Making a Friend of My Fears

Better if you get to know them.

Because they aren’t going anywhere.

They live with you.

If you treat them badly,

Or try to ignore them,

They’ll just act out.

And shout.

Til you hear them out.

I was thinking about fear a lot last weekend. Take your hands off the wheel and fear takes over like a Tesla. Which, in some circumstances is a very good thing but not so much if you had intentions of going elsewhere. And that’s the thing I’ve been wrestling with lately. Trying to sort out the way fear is influencing what I do, how I interact with people, where I spend my energy.

If you’ve never stopped to think about this stuff. (which I highly recommend), it can be a little overwhelming. There are few areas in life where fear isn’t at least part of the equation either consciously or subconsciously. And then there are all these layers and variations. Fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of missing out, fear of pain, fear of conflict, fear of heights, etc. Sometimes layered on top of each other and intertwined.

They affect each of us differently.

And if that weren’t enough there’s the whole stigma around fear. It’s not cool to say you’re afraid in some circles, (most circles?). Definitely in all of the work circles I’ve experienced. So now you’ve got these fears you think you can’t show but still, you have to find a way to deal with them in some productive way. And that really becomes the main thing for all of us. Deciding what to do with our fear.

So the first thing I decided was to give myself permission to be afraid. I just said, “Hey, I’m scared about stuff, I worry, I make up stories in my head and that’s Ok, that’s normal.” That was important because I was feeling bad about my fears and I needed to break that pattern because it only made it worse.

Then I decided I wasn’t going to spend my energy trying to fix them. I’ve tried before and it was like chasing a shadow. I can’t go back and change all the reasons they were useful at some point and now they’re part of me. So be it.

You might think this next part is a little weird but I had this little conversation with my fears. “I appreciate how you guys try to help me out of trouble, avoid danger, protect myself, etc. and I’d like to work together so I can live the best life possible because that’s really what this is all about.”

Finally, I made a simple agreement. I promised to listen to what they have to say in return for their willingness to learn from the choices I make, even if I decide against their feedback.

Now if all that sounds a little esoteric to you here’s a more practical version and each step starts with the letter A which is always helpful.

Acceptance – Even when you can’t be open about your fears it is important not to judge yourself when they show up. It’s normal.

Acknowledgement – There’s an old saying that if you simply name your fears they lose their power. Resistance only amplifies their message.

Action – Reclaim your power to choose what happens next. Move forward with your fears rather than against them.

Life seems to work better when I make a friend of my fears.

“The only way out is through.” – Robert Frost.

Final thoughts. Knowing that each of us is working through internal fears is there an opportunity to be more empathetic to one another? Can we make a collective effort to help reduce the level of fear and the stigma of fear in our organizations so that people are encouraged to bring their best selves to work? How much of your team’s potential is locked up in fear?


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