Face Down Fear

Face Down Fear

In this column we have several recurring themes. One of those is get out of line. That means mustering up your courage and walking away from the devil you know in order to find your sweet spot, that one thing that you do better than ten thousand other people. That opportunity might come from within the organization you are in now, or it might be out there waiting for you. But, wherever it is, it has one obstacle that can keep you from discovering it: fear.

Fear is a roadblock, sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle. It’s easy to get comfortable where we are, no matter how mundane or un-challenging it may be. Just glance at the door that leads out and fear will start to whisper in your ear that you’re not good enough, that maybe you’re crazy, or perhaps that you’re lucky to have a job at all. That kind of defeatist self-talk can paralyze us if we let it.

Several years ago, I read what experts had to say about fear for reasons I will explain in a moment. What I learned was that successful people call fear by its name and avoid labels such as anxiety, stress or nerves. When it is called stress, for example, we often blame the situations, circumstances or other people for our reactions. I have learned that calling fear by its name and owning the feeling, ignites action.

Like most people I have had to face down fear. It took true grit not to run from it. Here’s how it happened.

Both my parents grew up during the Great Depression in rural North Carolina. Their little community was hit hard, and like many, their families struggled to pay the bills and have enough to eat. Because of that, both my mom and dad lived their post-depression years with a grave insecurity about money; namely, not having enough of it. My mother talked to me many times as a young child about her fears surrounding our family finances. I absorbed her fear and throughout my childhood, college years and much of my adult life, that deep money angst lived inside of me.

Then, less than a decade ago, I healed that wound in an unexpected way.

Then, as many of us do, I hit a rough patch in my life, and true to my heritage, I illogically felt I was doomed for the “poor house” (an old southern term for where women went in the early 1900’s when they were without means.) I was facing many life changes, and my deep money insecurities from childhood crept into my psyche. The insecurity felt like a “black circle of fear” that was always around me. Its persistence was draining me of life. This went on for nearly a year.

Then, unexpectedly, late one afternoon while in my house all alone, a voice inside my head said, “Jill, don’t run away from the circle of fear, step in to it.

I paused for a moment, closed my eyes, and took a step forward and “entered” the imaginary circle. I stood there, weeping in pain, as I allowed the fear to invade me, and to let its intensity penetrate my heart. A large part of me wanted to pull back from the pain. But my wise self said stay in. Feel it. Endure it.

It took a while for the intense hurt to run its course. In midst of it, I fell down on my knees and eventually moved into what yogis call “child pose.” Positioned there, I realized I had surrendered to the pain. Not because I let it win. But because I dared to take it on, let it encase me and run its course.

When the pain had finally lifted I slowly got back on my feet. I did a gut check and realized I was no longer afraid. That’s when I knew with certainty: I am stronger than my greatest fear.

Your battle with fear may not be as dramatic, but I encourage you to go to war with it. Try to defeat it while it’s still only a whisper, because the more you listen the louder it gets. Sometimes it will seem insurmountable. I am here to tell you that it most certainly is not.

You have important work to do in this world. You’ve been blessed with great gifts and talents, and you are uniquely prepared for a role that desperately needs you.

Be brave and be great.

Take Action Now:

  •  Learning to manage your fear is one of the best investments you can make in your career.
  • Fear can stop you from accepting a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity. When your chance to shine presents itself, I hope you’ll say, “Yes.” But please don’t say, “No” right off the bat. At least say, “This sounds intriguing. When can I let you know?” and give yourself some time to think things through.
  • A useful definition of FEAR is “false evidence appearing real.” That was certainly true of my deep fear about having enough money.
  • Invest in healing your fear by quietly pondering: What are your biggest fears? (Journaling is a good way to uncover these emotions.) Pinpoint when you first began to experience a particular fear. Did it originate in childhood? How has this fear shaped your life thus far?
  • What life dreams are you not pursuing because of fear? Write them down.
  • What steps can you take now to better understand your fear and help release its control on you? (Consider seeking out a skilled counselor. Helping clients navigate fear is familiar territory for many professionals.)
Forbes.com Contributor

It is a true privilege to be a columnist at Forbes. Forbes is a community of talented people with deep knowledge in their genre.

Managing your fear is essential for becoming a leader. Conquering your fear is even better.