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“Do one thing every day that scares you.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

My brother Greg has always been more daring than I am. When we were kids, he had no problem riding his bike up and down the highest hills, climbing trees nearly to the top, and taking the car out for a license-less spin at 14. But in many ways we’re alike. Shy, uncertain, afraid to try new things, afraid to fail.

A year ago this month, Greg decided enough was enough. He challenged himself to do something scary every day for a year. His endeavors ranged from the social (going to a party by himself), to the gross (eating beef blood), to the embarrassing (post a ridiculous and hilarious video on the web), to the huge (quitting his job). His Friday parody hit the front page of Reddit, getting over 100,000 views in one day. His No Pants Metro Ride post was mentioned in The Huffington Post. He had a small but strong following.

But it was only when he finished the project and put the recap video on Reddit that the real craziness began. First it hit the front page. Then it got a mention in The Daily What, HuffPo, and finally the front page of Yahoo news.

As an opportunistic rat, I thought I’d leech off capitalize on my brother’s fame. We chatted over IM about his project, our crazy parents, and what exactly “scary” means.

 

AT: So how did you get the idea to start this project?

GT: I was bored with my life. I felt like I was living the same day over and over again. Wake up, go to work, come home, play video games and drink. My own self-imposed Groundhog’s Day. After so many years of doing the same thing, eventually you kind of blink your eyes and look around and say, “What am I doing here?” I wanted to start living my life more but wasn’t really sure how.

I had this Lululemon bag in my apartment for awhile that had all these inspirational quotes on it, one of which was Eleanor Roosevelt’s “do one thing everyday that scares you.” And at that moment in my life, at that time, that quote really spoke to me.

I came up with the idea to take that quote literally for a year as way to force myself to start living life. And I would write about it in a public blog so that I wouldn’t cheat.

 

How did you come up with the scary things?

At first it was easy. I just used whatever popped into my head. Sometimes I’d use some opportunity that was available to me that day. But pretty quickly I realized that wasn’t going to work for very long. So I made a list. People were always giving me suggestions so I never really had a shortage of things to do. I had a couple of different categories like the really big things that needed more planning and ‘Plan B things,’ as I liked to call them. Quicker, easier things I could do if I was desperate for something to do that day.

 

What’s the craziest suggestion someone gave you?

Nude art modeling was one and one that I tried to do but was turned down for because they wanted someone with experience. And there were the ones that violated my rules about not doing anything (too) illegal or negative like get into a bar fight or get arrested.

 

What was the scariest thing you did?

Doing Mortified was easily one of the scariest. Mortified is a live show where people read journal entries they wrote as kids. Public speaking is one of my biggest, if not my biggest fear. The most people I had spoken in front of was maybe thirty people for a high school presentation. Mortified was in front of a few hundred.

The interesting thing about that was it all started when I posted embarrassing journal entries from old diaries I found when I was home visiting my parents. Then a reader suggested I apply to Mortified and a few months later I ended up on the show. It was truly something I would never have done if I didn’t have a public blog.

[By the way, some of Greg’s journal entries were about reading MY childhood journal.]

 

In your videos, I was surprised by how good of an actor you were. Neither of us have done anything like that — did you have any sort of technique? Was it all the TV watching we did as kids?

Haha. Thanks. Well, you know as a kid I used to run around and act like I was in my own action movie. I’d have elaborate fight scenes by myself. So maybe that helped. Most of the videos I did were by myself so I felt free to be as stupid as I wanted to be. I think the next step is doing that in front of people.

 

Is there anything you wish you had gotten the chance to do?

I really wanted to do standup [comedy] but I had trouble finding the time to write and practice a routine. I also had an idea to marry a gay couple (since I became an ordained minister online for one of my posts) at the Chick-Fil-A in Hollywood as a protest to their anti-same sex marriage stance but I couldn’t find a gay couple willing to participate in time. I still plan on doing these things though.

 

One of the more dangerous things you did (at least to me) was posing as a homeless person on Christmas Eve, but that was also one of my favorite entries, along with your follow-up with Vick, the homeless man you befriended. Did you ever feel in danger while you were out there? Any idea what’s going on with Vick now?

Thanks.  That was one of my favorites as well. Before I actually did it, I felt like I would be in danger. But once I was actually out there on the streets, I didn’t feel like that. Maybe it was because I blended in with all the other homeless people. Nobody even really paid any attention to me when I was walking in the heart of Skid Row. If I were dressed normally, I think it would’ve been a different story.

