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Notes From a Life Lived Fearlessly

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I guess you could say that I got this Becoming Fearless editor gig by making the study of fearlessness a lifetime habit. Over the past 20 years, I've read practically every book on the subject I could get my hands on, including Arianna's wonderful On Becoming Fearless, JFK's inspiring Profiles in Courage and Rhonda Britten's amazing Fearless Living. (You'll be seeing more of Rhonda on HuffPost Becoming Fearless in the coming weeks.)

I've also studied the fearlessness-related Japanese practice known as kaizen, which focuses on the idea of constant improvement. It basically means never resting on your laurels, expanding your comfort zone and continuously seeking out new opportunities for growth and personal development.

Here's a sampling of some of the "new opportunities for growth" I've pursued over the years [insert screams here]:

I took an emotionally and physically exhausting full-contact self-defense class.

I participated in Spencer Tunick's 2009 Montauk photo installation. (Read: I was photographed and videotaped in the nude... "for art." Naked rock-climbing was involved.)

I masqueraded as a man for a day, and wrote about it for Glamour magazine.

I've been unemployed. Many times.

I've lived without health insurance.

I have asked men out... and been turned down. (Yes, I know: They were idiots.)

I took a 2.5-week solo trip to Argentina with the goal of learning how to tango -- only to find that I can't tango to save my life. ("It's because you are American," my sore-toed teacher finally told me with a sigh.) But while I was in Argentina, I also stayed at an estancia in the Pampas and rode a horse bareback. So the trip wasn't a total loss.

I parachuted from 12,500 feet in an attempt at catharsis; I was trying to rid myself of bad ex vibes. Surprisingly, I did not find the experience cathartic at all. In fact, it was kind of relaxing -- once the parachute opened, of course. A barefoot skydiving dude even whizzed over to me in midair to introduce himself. (Full disclosure: Perhaps I was calm because, at the time, I happened to be strapped to an expert skydiver who was 6'5".)

People who haven't skydived sometimes ask me if that's the scariest thing I've ever done. Here's what I tell them: "No. That's just fear of dying. Fear of living is much, much scarier."

The scariest thing I've ever done in my life was this: I moved to New York City from West Burlington, Iowa (population 3,332). I was 22. I was alone. I had $2,000. My belongings were packed into exactly two suitcases. I had to sleep on my aunt's friend's couch for weeks. I didn't have a group of friends in the city. I didn't have a job lined up. All I had to pin my exorbitant hopes on was a single job interview I'd scheduled. It was for a low-paid editorial assistant position at Glamour, my favorite magazine. And yes, I got the job. Twenty *cough cough* years later I'm still in New York, and still writing.

I used to have a version of the above graph on my LinkedIn profile. But a brilliant business-expert friend of mine told me to take it down. "It's trite," he said. I took it down -- Lord knows I don't want to be trite! But I wonder: Can he begin to imagine what it was like to actually live through that experience? To go for weeks in a (huge) unfamiliar city without getting hired, watching your little nest egg dwindle down, down, down? Crying on the phone to your parents every night and having them beg you to come home? And sticking it out? And making it through? I don't think he can.

Now, of course, I wouldn't trade that experience for all the beans in Mexico. And that's the great thing about becoming fearless, isn't it? It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more fears you face, the more fearless you become -- even if you fail (sometimes even because you fail). Your perspective changes, enlarges. It takes a helluva lot more to scare you. So you take on more fears. Bigger ones.

Stay tuned! And if you've got a fearless story of your own, email it to me at fearless@HuffingtonPost.com.

For more by Elizabeth Kuster, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.