Michelle Poler inspired a movement, Hello Fears, by facing 100 fears in 100 days. She went skydiving, she held a tarantula, she did trapeze, and even wore no pants on the subway. Michelle has made it her mission to overcome the fear of being afraid and find true courage.
In this interview:
- Michelle’s influence growing up
- Impact of the culture on self-expression
- The Cultural differences between the US and Venezuela
- Wanting to explore fear and writing Hello Fears
- The distinction between being fearless and being brave
- The difference between Comfort and Happiness
- Ambition and fulfillment coexisting
- The 6 stage process of overcoming any fear
Let’s get started!
Michelle’s Influence Growing up
Michelle grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, for the first 19 years of her life and it played a major role in who she is today. Venezuela, like the rest of Latin America, has a warm feeling to it, both in terms of the weather and the people there. At the same time, however, it is a dangerous country, nothing like it is today (being one of the most dangerous countries in the world) but still pretty significant.
As a fearful person, the environment there was never kind to Michelle. As a child, she lived in a bubble, never alone, and was always surrounded by adults. No matter where she went, be it during the 10-minute walk to school, or a few hours at the mall with friends, there was always a known adult around her.
Constantly surrounded by paranoia, the fear in her only intensified. For example, when Michelle was little she couldn’t go to sleep until she was absolutely sure no one could break into her house. So she stayed up hours looking out her bedroom to make sure everything was safe, and eventually ended up having to close the door to feel safe enough to sleep.
After Michelle turned 19 she moved to the US, and the transitions weren’t as smooth as one would hope. She had a hard time figuring things out, and adjusting to the idea of safety there, that she be alone and be alright.
Moving to New York, a city that looks dangerous but is actually comparatively safer, took Machelle years to understand that and feel real safety wherever she went, like the Subway alone at night, or the supermarket. She gradually learned how to live like a “normal person” and not someone who constantly lived in the paranoia of something bad happening like a robbery or a kidnapping.
Impact of the Culture on Self-expression
“It’s very weird to miss a place that is no longer there. Even though Venezuela is there, it is not the Venezuela I grew up in. It’s very different.”
Michelle left in 2007 when things were getting really bad. They already started kidnapping people more often. When she was young, it was actually pretty rare, but around that time it became more frequent and hit closer to home, at one point her friends and family members started to get kidnapped.
Soon people started leaving, and Michelle was some of the first to leave within her circle, and eventually, they all started to leave, to the point where she now doesn’t have anyone she knows left in Venezuela.
But all that being said, Michelle misses her home. She hasn’t visited it since 2014 when she went there for a day to attend a wedding. It’s a place of countless memories and emotions; she met her husband there, they even shared their first year there and then left together.
Some time ago they attended a meditation practice, where they had to write a letter to their country. The experience was hard and heart-wrenching.
“It’s hard because you no longer feel like you belong anywhere. Like if I go back I know I don’t belong there. It’s been too many years since I left.”
Michelle’s been living in the US for several years now, but she doesn’t relate to a lot of things in terms of culture. And her parents moved to Panama which is right near Venezuela, it’s similar. A lot of Venezuelans moved there, so it feels like home when she visits but it’s not.
“I just had to figure out who I am on my own. Not as part of a country or a city, but when I am by myself, who am I?
Michelle truly started to connect with herself when she moved to New York in 2014. Because it’s a city where you can express yourself however you want, and nobody will judge you. Everyone is different and that is the beauty of New York.
“You see so many kinds of people and I love that. I love that difference and variety that you get on the street. And I wanted to be my own self when I was there.”
The path to Self-expression
“It is scary anywhere to express your opinion.”
In Venezuela, you aren’t allowed to express your personal opinion on national television. If you’re against the government in any way they will close the program or channel.
That being said, thanks to social media, that’s not really a huge problem anymore. The majority have access to the internet, where people can engage and interact with people everywhere. Social networking is HUGE in Venezuela, especially Twitter.
The Cultural Differences Between the US and Venezuela
The first city Michelle moved to was Savana, Georgia. Therefore her first cultural experience was very different from Venezuela, in fact, her first description of the city was “cute.” But she soon started to pick on the huge differences between the people.
Coming from a place, where Michelle didn’t experience any racism and when she realized certain people treated her differently she started to really learn about racial discrimination and the depth of it in the US.
She also came to learn the difference in self-expression. In Latin America, people are more real, vulnerable and vocal about their feelings. Whereas in the United States, people are more reserved with an attitude of “everything is fine.” For someone, who was raised to speak out and be honest/vulnerable, Michelle found that people are often taken aback by her personality.
Advice from Parents on Vulnerability
“I always had a voice in my family. They always respected my desires.”
