That time when I learnt to embrace fear
Fear is a big word. It’s big, because most of our negative decisions stem from this very place. By negative I don’t mean the big stuff, I mean the tiny decisions we make day after day. The ones that prevent us from growing into the person we are capable of becoming.
I am constantly inspired by my work in the startup space in that sense. Our Engineering teams embrace ‘failings’ as learning opportunities. They aren’t expected to know everything, they are allowed to learn, but are trusted to test things out and experiment along the way. They feel the fear and do it anyway.
Fear of failure simply does not drive our best performance; in work life and in professional life. If we don’t try new things, we are stifled as people and as businesses. The mindsight of our teams is the thing that keeps us propelling our business forward.
I allowed my life to be dictated by fear, and that fear was enough to keep me plodding on in a failing situation for 12 years. I wasn’t able to identify fear as a feeling at the time, but I allowed it to keep me in suspended animation.
The tipping point for me was when the pain of staying in the situation became bigger than leaving it. Honestly, that’s the truth. For me to leave, the pain of staying had to become unbearable. The body is a clever piece of machinery, and it turned my pain from emotional to physical, so that suddenly the message was loud and clear.
Big decisions to change things (even when they hurt us) are SUPER hard. The only way that I was able to make them successfully was by turning them into little ones. Little. Happy. Choices.
If you are faced with making a decision about something huge, focus on the here and now; ask yourself if you are making small choices that support your growth or hinder your development, be it the food you eat, the quality of your sleep or the people you spend time with. Be as honest as you can be.
Looking back on the situation (much as I wouldn’t change it, for each tiny detail makes me who I am today) it has given me cause to reflect on why I let myself become stuck, largely so that I can learn to not to let my choices be dictated by fear in the future.
Mo Gawdat writes beautifully about this in his book, Solve for Happy and has some ideas that are worth applying. Once we identify what our fears are, he encourages us to ask the following questions:
What’s the worst that can happen? It’s normally no where near as bad as we first catastrophised.
So what? The worst case scenario that we are imagining, normally isn’t that bad.
How likely is it? Probably very unlikely. How many times has the worst case scenario actually happened?
Is there anything I can do now to prevent this scenario? Is it even within your power? If it is, then do what it takes.
Can I recover? Absolutely yes, I am sure of it.
What will happen if I do nothing? What is the price of the current status quo?
What is the best case scenario? Visualise it and make that your focus instead.
He also suggests that at the heart of most fears is a fear of rejection. I would agree. We want to be accepted and we want to belong, so we often clip ourselves to mitigate that risk.
The bigger risk, as far as I’m concerned, would be to let fear rule over everything and dictate your choices.
The fear I held was of the unknown, of what life might be if I completely changed everything within it, of what it would feel like to lose everything. But guess what? I DID lose everything that I had before, but I gained SO much more. Suddenly I was free, free to figure out what my life could look like with me in charge, free to embrace the love and support of others.
It took time to rebuild and I’m still figuring so many things out, but that in itself is wonderful. My choice to move positively away from pain and to allow myself to evolve into a different kind of life was the best choice I ever made.
What I am trying to harness the energy of now is the ability to live fearlessly. To take risks, to try things and to realise that if things don’t happen to unfold the way we hoped, sometimes that allows us to tap into something even greater, just like our Engineers.
Originally published at ruthpenfold.com on December 15, 2017.