What To Do If Fear is Holding You Back



Today we’re going to talk about fear. This show is about being brave and choosing strength so of course we’re going to have to talk about fear at some point, or a lot. So why not today?

If we never felt afraid, we would never need to be brave. 

So, a few thoughts. Fear is not the enemy. Fear is trying to keep you safe. Sometimes fear is the most healthy and rational response to something. Fear can move us to protective action, run away, or fight.

Sometimes though, fear paralyses us. Sometimes we freeze, and can’t do anything at all. It tells us that if we stay perfectly still, and don’t move at all, then we’ll be safe. Sometimes, that's true. Most of the time though, that’s not true, and those are the times when we need courage to help us move past the paralysis and do the thing that needs doing.

See, the view of the world that fear shows to us is never true. What your mind makes the thing you’re afraid of into is always bigger and scarier than the actual thing itself.

Just look at a child who is afraid to go outside because it’s dark. All of my kids have been afraid of the dark at some point. The dark makes it possible that all sorts of things that they fear might be there, lurking, simply because they can not see clearly that those things aren’t there, as they do by the light of day. One by one, each of them moves past that fear, by bits and stages, and they do that by facing it head on.

We don’t force them to do it. Though we encourage them to be brave. But bit by bit they gather courage, and go out into the dark, the literal dark, and come back triumphant, having faced their fear and experienced that the dark is not as bad as their minds made it out to be. My 4th child, when he was about 8, started asking me if he could go outside in the dark just before bedtime. We live in the country so it gets quite dark around our house. “Can I go outside and face my fears of the dark mommy?” He would say.

“Of course you can.”
 
He would come back in after 5 or 10 minutes, glowing. “I faced my fears mommy! I sat outside in the dark, and it was fine! Nothing bad happened! Now I’m not so much afraid of the dark anymore!”

He did this for several months until the dark was no longer a thing that he feared. 

When I was a music major, way back, right after high school, we had these things called master classes. I majored in two different instruments, voice and piano, so I had to go to 2 of these each week. In the master classes we took turns performing for each other, in the recital hall, with the lights on, in front of every other person in the voice faculty, or the piano faculty. Once a semester we each performed in front of the entire faculty of music. 

For a first year music student, this was a terrifying experience. Most of us had performed on stages before, we had auditioned to get into this university. But masterclasses were not that same as performances. Your audience was all people who knew your craft better than you. Second, third, and fourth years, the professors, they were all listening to you sing. Not to be entertained, but to critique your performance and give you feedback. 

So after I sang my song, I would have to stay up there, the bright lights shining down on me, sweat running down my back, everyone looking at me, and listen to people tell me how I could have done better. Sometimes they would even make us try it again, but different. This time try and hit the high note, not the alto variation. It was not fun. Some of my classmates did shots beforehand to work up the courage.

But, by the time the year was over, we were not afraid to be on a stage anymore, or we dropped out. The stage became our home. That was a very valuable experience for me, even though I’ve ever become the professional opera singer I once dreamed of being. I’m not afraid of public speaking, I’m not afraid of receiving public feedback, or, I’m less afraid anyway. That experience taught me some things about what to do when you’re afraid.

The only way I know to overcome fear is to lean into it, to do the thing that scares me often enough that it loses its power to paralyze me, and keep me from the thing that I want, or need to do.

One of the most helpful books I read last year is called The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. If you haven’t already heard of it, go find it and buy it. It's one of the main reasons I actually finished the first draft of my book.

He says that anytime you try to do something that takes you up a level or makes the world a better place, or you a better person, in any way, anything to try to create or accomplish that is worth doing will meet with Resistance. And he personifies resistance as a force that opposes all of these things. Resistance will use fear to try and stop you. His theory is that you can use that as a guide. The thing that you are the most afraid to try or do, that’s probably the thing that it’s most important that you do do, and set your hand to. That is the gift you need to give to the world.

Resistance will try and stop you by making you afraid. If it’s worth doing you have to accept that you will never not be afraid. You just have to do it anyway. Step into your fear.

For me, that’s starting this channel. I’ve thought about it for years. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, and focus on, and do with it, but I have known for a long time that this is a thing I should try. And one of the reasons I know it’s important, at least for me, that I give it a chance and commit to doing it, is because it scares the snot out of me. What if it sucks? What if I don’t actually know anything about any of the things I think I’ve learned and could share that are helpful? What if no one watches or listens? What if a lot of people watch and listen? I can’t really decide which is more terrifying. 

Making this next episode took me two months of working up the courage to do it, and finding the words I needed. (Well, I did have COVID in there, so part of that month I was just sleeping and coughing.)

But if I waited until I stopped feeling afraid to do this, it would never get done. The only way to get past this fear, or any fear, is to feel the fear, and do it anyway, and keep doing it, because that’s what courage is. 

I want to leave you with a quote I love. Because it’s kind of the flip side of the decision making matrix presented by Stephen Pressfield, which is you need to press toward the thing that most scares you. In other words, 
make the most courageous choice that you can think of to make.

Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” (I misquoted this in the recording.)

Fear is a bad decision making matrix. What it tells you to worry about isn’t true. It amplifies all the bad that can happen, and makes it bigger than all the good that is possible.

So if there is one thing this week that you know would be good to do, and the reason you haven’t done it yet is because you are afraid. I encourage you to take at least one little step in that direction. Look at it carefully, and see if you can see that there are no actual monsters out there in the dark.

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