I think for the most part, there seemed to be a bond between homeless people. Or at least some sort of unspoken agreement to be civil to each other. The only time I felt really uncomfortable was when Vick started to smoke crack in front of me and I was more scared of being arrested than for my life.

I haven’t been back to seen Vick. Part of me wants to know how he’s doing, and part of me doesn’t.  When I checked in on him last time, he looked terrible. I also don’t know what I can do to help him.

 

Quitting your job was probably the biggest scary thing you did — was that always part of the plan?

Yeah.  I mean, I wanted to quit my job for years, and I realized that would be one of the biggest things I could do for the blog. I knew it was the right thing for me but the blog gave me the impetus to actually go through with it.

 

Other scary things you did included revealing a lot of stuff to our parents. We grew up not talking a lot about our feelings — what were their reactions like?

Not really what I expected, especially from our mother, at least in regards to the older secrets I finally revealed like shoplifting or forging my high school report cards. We could actually laugh about that stuff and in a way it brought us closer. Dad was really happy when I sent him a letter telling him what I thought of him and how he was a great father and all of that. Revealing that I was going to quit my job was a lot tougher and put a huge strain on me and mom’s relationship. But it’s better now.

 

I always got nervous when I saw on your blog that you had revealed something to our parents. I’d wait for the Mom call at that point, but when she did call she’d just say, “What’s with your brother?” and not even reference what you had revealed to her.

[laughs]

 

You mentioned the strain in your relationship with Mom when you told her about quitting your job – did you have any other difficulties with people in real life as a result of the blog?

The biggest difficulties were with the girl I started dating during the blog, Clara.  Especially when we broke up. She asked me not to write too much about exactly what had gone on between us. It was difficult, because the blog was all about being honest.  But I also wanted to respectful to Clara. So I tried to walk the line. Also, I wrote some personal things about one of my exes with whom I’m still friends, and she was angry that I had revealed that information. It definitely strained our friendship at that point, but since then it’s been fine.

 

Do you think the blog has also made you closer with some people? Seems like your friends are some great cheerleaders.

They are. My friends have been amazing for the most part. And even though my blog is one-sided, I feel closer to them knowing that they know so much more about me and knowing they are reading about and interested in my life.

And I feel much closer to the friends who actually participated in doing scary things with me, like my gay friend Bob, whom I went to a leather bar with. And I feel closer to you, Mom, and Dad. Mom and Dad for the reasons I said before. You because you were always a supporter of the blog, and especially when I visited you in the Bay Area and we did the Hot Cookie thing together as well as you supporting me at Mortified SF.

 

A sister photographing her brother in his underwear in public is definitely a bonding experience.

Like being in a war together.

 

Did you have any bad/surprising reactions? How did you handle that?

Yeah, the biggest criticism with the blog is “that’s not scary.” I never want to hear those words again. Because it was a criticism I made myself constantly. But the reality was that I had a job and wasn’t rich. I had a life and I couldn’t do crazy scary stuff all the time. Also, ‘scary,’ like ‘beauty,’ is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not really that scared by stuff like skydiving. But ask me to do something in front of a group of people and I’ll feel like wetting myself. Negative comments don’t bother me that much because, like I said, I’m my own harshest critic.  I’ve heard it all before from myself already.

The criticism of my Awesome Foundation video where I gave away bike helmets, though—that actually really hurt me because I was so surprised that people were getting so upset over what I was doing. And I didn’t really understand why.

 

Yeah I don’t get why people would be against wearing bike helmets, or your giving them away for free.

Back to your point about scary being in the eye of the beholder, you seem to have no problem doing the physically scary stuff — flying trapeze, etc. — and what was scary for you was about exposing yourself in front of people. Being vulnerable.

Right, so the critics have to think about the person doing the scary things. It’s different for everybody. I was doing what was scary for me, not what I thought would be scary for other people or what would sound good in a book.

 

I remember you writing about encountering Noelle Hancock’s book and getting discouraged. Was there ever time you felt like giving up the whole thing?

I don’t think I ever thought, hey I’m giving up and not doing this anymore.  It was more like, wow, I might not do a scary thing today and that will ruin the whole blog. The worst time by far was when I broke up with Clara. Dealing with a breakup and trying to keep the blog going was very tough. Especially when I started drinking to escape from my feelings. Stopping drinking was the best thing I could’ve done at that point and got me back on track.

 

I was going to ask about why you started drinking more — did the blog sort of make you realize you had been drinking to escape your feelings in the past, or did you always sort of know?

