I have been saying it wrong.
I’ve been saying, “Fear is a choice.”
Far more accurate, and more constructive to say, “I get to choose what I do when I am afraid.”
Fans of the novel Dune savor the Bene Gesserit litany against fear:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Want to feel like a superhero? Face the fear and watch it disappear!
Most of us who have tried this approach become frustrated with reality that the same fears circle back later. Very few of our fears are overcome once and forever; most of our fears circle back again and again, sometimes in disguises, sometimes in new situations.
You and I need a more practical approach.
Two things hold true in human experience:
- Fears will come.
- You always have a choice about how to respond.
The worst choice is remaining stuck with the fear. Fear-fixated people become Fear-paralyzed people — completely ineffective, and infecting others.
Your tremendous opportunity is to use your power of choice to respond to fears in ways that strengthen yourself, protect others, serve others with your true gifts, and leave a worthy legacy. Use your fears to get through the activation energy of changes that are needed. Use your fears to fuel new learning and do the hard work of building good relationships. Use your fears as a launching point for fixing what’s broken, anticipating what’s coming, and living life as an adventure.
I’ve been cataloguing my fears through journaling, and thinking about my best response. I’ve also added fears to this list which have come up in meaningful conversations with fellow leaders-in-process.
|Fear||A Constructive Response|
|Being irrelevant and unskilled for employment or contributing in a significant way. Falling behind in the technical curve.||Study new information. Create a genuine learning plan, and stick with the hard stuff. Adapt to new realities rather than grumbling.|
|People thinking I’m stupid or foolish||There are only a few people whose opinions of me matter most. Continue to make reasoned, smart, mature decisions. Act like an adult. Update your learning plan. Laugh at your yourself, and share stories of your foolishness. Acknowledge your experience gaps rather than pretending.|
|Failing||Review: What just needs more work to reduce the risk of failing? What needs a smarter approach? Where do you need another person to help? Where do you need to fix/change your mindset?|
|Having only shallow friends who wouldn’t stand by in a difficult situation||Give to gain: set up time to connect again, deeply, with a few people. Invest in them, serving, listening, loving.|
|Losing my mind (e.g. Alzheimer’s) or being physically weak and dependent||Choose to exercise, eat well, and treat your body as a gift. Get true rest and recovery. Start today rather than tomorrow. Be grateful for your family and community.|
|Oscillating between loneliness and “peopled-out” without joy in solitude or community||Reframe the situation and look for small reasons to smile, and the grand reasons you should be joyful. Act joyful despite how you might feel in this moment. Ignore the stupid voices saying you should be miserable, or there is more fun “over there.”|
|Failing to leave a legacy that others will remember||Integrity, character, and discipline matter the most; don’t try to manipulate the “legacy.” Legacies are made through relationships, service, and producing original, valuable work.|
|Not having physical and financial security||Strengthen your position with reserves, assets, and insurance. Pay off debts. Don’t live beyond your means. Imagine “lose the job, lose the house, major medical” scenarios and decide how to mitigate the risks. Live as if you already survived that heart attack. Work hard and trust in God.|
|Not getting all my thoughts and ideas out because I procrastinated; then failing to speak or publish because I didn’t think it was good enough||Stick with daily disciplines of writing and producing content, and publish anyway. Focus on the process and the outcomes will be there. Never quit on a bad day.|
|Growing distant from my family||Schedule time (families spell love “t-i-m-e”). Do things they like even if you don’t. Take a new step of initiative today. Give give give give. Freely trade money and time for experiences and memories. Count the number of weekends you have left with your kids, and make plans. Practice gratitude.|
|Failing to see something in time to prevent it from hurting others||Set aside more time to consider future scenarios and possibilities. Play chess and think 2 and 3 moves out. How can you mitigate risks?|
|Being rejected||Learn from the rejection rather than personalizing it. Multiple rejections may become badges of honor. Reflect on times when your persistence paid off.|
|A situation which makes me choose between my principles and physical or identity loss||Pre-decide what are non-negotiables where you MUST take a stand, or break fellowship with others. Imagine a few scenarios and see yourself making the tough choices which would be needed. What will still be important in 10 or 30 years?|
|Being unable to solve deep problems||Seek wisdom. Read old books which have stood the test of time. Observe the patterns in the natural world and history. Meditate. Pray. Restructure your energy and time focus on something significant rather than shallow things.|
Do you see yourself here? What would you add? Even writing out your fears can help you see them as much smaller than they feel. Some fears are like twigs at sunset, casting long shadows all out of proportion to their reality.
Pledge now, to yourself, to respond well to fears as they surface. Don’t get stuck. Your fears are a well-spring of energy for positive, transformational change.