Her parents allowed a lot of self-expression, something that helped shape her personality today. For example, every year her father would repaint the house and would ask Michelle for a choice of colors. As a 7-year-old, she chose two colors she thought went well, and they would never make her doubt any combination. Her father’s answer was always, “sure” and he would take her to the store to get her vision and choice color matched.
And that attitude expanded to almost all of Michelle’s decisions, no matter what they were. Her mother is a therapist, so growing up Michelle was encouraged to always speak up, about her feelings, wants, and opinions. By the time she was an adult, she could get a pretty good understanding of people.
Therefore, she often had deep and meaningful conversations with her mother, and that was especially helpful when Michelle wrote her book on fear.
Wanting to Explore Fear
Michelle inherited most of her fears from her mother, who intern inherited them from her parents who were holocaust survivors. The experience was undeniably traumatic, her grandparents spent years in the concentration camp, they lost family members there. And then they were taken to Venezuela, even though they were from Europe.
Everything was unfamiliar, they didn’t speak the language, understand the culture, or anything. They had to begin a new, rebuild, and find themselves, but they were full of fears. So when they had Michelle’s mother, they raised her the best they could, growing up with certain fears.
Michelle’s mom stayed at her house until she was married and after she had Michelle. And even though she’s a psychologist, and can empower people in their own lives, she’s still human and has her own fears.
It’s inevitable, we all have our own fears and vulnerabilities. We’re all humans. “For example, I’m helping a lot of people with their fears, but at the same time I’m dealing with a lot of them myself.”
Writing the Book Hello Fears
It started around, 2015 when Michelle moved to New York she had taken up a course in Branding. And in a class on Self-Branding, where she had to do a 100-day project of a choice product. At first, she thought of looking at companies, until she realized that the one thing that was keeping her from reaching her full potential and truly enjoying New York was her fears.
“The unwillingness to go after my fear, and always stay in my comfort zone. And so that when I decided that it was time for me, at 26 years old, to start facing one fear a day for the first time in my life.”
That’s how it all started. Not only did Michelle face one fear a day, but she started recording herself, and uploading it up on YouTube. All this was when she had a full-time job in advertising, attending university for her Branding Masters, so therefore this side project was a lot to take on, but Michelle knew that it had a lot of potential to change her entire life and career.
She put all her skills and knowledge into the project. Initially starting with 10 followers, the project soon went viral and she quickly shot to gain 1000s of followers day by day. That’s when she realized the power of conquering fear.
“Courage is contagious”
In the beginning, her comfort zone ended wherever there was a little bit of fear, in other words, she had Phobophobia – the fear of experiencing fears. And now, that is the beginning of her comfort zone. Michelle has come a long way, today when she feels fear in a path she sees potential in (with being damaging or harmful), she knows it’s the right path for her.
“That fear is a lie we’re telling ourselves, and it’s preventing us from at least trying”
When Michelle sees potential in people, who are consumed and blocked by fear, she takes it open herself to create content (like her book) that can help people like them face their fears and fulfill their dreams.
The Distinction Between Being Fearless and Being Brave
The word fearless is “trendy” right now, and people love to use it. Clients often call with requests on being fearless, but Michelle doesn’t see the point.
“Why do you want to be fearless? That’s literally impossible. Whatever we do, fear will always be there. If you have a new idea, a new fear will be there… You won’t ever be fearless”
That’s one of the reasons why Michelle’s brand is called ‘Hello Fears’ and not ‘Goodbye Fears.’ When you say goodbye to something, you’re closing the door to that, you’re turning your back to it; but when you say hello, you open the door to it, you embrace it.
“Fear will always be there, so why not learn to live with that, and embrace it.”
Looking back, even her project title ‘100 days without fear’ was not right. It was ‘100 days with plenty of fear,’ in fact, it was the most fear she experienced in her life. As her project went viral, people started calling her the ‘Fearless Girl,’ which Michelle felt was far beyond the truth, she actually goes far enough to call herself a fear-full girl.
“Just because I’m facing my fears that makes me fearless? Hell no! I’m still experiencing fear every single day.”
That was when Michelle started using the words brave and courageous, instead of fearless and created a whole movement against the word.
“Being brave is when – despite the fear, you have the courage to take action. And that is more powerful and inspiring than being fearless.”
For example, when she was planning to skydive for her 100-day project, she saw dozens of videos of people jumping off planes, excited for the experience, but Michelle couldn’t relate to that. She feared jumping off a plane, plummeting to the ground, with a parachute at her back. That is why she wanted to document her entire journey – People needed to see her scared AND facing her fears, at the same time. It’s exactly what inspired thousands of people to go after their own fears.
The scariest fear during the project
Michelle finds it hard to pinpoint which fear was the scariest to face, she states that it’s all in the expectations. Something you expect to be the worst may not turn out so bad, who knows it may even be enjoyable, but the same goes for the opposite. Something that may not seem so scary just might be that.
