During my eight decades of living I have reached some enlightening conclusions and insights. Writing about them helps me clarify and reinforce my thinking; perhaps reading my insights will help you live a happier life.
Fear Blocks Personal Growth
From an evolutionary and self-preservation standpoint, fear is a beneficial emotion. It keeps us safe from harm. The downside is that fear also keeps us in our place, stagnating personal growth. I know because I’ve experienced blocking fear. Fear has kept me safe but has also stagnated my growth.
I’d wager you’ve experienced the following, too: An idea or opportunity arrives that immediately excites and energizes me. I can hardly corral my excitement. I can’t wait to get started. Then fear makes its entrance.
“What if I fail? It’s risky, there could be serious financial or professional costs. Who am I to attempt something so large? Why take the chance, play it safe.”
Seeking reinforcing opinions, I mention it to other people. “Oh, that can’t be done,” they say. “You’re nuts, other people smarter than you have tried that and failed,” they add. “Well, I suppose that might work,” is about the most positive feedback provided.
All enthusiasm squashed, the idea/opportunity is relegated to a growing pile of similarly discarded ideas. I remain in place, safe from criticism, but blocked from growth. Does this ever happen to you?
It’s happened to me all too often over the years. That’s why a few years ago I stood up in front of a workshop of a hundred people and said, “I’m tired of living my life in fear.”
Studies focused on older adults uncovered this interesting fact: By and large, most people in later life regretted things they didn’t attempt to do rather than things they did do that turned out poorly. Failure to attempt was more regrettable than attempting and failing.
The Ego Protects
Here’s how this fear blockade works. My ego—my inner self-image—is afraid of death. Not so much my physical death, but the death of my self-image carefully built up over the years.When I’m on the verge of creating something that excites and energizes me, but has some associated risk, my ego steps in to preserve itself, planting fearful thoughts: “What if you fail? How humiliating will that be?”; What if they reject you and what you’re doing?”; “Who are you to author a book? Who wants to hear what you have to say?” And so on.
Safe but Sorry
For many years fears such as these governed my decisions, limiting what I allowed myself to do, say, and think. During a workshop by Neale Donald Walsch I realized how tiring and frustrating this whole process was, and how fear was holding me back from living. That’s when I decided I’d had enough. “I’m tired of living my life in fear.”
Fear Turned into my Friend
I started doing more of what excited me. I noticed that when I faced a fear—such as public writing—and went ahead anyway—books, articles, websites, classes, and more—I progressed personally and professionally. I grew, and felt pride and accomplishment. That’s when I started to regard fear as my friend. When fear appeared with its frightening “what-ifs” I’d go forward anyway. Essentially, I treat fear as an indicator that going forward will produce desired growth.
Does fear still block me at times? Yes it does. This is a work in progress, requiring that I ask and answer some tough questions, such as “What are you afraid will happen?”; “If that happens, so what? “; “Can you live with it?”
Adversity Promotes Growth
There are many, many sayings and quotes reinforcing this concept, such as:
- Races are won on the curve, not the straight-away.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
- Walt Disney – “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.”
- Napoleon Hill – “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
- Anonymous – “No pain, no gain.”
Adversity and its corresponding emotion of fear signal danger on the horizon. But we need not take that as a signal to stop. Instead, take fear as an indicator that the contemplated future does contain adversity, but also potential growth. Then decide to go forward. And grow.
Image courtesy Flickr user Lucia CC Attr. Lic.