Is Fear Holding You Back from Something Amazing?
It is one of our most primitive emotions: Fear. A biological and emotional response designed to keep us safe and away from danger, when fear kicks in, the most primitive parts of our minds lean into one of three choices: Fight, flight or freeze.
Fear is indeed a valuable emotion. It gives us the adrenaline we need to run away from poisonous snakes and attacking bears. It keeps us at a safe distance from the edge of a steep cliff. And it can drive us to the ballot boxes when elections do have the consequences we dreaded.
Yes, fear is valuable. However, when overused or overindulged, fear can be a powerful and dangerous inhibitor.
Fear can hold us in a job that is toxic because the fear of leaving the known for the unknown is more powerful than the encouragement of our friends, family, doctors and peers. We can miss out on life events because the fear of judgement or disappointment from a boss is stronger than the need to go home to family and friends. The all too common fear of failure can keep us from taking the critical first steps toward long-held dreams.
While we may indeed feel like we only have three choices when we first feel fear (fight, flight or freeze), I recommend you lean into a fourth choice once the initial fear wave happens: Examine (I know, it does not start with the letter "f," but stay with me...).
Fear can be a great teacher - if you are willing to listen.
Consider my own journey launching Bright Blue Consulting. Five years ago, I felt stuck in a job that was no longer serving me. I realized that I was no longer a match for the evolving culture and management, but I was addicted to the title, paycheck and bonus that funded a nice little life for my family. I felt trapped and I knew a great way out would be to launch my own business. But, each time I moved forward with my dream, fear would reach out and knock me down.
Over time, even the fear of starting over was not enough to protect me from the toxic soup I swam in each day. I had to face my fear of leaving the comfort of the icky, dysfunctional known and look deeply into the scary unknown.
Working with a coach, I tried to examine what scared me into staying put. I sat with my fear and realized fear was indeed a great teacher. Over time, we peeled back the layers of my fear. I wanted to start my own company, but I was scared I would fail.
My coach pushed me further - what drove that fear? Sure, there was the obvious ego bruise, but he and I both knew it was bigger than that. Over time, I realized I was scared that my failure would mean financial failure for my family. My child-like fear brain viewed financial failure was the worst types of failure because it would create ripples beyond me. I came to realize that my biggest fear was losing everything and causing my children to live on the streets.
Honestly, I was initially embarrassed by my answer. I am a smart woman who knows there are many steps between my current state and homelessness. That is the power of fear. It can be irrational - and it gathers power in the dark. Once I really sat with the question - and shone light onto the fear - I was able to use my higher-level brain to create plans that positioned me for success.
Do you have a fear holding you back? Consider these questions:
What is no longer working for you?
What are you most afraid of? (Really - what are you really afraid of?)
How does this fear keep you stuck? How does it keep you safe?
What would it give you to be free of this fear?
What is one small step you can take to move away from the fear?
In the words of Leonard Cohen: "There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in?"
Nicole Provonchee is an executive coach and strategiest based in Nashville, TN. She works with women professionals and their teams to overcome barriers and seize opportunities. If you want to move past your fears, reach out.