Fear. We all have it. It’s what keeps us from walking up to a fluffy black bear while on a hike and attempting to rub its adorable tummy. But there is such a thing as too much fear. Debilitating fear.
I believe we are in the middle of a fear epidemic.
It seems more and more of my friends, family, clients and colleagues have contracted this disease. Good people, competent people, accomplished people that are paralyzed from taking the necessary first step towards the future that they want and they are meant for. They sit as years pass. Stuck. Regardless of the role I’m playing with them: executive coach, professor, therapist, consultant, blogger, radio dude, parent, husband, friend, etc… my focus is always the same: help them get unstuck and take the first step. And yet, despite how easy and painless as I try to make the process, something always seems to be in their way. Fear. It causes paralysis inside its victim, but more importantly it spreads. Only, fear is not like cancer. It is exponentially worse. Like cancer, it sits inside of us and eats until nothing is left. Unlike cancer, fear is highly communicable. It gets passed to friends in fear-riddled statements like “you can’t do that.” It gets passed down to children in the form of overly anxious and controlling parents. It gets passed down from insecure bosses that tell you that you aren’t good enough because, deep down, they believe that they aren’t.
If you want the life you’ve always dreamed of, the life you feel like you are meant for, you will have to look fear in the eye.
You can’t go around fear. You can’t bury fear. You can’t ignore fear. If you try, it will simply feast on your soul.
What Are You Afraid Of?
Have you inadvertently contracted a debilitating case of fear? Is fear holding you back? Here are some of the most debilitating strains of fear that I’m seeing more and more. Are any of these you or those closest to you?
The fear of acknowledging what you really want or need
This form of fear whispers into the victim’s soul that they can’t have what they truly want. When someone is suffering from this fear, it exposes itself quickly. When I present my magic crystal ball and ask the person to imagine their perfect life in 5 years, sufferers of this fear will respond to that seemingly innocent question with one of two statements:
Them: “I don’t know what I want or need in life. I just don’t know. That’s my problem. Can you tell me the answer?”
Me: “I don’t believe you. You are lying to me but more importantly you are lying to yourself. The answer is inside of you. Have the courage to listen, but more importantly the courage to claim it.”
Them: “I’m good. I don’t want or need anything. Everything with me is perfectly perfect.”
Me: “Really? Your career is exactly where you want it to be? Your relationships are golden? You are living where you’ve always dreamed? Liar. Go sell that somewhere else.”
In an effort to protect themselves from that possible pain of disappointment, this fear convinces it sufferers to lie to themselves and to others in order to maintain a bubble of happiness. The problem is that sufferers of this fear aren’t living happy lives. They are often scared, anxious, judgmental, controlling, tired and dangerous. This fear wants its sufferer to spread the mantra to others so they aren’t alone huddling in the corner. Be careful. This fear will try to get you to turn your back on your dreams.
The impostor fear. “If others find out who I really am, they’ll surely kick me out of here.” This is one of the most common fears that emerges with accomplished working professionals. It’s this idea that deep-down, we are still that young kid that doesn’t know what he or she is doing, only now we have 5 direct reports and a $3M budget. “I sure hope no one finds out who I really am.”
This fear is easy to spot. We often label these people as “too corporate” or “politicians.” They seem plastic and phony in their interactions. They fear authenticity because that would mean others would see who they really are, and they can’t have that. Their fear won’t let them. Instead, they dress, speak and interact in overly scripted ways. This fear generates extreme self-judgment. An important note about judgment: judgment is never one directional. These individuals take out their fears on others by judging others, micromanaging direct reports, avoiding any type of “risky” assignments and sometimes decline promotions. This fear will tell you not to be who you really are and to just stick to the script.
The fear you won’t be liked, loved or accepted
This fear is all about giving oneself away in an effort to win friendship, love and acceptance. While problematic in our professional lives, this fear is particularly troublesome in our personal lives. Parents with this fear can’t tell their children “No” and ultimately raise selfish, rude and insecure human beings (Ex: Veruca Salt). These sufferers have no boundaries. They give themselves away freely to anyone who will ask. They work extra-long hours at work. They stay in unhealthy relationships too long. They try to desperately rescue as many other people (and animals) as they possibly can because, by doing so, they feel needed and important. I know when I’m dealing with someone suffering from this fear when I try to get them to set boundaries (Ex: “No, you can’t have spaghetti tonight for dinner. We are having chicken… No, I will not rescue another cat / dog… No, I will not do your job for you. That is your responsibility… No, I will no longer tolerate your abuse. Get counseling or we are done.”). This fear hates boundaries. When I propose setting boundaries to a sufferer of this fear, the person becomes angry, hostile and for a split second, I can see in their eyes the desire to leap across the table and kill me. This fear will convince you that good people sacrifice themselves and never say “no.” Guilt is its weapon. Be on guard.
What’s Fear Costing You?
Is fear standing in the way of what you truly want and need? Do you know that deep down, you are meant for more, but you just can’t seem to take the first step? Your first step is to ask yourself “what is fear costing you?” Are you willing to pay that price? I’m no stranger to fear. At times I’ve been paralyzed in my life, afraid to take that first step wondering if I had what it takes, wondering if I could stick to it, wondering and doubting until I took that first step.
Make no mistake, the road to realizing one’s dreams is littered with fear-consumed souls. At its best fear is sneaky and paralyzing, but at its worst, fear takes lives. In my family, we have had the misfortune of losing three relatives to suicide. My oldest brother Chris was one of those, a casualty of fear. Fear was too much for him and he succumbed. Fear kills.
Don’t let fear win. Get courageous. Look fear in the eye and take one step forward.
That’s all it takes.