No, I knew that. I knew my habits and what I could do. But if I kept drinking like that I knew I might mess up the blog. My desire to finish the blog outweighed anything in my life. So in a way it saved me at that time.

 

That’s really awesome.

Yeah, I’m thankful for that.

 

Let’s talk more about the buzz — how did you explain that to our parents? Do they get it yet?

[Trying to explain the internet to my Chinese parents is like trying to explain colors to a blind person.]

I called Mom to tell her I was on the front page of Yahoo! and in the Huffington Post but she didn’t really understand that and just kind of patted me on the head and said, “That’s nice.”

But when I started getting interviews and there was a potential national television appearance in the works, I think Mom started to understand that something was going on. She just didn’t know what or why. She asked, “Why are people so interested in what you write?” But she was proud and happy in her own way. But she won’t really get it until I actually somehow get paid for all of this.

 

Ha, yeah, that’s true. She called me and said, “Why are people so interested in this? Eating an octopus, that’s not scary!” Maybe not for her.

Haha.

 

Some of your commenters have said that you’ve inspired them to do scary things themselves — did you expect that to happen?

No. That’s the biggest surprise of the whole thing and maybe the best part of all. I remember when I got my first email from somebody who was really inspired and I was just blown away. I think what I was doing was relatable to a lot of people. You read about someone who does daredevil things like skydive and bungee jump and it doesn’t really mean anything. But someone facing fears that most people face every day seems more accessible. They could say, “Hey, I’m going to talk to somebody new today,” whereas most people can’t just go and skydive immediately.

 

You definitely inspired me, if not to do something scary every day, then always keep it in the back of my mind.

Thanks. It’s a lifestyle change. It’s similar to how diets are useless. You have to change the way you think. For the rest of your life.

 

You just finished your project. What was it like going from doing something scary every day to not?

It was nice to be honest. Not to have that pressure. But even after only a couple of weeks, I’m definitely feeling the urge to start up again. Even though it was extremely tough, the year of Scaring Myself Everyday was the best year of my life.

 

So you’d do it again?

No, not an every day thing. I prefer to keep that time special by not trying to do the same thing again.

 

What are your upcoming plans?

I’m working on writing on a book and will eventually try to get that published. I’m also working on a community site called Go Scare Yourself! which will be a place where people can share experiences and ideas on scaring themselves, and also be inspired.

 

Okay, last question: how do you think you’ve changed?

I feel the same and completely different at the same time. I’m still the same person, but I’m not as bound by fear. Fear would make me not be myself in so many situations. But now I can be. I have a new outlook on life. I used to avoid new things and now I look for them. I also believe that you can change your life and write your own story. People forget that sometimes, especially if they feel trapped in a job they hate.

You can also be the person you want to be. Being shy was a label I put on myself. Why did I have to be shy? Finally, I think I’m a guy who does things now. I used to be a dreamer and never do anything. But now I do.

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Angela Tung A long-time New Yorker, ANGELA TUNG is a writer in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in CNN Living, The Frisky, Dark Sky Magazine, Matador Life, The New York Press and elsewhere. Her Young Adult novel, Song of the Stranger, was published by Roxbury Park Books.

Her latest book, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, chronicles the failed marriage between a Chinese woman and Korean man, both American-born but still bound by old world traditions. Black Fish was short-listed for Graywolf Press' 2010 Nonfiction Prize.

In addition, she's a writer/editor at Wordnik.com, an online word source, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Visit her at angelatung.com.

7 Responses to “The Fear Factor: One Man’s Mission to Scare Himself Every Day”

  1. What a cool project! I really like the idea of it. I think it sets a great message to people, maybe not to take an entire year and do everything, but just to put fear into perspective and do things in life that are memorable, enjoyable, and worthwhile.

    • angela says:

      I agree. While I don’t do something scary every day, when I start to feel hesitant about doing something, I say to myself, “This is your scary thing.”

  2. sonia says:

    I missed the youtube video, but this was a really good piece. It was much better than celebrity interviews I have read before in magazines. Maybe it was much more coherent and directed because you two are so close and have understanding only available to people with long histories together. Nice.

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Angela, I always assumed you were the coolest person ever, but now I see that your brother is a close second. Really close, but no cigar. (I could be prejudiced, but I don’t think so this time.)

  4. […] The Fear Factor: One Man’s Mission to Scare Himself Every Day. I interviewed my brother about his Scare Yourself Every Day project. […]

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