Getting Friendly with Fear

(Originally published on the Collective Gain Blog.)

“Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured.” (Martha Beck)

The prospect of doing something that scares me usually sends me to some version of sticking my fingers in my ears and repeating "la la la la la la" until the urge to do the scary thing recedes. This can look like procrastination, selective amnesia, or Netflix.

But when I think of the moments I’m proudest of in my life, they all have fear in common. In every instance, before I took the plunge—to leave a secure career and follow my heart’s calling, to have that hard conversation, to show my true self when it would have been easier to hide—there was fear. It took different forms. Sometimes it was fear of failure. Sometimes fear of rejection or fear of what other people would think. It all boiled down to the message, “This is not safe!!”

And my fears were absolutely right. It wasn’t safe. Each of those actions took me out of whatever cocoon of safety I’d built, and into the unknown.

There was risk, and there was also great reward. The unknown has been where I have experienced joy, been delighted, discovered parts of myself I’d barely dared to imagine. The unknown has been where I’ve experienced life and its possibilities most fully.

My mind knows this. But it doesn’t stop the fear from coming back every time I need to step (or leap!) outside my comfort zone.

What I’m come to accept is that fear is just our natural, built-in response to stretching and growing beyond what we know. It’s our internal alert system signaling that we’re deviating from familiar roads. In that sense, it’s letting us know we have a choice to make: to stay in the safety of what we know or to venture into new territory. It’s an opening to move forward with intention.

These days when I feel fear creeping in, I'm trying to appreciate it for what it is — a sign that I’m moving toward something that will expand me. The process might be uncomfortable (in fact, it usually is), but it will always bring me more fully into my own life.

And when the fear is overwhelming, there are two strategies that have helped.

The first is to connect with something within myself that is greater than the fear. This can be a sense of purpose/meaning or it can be the pain of remaining where I am. Both are effective. Don’t discount the value of pain.

The second is to remind myself of what is never at risk—my inherent value as a human being and my worthiness to be loved. This enables me to see risk-taking for what it is: something I can recover from. I might fall down and get hurt, but connecting to the sense of love within myself reminds me that I will always have a place to return, to tend to my wounds, heal, and replenish myself for the next adventure.

If you’re feeling fear right now, bravo. You’ve caught sight of what you might grow into. And you’ve moved sufficiently toward it to set off the internal alerts. Fear is simply the invitation to courage. Now, you get to choose.