It’s a pretty common belief that fear is a bad thing — something to avoid at all costs, something to rail against. And that makes sense. Being afraid isn’t comfortable. Most of us have really early memories of our parents helping to soothe the symptoms of fear. Maybe we were given night lights as children so we wouldn’t be afraid of the dark, or we had someone tuck us in after a nightmare. That’s pretty understandable, being genuinely afraid isn’t something that’s particularly fun.
That also taught us over the course of our lives that fear is something to be avoided. “Don’t be afraid, you’re brave!” “You’re a big boy, you’re not afraid of the dark.” All lessons that start at a young age to help us to cope better with the trials of life.
Then, somewhere along the way, we started to be less afraid of monsters under our beds and the fear of things like failure, judgment and risk started to take its place. We started to apply the tools we’d learned earlier: “Don’t be afraid, you won’t fail.” But, the problem with that approach is it’s much tougher to prove our adult fears as irrational. It’s not as simple as turning on the lights to see that shadow is really just a chair. Now, we’re facing fears that can actually cripple us from dreaming, taking action and fulfilling our purpose. The stakes seem much higher.
But, what if we’re going about it all wrong? What if instead of trying to eliminate fear, we embrace it? We welcome it to pull up a chair and sit with it for a bit. What if we entertained the idea that fear can be helpful? If nothing is wasted and everything happens for us, then what benefit does fear actually play in our lives?
Granted, there are the obvious ways that fear protects us. It can keep us from doing something stupid that puts us in harm’s way. So, we know that’s helpful. But, what about the times fear paralyzes us from doing things like starting our dream business or starting a new career? How does that possibly help us?
I think there are many different reasons we have the fears we have, and sometimes we never quite know why we experience it. Oftentimes, fear is an emotional reaction to leveling up in our lives or doing something we’ve never done before. So many of us who are looking to “level up” or go to a higher level in life feel stuck because we’re not quite sure what it is we should be doing to get to that next level. But, I think that’s often a story we tell ourselves to make us feel better about not doing what we know we should be doing. I think we know exactly what we should be doing, and if not, we at least know the direction to be traveling.
Find the thing that makes you afraid and do that very thing. Most of the time, we experience fear because we don’t want to experience the pain that comes with stretching or being uncomfortable. So, if you’re being met with fear in a particular area of your life or around a certain idea, then that’s the very thing that will help you to grow.
Much easier said than done, I know. Most people believe they have to feel confident and completely devoid of fear in order to take the next step, but that’s really just your brain trying to do some risk diversion for you. New things feel risky because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, so the brain tells us to stay still, stay where you are. Even though you might not be totally happy where you are, at least you know what to expect… It’s that thought process that keeps people in awful, unfulfilling situations all the time. “I know that I can at least survive this situation because I’ve been doing it for years. I don’t know if I can make it in a situation I’ve never lived in before.”
True change will not happen until the pain of staying where you are is greater than the fear of doing something new.
Read that again slowly.
Fear rarely goes away entirely. It will always be there. The key is to move forward even when fear is there. Since avoidance can give so much power to something we fear, why not invite it in? I think we take so much of that power back when we see it and are familiar with it even when it makes us uncomfortable. It empowers us to move forward and not be paralyzed from taking action.
When we’re faced with fear, we can either completely collapse into it and stay stuck, or we can expand to include it and move forward. We can allow it to teach us a bit about ourselves and guide us to our next step. The choice is ours.
We can choose to say, “I see you and while I know you’re not going away, you’re just going to have to come along. Because I’m moving forward.”
When we embrace all parts of our journey, including fear, we’re not only empowered to move forward, but we give ourselves more proof that we are powerful beings, fully equipped to do incredible things.