Fear is a strange beast. It’s stimulating yet
discouraging. It spurs us to move, but can
also stop us in our tracks. It hunts us relentlessly,
while also being that nearly imperceptible, yet ever
present, tiny little voice in the back of our mind.
Not that we would ever admit any of it. Fear is something others possess. Not us. Never us. We go boldly. We forge ahead without hesitation. Heck, we even wear t-shirts that proclaim, “No Fear!”
To be brutally honest, even if that means only to ourselves, a fearless reality isn’t our reality at all. But oh how we wish it were.
The fearless we admire. So much so, we think of them as being “fear free.” As if they don’t feel the rapid heart rate we feel, or the sick stomach,
the suffocating paralysis, or the negative
conversation in our heads showing us all the ways things are about to go wrong. We think the fearless transcend fear, a superpower we simply don’t possess.
But in most cases, nearly all, these Fearless Fosdicks are pretty much exactly like us. Except they see fear differently.
THE TYPOLOGY OF FEAR
Everything we want is on the other side of fear. Everything. On this side? It’s only defeat, lost opportunities, and black pools of sticky tarlike regret. But, there is comfort. And we know how inviting comfort can be. To get to the other side of fear, we must push through it. And to push through it, we must understand when fear is rational and when fear is irrational.
You start the beautiful fall morning with a jog. The sun is coming up. Colors are beginning to seep through the sleeping sky. You head toward that frolicking river and your favorite spot on earth. But first, you have to cross the highway.
Just as you step onto the pavement, a shrieking horn from an 18-wheeler shakes you to your bones. It’s coming fast. Too fast. You won’t make it across the highway. As it bears down, you leap backward to safety and swallow your pounding heart.
That’s fear. That’s rational fear.
That fear is substantiated in reality. Should you confront that fear, you’ll only find injury and death. Responding to that fear was the prudent decision. The emotional response afterward is reasonable and right.
A job has unexpectedly come up in your department. It would be your dream job. Only problem? It’s the dream job of nearly everyone else in your department, too. You want this job. You can hardly contain your excitement. But then the doubts start: you don’t have the right qualifications, you’ll upset your supervisor, you’re ridiculous to consider it, you will fail, you will be humiliated, you can’t take the risk because the unknowns are too great. Your heart sinks. And shudders. And withdraws. Fear has rolled over you like a warm, discouraging wave. And you lie there and take it. Never mind. You won’t try for the job. If you weren’t so afraid, if you didn’t have fear, then maybe. But you do. So forget it.
This fear, though it is mixed with reason, is irrational. Yes, something awful could happen. But something wonderful could happen, too. You have no way of knowing which it will be until you try. Meanwhile, your life is stockpiling a legacy of regret.
FEAR (LESS) FORWARD
You could have tried, but you retreated. You could have risked a little, but you risked nothing. You could have fought against your fear, instead you chose to surrender.
So what can you do when the fear is overwhelming?
1. Quiet all the volatile emotions.
No, this isn’t easy. Our emotions aren’t switches, easily flipped on and off at will. But they also aren’t completely out of our control. We may not be able to be fearless, but we can definitely fear less. So to quiet our emotions, start by addressing them, something like, “Hey there Emotion. What’s up? Just letting you know I see you. I recognize that you are only an emotion, not necessarily reality. Don’t take it so personally. There’s no need to get all huffy about it, geez.”
2. Determine if its rational or irrational fear.
Rational fear protects you. Irrational fear hides you. There is a difference. Knowing one from the other will take some clear-headed assessment, and, by all means, some input from friends. Don’t disregard fear. Define it.
3. Answer this question: What would you do if
you weren’t afraid?
Pretend for a moment that you are on a completely different planet, or alternate reality, or that this is a dream, and imagine that your fear doesn’t exist. It went amscray. You are free. Completely and without reservation free. Now what would you do with all this freedom?
4. Do it afraid.
Talking to your fear, defining it, imagining it away, none of those things will necessarily make it cease existence. You may still be petrified. But take a step anyway. You don’t overcome fear to move forward, you move forward to overcome fear. Accept that the fear is part of the process and don’t fight it. Just strap it across your shoulders and do whatever is in front of you…afraid.
Our friend Joyce Meyer has often said, courage is not the absence of fear, but the decision to do it afraid. So what will you decide?
Will you stay here, on this side of fear, and let the opportunities and possibilities of life keep moving out of your reach? Or will you push forward in fear?
We all have this decision to make. Every one of us. We all have a fear, or many, that is trying to stop us from progressing, stop us from growing, stop us from doing anything. This is the great battle of our life. Fear isn’t going anywhere so the more important question here is: are you?