People say curious and foolish things about fear.
“FEAR stands for ‘False Expectations Appearing Real.’”
“Pain is the feeling of fear and weakness leaving your body.”
Our self-talk and dialogue about fear only takes us the brink of experience. It is helpful to imagine yourself working past fear in a frightening situation. It is also helpful to decide how you will act in a scary setting, or what you will say. These are good, but insufficient. You still have to get into the experience, and work through it, and come out the other side. Sometimes that experience looks like a swamp of muck and mire. Sometimes it looks like a river of lava. It never looks like a grassy oasis in the middle of the shimmering heat of desert sands.
We love to tell the stories of other people who went through the fearful experience and came out the other side. We love to share our own stories on successful fire walks in the past. We still don’t love doing it again.
Some years back my friend Ed was dying from inoperable brain cancer. He told me that all the tough experiences in his life were good preparation for his final adventure. He wanted his kids and his grandkids to see him die well. At the end of this short monologue, he suddenly grabbed my hand, surprising me with his strong grip as he whispered, “Pray for me.”
All leaders face fears and suffer trials. There is a grander purpose at work. Remember this truth.
There is another way to think about fears: We can compare one fear against another and let that help us do the right thing, the bold thing, the honorable and good and amazing thing.
Here are some fears I wrote in my journal last year at a particularly low point:
- Fear of insignificance
- Fear of no legacy that survives me
- Fear of failing to provide for my family
- Fear of God’s righteous judgment against sin
- Fear of nearing death and regretting that I didn’t ________
- Fear of dying with unpublished manuscripts
- Fear of having my beautiful wife and children hate me or fear me
- Fear of being thought a fool, unworthy of being heard
- Fear of being alone, joyless, purposeless
- Fear of anger being my continuous impulse
- Fear of all my secrets being found out, of shame
- Fear of being a Cassandra, and no one will take my advice
- Fear of fitting in so perfectly that I’m invisible
- Fear of standing out so far that nobody understands me or wants to know me
- Fear of losing my physical strength and abilities to see, hear, walk, talk, and write
There is no particular order to these. Documenting these fears is useful because when they are strong enough, I am compelled to take actions, risks, produce and deliver, engage with others, love and battle for joy in living. Documenting these fears also helps me put them in the right perspective.
Your Assignment: Write your list of your fears. You don’t have to publish it for anyone else to see.
One more story about my friend Ed – as his cancer progressed he began to lose his ability to speak, and he became limited to a few words and phrases. He would say “Thank you.” “Please.” and “I love you.”. Some doctors have observed that we retain the most used phrases in our vocabulary the longest. Let’s commit to saying these phrases so often and so well that they become our only and last words.