We hear a lot about conquering fear. Fear holds us back. It paralyzes us. It keeps us from getting outside of our comfort zone where we can build the life we truly want.
Fear is also an excuse. It’s all too easy to throw our hands up and say that we need to work on conquering fear before we do something uncomfortable.
There are many programs, books, and courses out there that will teach you how to overcome fear. But often, these are a distraction.
Fear is not an inadequacy that you must remedy before you act.
What if I told you that fear never really goes away, and that you do not need to conquer your fear in order to be successful?
Successful People Still Experience Fear
One question that I answered was about how I dealt with the fear of leaving my day job. Specifically, what would I tell others who want to do the same but they have fears or concerns (money, etc..).
My answer was that for me, fear never went away – even nine years later, I still deal with fear.
We tend to assume that successful people like entrepreneurs, actors, sports stars – any accomplished person who we admire – do not experience fear, but they do.
The difference is that successful people do not let fear dictate their actions. They still experience fear the way you and I do, but they don’t allow fear to make decisions about their lives.
Fear Has No Power
Fear can be motivating, or it can be paralyzing. But the thing about fear is that it has no actual power.
While I was just as fearful about walking away from a steady paycheck as any of my other coworkers would have been back in 2008, I did it anyway. I analyzed my situation, and trusted that I would be able to figure out what I needed to do in order to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.
I don’t let fears stop me from moving forward, and neither should you.
It doesn’t mean that something bad will happen to you when you feel fearful.
Ultimately, it comes down to the decisions that you make. When you are facing fears, you ultimately have a choice – feel the fear and move forward anyway, or feel the fear and recoil, stagnate.
I have arachnophobia, which is more than a simple dislike of spiders. It’s an irrational fear that triggers an automatic, panic-response every time I see even the smallest, most harmless of spiders.
Back in 2007, I got the chance to meet a coworker’s pet tarantula.
I hesitantly agreed to go look at it. What I didn’t realize until I arrived at his cubicle was that he was holding the thing in his hands.
I could have freaked out and ran back to my desk. But I didn’t want to. I actually wanted to hold this spider that was almost the size of my hand, and feel the exhilaration of facing my fear. (Okay, there was a bit of peer pressure involved, too.)
I realized in that moment that the fear I felt had no actual power. I could decide to back away to my desk and avoid the situation. Or I could decide to hold a hand-sized spider – in my hand! It was 100% up to me.
I asked my coworker if I could let it crawl across my hands. My knees were shaking as the spider stepped onto my outstretched hands. My body was stiff. I breathed hard and fast.
(In case you are wondering what it feels like to actually have a tarantula crawl across your skin, its feet were sticky. It was lighter than it looked.)
It’s okay to experience fear, but make decisions anyway. Act despite your fears.
How To Make Fear Manageable
Fear isn’t a weakness, per se. It’s just an emotion that we feel as human beings.
The goal should not be to ignore or eliminate fear, but to recognize it, use it, and manage it.
There are a few strategies that I use to manage fear.
1) Retrain Your Thought Patterns. This takes a bit of practice, but learn to recognize when you have negative, fear-based thoughts and then actively reframe those thoughts into positive ones.
For example, if I check my bank account balance this morning and see that revenue has diminished over the last couple days, it’s too easy for me to ride an out-of-control train of thought that has me living behind a dumpster, in rags, within weeks.
But once I realize that my fear is fueled more by my own imagination, and not by what is actually going on in real life, I am able to think clearly and either A) solve the problem, B) recognize that unsteady pay is normal for most entrepreneurs and small business owners, and C) imagine an equally plausible (and probably more likely) scenario where revenue picks up and shatters records the following month.
2) Desensitize. Gradually expose yourself to the things that you are afraid of. If you are afraid of spiders, read books about them. Look at photographs. Watch videos. Watch them from a distance, and gradually let yourself get closer.
As an entrepreneur, my fear of uncertainty gradually diminished as I became desensitized to not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from. I had to learn to trust myself – to trust that I would be able to find work when I needed to, and reduce living expenses temporarily if needed.
3) Play Out The Worse-Case Scenario. Let your mind go into your deepest, darkest nightmare and ask if it would really be so bad? Would running out of money or losing your home really be so bad?
Neither of these events would kill or maim you. You probably will figure out how to avoid the situation altogether. And besides, the worse case rarely ever happens.
It’s likely that you would have friends and family that would keep you from being homeless, and any catastrophic setback would likely be temporary. You will probably bounce back quickly.
Life stories of big-time entrepreneurs (including most famous names) include periods where they failed big, and then rebounded even bigger.
And while fear makes the thought of being homeless and broke feel tangible and real, it’s not. It’s just fear fueling your imagination.
And the opposite is just as likely. So give some energy to imagining the best-case scenario as well.
I’m no hero when it comes to conquering fear.
I have taken some massive risks in my own life. I’ve done what many people are too terrified to do. And I still experience fear and anxiety on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t stop me.
So don’t feel that you need to be a better, stronger person before you can begin to pursue your goals.
It’s okay to feel fear. You don’t need to conquer your fears first.
When you feel fear, act anyway! You’re the one that calls the shots.