For example, Michelle’s worst fear before facing it was tarantulas, she even refused to acknowledge it and add it to the project, but one unexpected day, her brother made her face that fear. He had a friend with a pet tarantula, and Michelle got to hold it in her hands. Her fear was built up high until it was in her hands, the experience was so far from her expectations she actually found it pleasant and gentle. She even considered getting one herself!
Now on the other end of the spectrum, when she went trapezing, Michelle didn’t expect anything bad, in fact, she expected it to be more fun than scary. But when she got she instantly shocked and panicked, she described it as, “worse than skydiving.”
“It’s all a matter of expectations.”
The difference between Comfort and Happiness
Michelle was checking society’s boxes of an ideal life. She went to college, graduated with a really good GPA, found a good job in advertising, working with the best agencies in Miami, got married to an amazing man. Michelle was doing everything that was expected out of her, but what was next? Was she supposed to have children, then grandchildren, and then die? Was that all life had in store for her?
She couldn’t get these questions out of her head. She was 23 years old, and had already accomplished everything – was this happiness? Michelle was definitely comfortable, but was she happy? She didn’t know real happiness, and that was when she started going to therapy, where she realized she needed more challenges in her life. She was not happy with just comfort, she needed something to look forward to.
All these realizations prompted Michelle to move to New York in search of discomfort and ambition. She wanted to achieve more, and go higher than she had ever before.
She states it is a matter of being honest with yourself. Asking yourself, are you living your best life right now? Not according to paper, not according to society, not according to what other people expect of you and what you had to accomplish. But according to your feelings, according to your everyday.
A good way to place yourself is asking yourself – are you looking forward to the weekend? If all you are looking forward to is the weekend or vacation, then you are not living your best life.
“I believe that my best life is when I enjoy my day-to-day.”
Ambition and Fulfilment Coexisting
It’s important to define your own dreams and definition of success. It’s not a matter of someone else’s success and their dreams define your life. For example, someone asked Michelle, why should they keep pushing to achieve the unimaginable, what if they were completely happy with the way things were at that moment. This got Michelle thinking and she realized:
It’s not a matter of what she says is success, or her own definition but a matter of discovering your own and having the courage to pursue that even if that definition is being a stay at home mom, or just having a very normal job, and enjoying your life day to day with your family. It’s all perfectly fine.
Michelle also believes that it’s important to understand the main values you have and require from life, so when you aspire for more you don’t lose those values on the way. For example, Michelle and her husband value freedom, both as individuals and as a couple. In one way they wanted to grow their brand to reach the top, but they soon realized that by doing they will lose their freedom and be surrounded by work – they would no longer be the owner of their own time.
That’s when they decided to grow but only to a certain level, they didn’t want to build an empire. It is a balance of wanting more, but also have control over their own time.
The 6 Stage Process of Overcoming Any Fear
While Michelle was going through the process of facing her fears, she discovered that no matter what they were, you would always go through the same process to face your fears. She faced a 100, and by the end, she still went through the same 6 stages.
- Discover Stage – you realize you fear something that you may have not considered before, something out of your comfort zone.
- Denial Stage – you make up excuses to avoid your newfound fear, that it’s not a good idea. Letting the fear speak for you. This is where most people stay, they forget about it and move on with their lives.
- Determination Stage – you start to reconsider the idea, the fear, that it may be a defining moment in your life. You start to consider taking the risk and facing that fear.
- ‘WTF am I doing?’ Stage – you start questioning your decision to face that fear. It’s the moment you’re about to skip facing the fear and returning to your comfort zone. This is the second most settled stage in the process, where people back away from the plan after they’ve decided to face the fear.
- Action Stage – move past the stage of doubt and take action. This stage usually only lasts a few seconds – you face your fear.
- Celebratory Stage – you experience being proud of yourself. You just faced your fear, you conquered it and achieved what you thought was impossible.
Michelle’s Thoughts on Being Unmistakable
What makes someone unmistakable is how much they believe in themselves. The confidence they have in themselves, their potential, and their dreams. Confidence to Michelle is a superpower.
“When you believe in yourself so much, you make others believe in you as well.”
When you believe that you can achieve something and you see it before it is a reality. That’s when other people will start to support you in the process and want to see you succeed. We’ve all heard the quote – Fake it until you make it. But Michelle has turned that around to match her experiences:
“Believe it until you become it.”
And that’s what Michelle has done with her new career of becoming a motivational speaker, writing a book, leading a community. Those were things she envisioned a long time ago and believed in its possibility. Even today, there are so many more things and milestones Michelle wants to accomplish, and she is not there yet, but she doesn’t have any doubt in her body that she can reach them and go beyond.
Connect with Michelle
Instagram – @hellofears
YouTube – Hello Fears
Book and Website – hellofears.com