself. Most of my happiness at Cambridge came not from my relationships but from beginning to master public speaking, debating, and the clash of ideas. It took me many years before I would find myself as a woman.


Imagine if someone invented a little tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves—a TiVo for our inner dialogue. What we'd discover is that not even our worst enemies talk about us the way we talk about ourselves. The negative self-talk starts as soon as we wake up—sometimes even before. It revs up when we take that first look in the mirror or get on a scale or put on a pair of pants that fits too snugly. "Oh, my God, I look awful . . . another wrinkle here—I hope that's just from the pillow. . . . Did I put these pants in the dryer? Can't . . . seem to . . . zip them." On and on it goes, as we fret over every blemish, every extra pound. It's like having the world's worst roommate—one who's around 24/7.

Last spring I took my teenage daughters to see Eve Ensler's play The Good Body. It was fascinating to be with them while we watched one woman's journey from fear about every flaw to fearlessness and acceptance of her body with all its imperfections.

"Why write a play about my stomach?" asks Ensler in the play's preface. "Maybe because my stomach is one thing I feel I have control over, or maybe because I have hoped that my stomach is something I could get control over. Maybe because I see how my stomach has come to occupy my attention, I see how other women's stomachs or butts or thighs or hair or skin have come to occupy their attention, so that we have very little left for the war in Iraq—or much else, for that matter."

But self-consciousness about our abs or butts or faces isn't just an individual preoccupation, it's almost a social dictate. As Naomi Wolf observes in The Beauty Myth, one side effect of the feminist revolution was that society's emphasis shifted from expecting us to maintain the perfect home as a housewife to expecting us to maintain the perfect face, hair, and body as a working woman.

And if we are momentarily diverted from thoughts about our looks, there are dozens of women's magazines to get us back on track. "Why can't you," they implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) ask, "be like the superwomen we feature—tall, thin, juggling a career and children without ever breaking a sweat, looking fearless, impeccable, properly exfoliated, moisturized, and put together?"

But where is that superwoman? I can certainly tell you she's never been seen around my house. And even if she were to show up, my inner-dialogue roommate would be sure to find some "areas of improvement" she could concern herself with.

If there's one thing all of this shows, it's how successful women have been at internalizing the notion that they've been put on this earth to please men. And every time we threaten to finally shuck this idea off, we find a way to somehow reembrace it. As Maureen Dowd writes, "It took only a few decades to create a brazen new world where the highest ideal is to acknowledge your inner slut."


Our fears about our looks naturally lead us to compare ourselves endlessly with others—and others are all, of course, endlessly comparing themselves to us. It's a fear-and-self-doubt perpetual-motion machine: Why can't we just be as pretty, as sexy, as athletic, as young as her or her or her, or the hundreds of women looking at us from magazines, billboards, and TV screens?

Our culture is obsessed with glamour, attractiveness, fashion, hipness, and youth. So our internal pressures to look perfect are constantly reinforced by airbrushed images of movie stars and models ministered to by a retinue of stylists, makeup artists, and plastic surgeons.

If it is your goal to compete with these immaculate images, you will never win. And even if it's not your goal, that doesn't mean you're immune to the cultural noise around you. The average woman sees four hundred to six hundred advertisements per day, and by the age of seventeen, the average person will have been exposed to about 250,000 commercial messages. Worse, according to the 2002 book Advertising to the American Woman: 1900–1999, one of every eleven commercials communicates a direct message about beauty. Add in the endless indirect messages being sent and you can see what we're up against!

The outside world barrages us with these incessant messages and images; it's not going to stop, and we can't control it. But what we can do is exert some control on the inside. We can find the strength, and the fearlessness, to refuse to be pulled onto this treadmill of comparisons.


With so much internal and external pressure to be beautiful, it's no wonder women go to such absurd lengths to achieve the goal of perfection. Fear that we will not measure up leads to stifling conformity as we try to squeeze ourselves into the mold.


On Sale
Sep 4, 2006
Page Count
240 pages
Little Brown Spark

Arianna Huffington

About the Author

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, author of 11 books, and the cofounder and editor of online magazine TheHuffingtonPost.com. She lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters.

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