Fear is a good thing.
In our society, fear is generally considered to be bad and something to be avoided or overcome. To be clear, I am not referring to fear as a result of brain chemical imbalance or when there’s imminent physical danger. Fear aversion makes instinctual sense; our brain and body are designed to keep us safe. All sorts of chemicals are released in our brains when we feel unsafe or threatened. The feeling of fear can keep us safe but can also hold us back and confuse our brain so that we are impeded in our ability to make rational decisions.
I very much relate to the instinct to stay safe. Much of my fears revolve around giving up something now for future possibilities. The decision of whether to join an Internet startup in the year 2000. The decision to get married and partner with another person for the rest of my life. The decision of when I would start my own business.
As I made those decisions, fear had both helped and hindered me. I did not join the Internet startup, which laid off 90% of its employees within 9 months. On the other hand, I had always wanted to start my own business. Alas, because I continued to receive nice job offers, I kept delaying starting my business until I was much older with more responsibilities.
“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”― Michelle Obama
With that said, feeling fear and moving through the fear is very different from suppressing fear and refusing to acknowledge it. Emotions are pointers; they point to what’s important to us. In this case, fear tells us that something valuable to us is being threatened. When we suppress our fears, we are also suppressing the things that we care about behind those fears.
When I contemplated leaving my corporate job to start a new career, I felt very anxious. I was leaving a stable job with a good salary. With that salary, I could contribute to the security of my family and buy things that my kids would enjoy. The job was also where I had most of my interactions with other people. To leave the corporate job was to lose a substantial measure of stability, social interaction, and ability to contribute to the kids financially.
On the other hand, by realizing what was driving my fear, I was able to formulate actions to address them. I set schedules for my daily routines to provide a sense of stability. I participated in various professional associations for social interaction. And, I set aside enough savings to address specific things I want for the kids.
If I had suppressed or found ways to ignore my fear instead, I might not have realized how stable routines and social interactions might help me be successful with my transition. More importantly, in an effort to push away the fear, I would also numb the joy and comfort I gain from stability and interacting with others.
“The purpose of fear is to make us act….Fear isn’t always our enemy, simply something to be overcome. It can be a stimulus to act properly, with consciousness, and focus. It can guide us to adapt, adjust, and act well.” – Tom Morris
Fear is an opportunity for us to learn something about ourselves. It is worth contemplating on, in curiosity and with wonderment, for what it is trying to tell us. Respect the fear and walk through it. By finding a way through the fear, we find what it is that we truly care about and, perhaps, a way to address our fear in a productive way.
“When you get that sense of terror, go right at it. Don’t run away. Explore. Feel fear as completely as you can feel it. Head straight into it.” – Alan Watts in Turning the Head or Turning On