“Your fear should always be allowed to have a voice, and a seat in the vehicle of your life. But whatever you do — don’t let your fear DRIVE.”— Elizabeth Gilbert
Like it or not, fear is an integral part of our lives.
It is an ancient ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that protected us as we hunched outside our caves for millions of years. Fear has ensured our species survive to modern day. It is the process that helps prevent us from burning ourselves near a fire and look both ways when we cross a road.
In this sense, fear is a useful friend to take along for the ride and we should treat it as such. The trouble comes when we let fear run unchecked and unexamined. Emboldened and encouraged, fear can take over our lives, dictating that we stick to what we know, don’t put ourselves out there, don’t start a new project, don’t move to another country, don’t write that book…The list can go on forever.
The fearful questions.
Left to their own devices, fears grow and take up valuable real estate in our hearts and minds, claiming space that is difficult to take back. You may have heard some variations of these statements below, whispered in your ears during a moment of doubt:
What am I doing with my life?
I should stick to a real job.
I cannot live in a fantasy world.
Where am I going with this dream I’ve got?
I will not be successful.
Going after my dream is irresponsible.
What if I fail?
And my absolute favorite:
At my age, I should have a real job, a family, and children.
Of course, some variation of these musings is not without base. The issue is that we often approach the whisperings our fears tell us as an absolute call to stop. Fear paralyzes us into inaction, because status quo is what our fear is most comfortable with.
But status quo won’t help us grow. It won’t let us find what makes our heart sing and realize our fullest potential. As the cliched saying goes,
Everything worthwhile waits on the other side of your comfort zone.
Indeed, our fear draws the boundaries of our comfort zone. Like an overprotective parent, fear loves us and wants what is best for us, except that it defines best as ‘safe’, ‘comfortable’, and ‘without risk’.
Understanding these dynamics is the first step toward building a life driven by curiosity and passion, rather than fear.
Here’s how to start:
Acknowledging that we have fears will help them come into light.
Instead of letting fear hide in the corners of our consciousness and guide our everyday thinking and long-term decision making, let’s recognize it’s here. I often speak the whispered doubts I hear in my head to give them
Have an honest talk with your fear.
Let it speak, explain what it wants, why it worries about that thing you’ve wanted to do for five years, why it thinks you should not go after it. This way, fear becomes your partner, not your dictator. Used wisely and with awareness, fear can help you avoid preventable mistakes.
Acknowledge your fear’s arguments and thank it for watching out for you.
Then say: “And here is why we will still go on with this thing.”
It will be incredibly tough to do this at first — breaking out of old habits and patterns of thinking always is. But with time and patience, you can become better at controlling your fears. Just like any other muscle you build in your body (or mind), over time your capacity for trying new things, discovery, risk, and novelty will increase.
Your life will thank you for it.