Monday, May 23, 2011

Message #13 - Confront Your Fear!

Everyone is afraid of something. Wait, that’s not quite accurate. You and everyone else are not afraid of something, you’re afraid of many things.

So there’s nothing unique about being afraid. You’re not alone. The important question is, “What do you do with your fear?” My message is simple:

Confront Your Fear!

I’m afraid of heights. When I watched “Man on Wire,” and saw Philippe Petit walk between the two World Trade Center towers I felt it in my stomach. I knew it was a movie and I knew he didn’t die, but my reaction was still visceral. I couldn’t imagine doing what he did. No way.

Does this mean I should try walking on a dangerous high-wire just to prove that I am bigger than my fear? No, of course not. That would be stupid. But how about a controlled situation with clear safety precautions built into the process? Where I wasn’t risking my life but was doing something I wouldn’t ordinarily do? Where I had a chance to confront my fear?

Many years ago I had an opportunity to do that during a self-help course that included high ropes events. A zip line was rigged atop a high cliff, we were hooked on to it, and our challenge was to jump off. I knew there was virtually no chance I’d be hurt. The system was triply safe. But that didn’t lessen my fear one iota. I was terrified. I don’t know how far down it was to the floor of the little valley below me. Probably not more than 100 feet. But it could have been 10,000 feet. My fright level would have been the same.

I jumped off into the void. I survived. I felt like I’d really accomplished something. I had demonstrated that I could be bigger than my fear.

Philippe Petit says he is not afraid on the wire. He plays on it. He bounces, he sits down, he stands up. I believe him. But I’ll bet there are challenges that frighten him, common challenges, and I’ll also bet that in some cases what frightens him doesn’t frighten me.

How about you? What frightens you? The usual suspects are relationships, job changes, financial issues, big decisions. On the surface they may not be as dramatic as the high-wire, but when they are in your face, and you’re afraid of them, they are equally able to inspire terror.

The question often comes down to what are you going to empower? You can choose to empower your fear. If you do you’ll struggle with whatever the issue is and maybe even back away, and fear will have won.

Or you can acknowledge that the fear is there and move ahead anyway. Moving ahead doesn’t predetermine what you decision will be. Let’s say you’ve got a new job possibility that appeals to you, but for some reason you are afraid of changing jobs. Facing your fear doesn’t mean you have to take the new job just to prove you’re not afraid to make the change. It just means you don’t allow your fear to make the decision for you.

Don’t kid yourself into believing you can wish away your fear. If you’re afraid you’re afraid. It’s a genuine emotion that may not be easy to control. Wanting it to go away doesn’t help. Granted, there may be various therapies that will help you cope with your particular fear(s), but I’m not a therapist, so if that’s a path you’d like to pursue I suggest you find a competent professional to support you.

Nor need you be embarrassed if certain things intimidate you or scare you. You’re human. You are hard wired to be afraid at times. If someone says, “I’m not afraid of anything,” he’s lying.

Finally, don’t hide behind real or phony fear as a strategy to get you off the hook. That’s neither giving in to fear nor overcoming it. That’s simply using it as an excuse to avoid being responsible. Sooner or later you’ll be busted, so don’t go down that road. Actually, don’t go down that road even if there’s no chance your strategy will be revealed. You’ll be compromising your integrity, which is too high a price to pay.

There’s only one thing you have to remember about your fear: Confront it!


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