When you hang out with people who are committed to personal growth, it's not uncommon to hear them cheering each other on toward "fearlessness" as the ultimate goal. Personally, though, I don't think fearlessness is a reasonable goal—or even a healthy one.
I’m sure the intention behind the "fearless" movement is a good one. At this point, though, it's become a cliché—a sound bite that fails to encompass the deeper relationship between us and our fears. Indeed, without a deep examination of fear, the quest for fearlessness itself is likely to leave one paralyzed, holding back on actions until that ever-imminent moment that fear is overcome.
The vision of fear as the "super-antagonist" of our life neglects the crucial role it plays in survival. Fear is a protector and guardian. When it gives the call that quickens the heart, it's worth considering the message.
Of course, fear is not reserved for the threat of physical danger. Experiences that merely echo past hurts or anxieties can trigger all kinds of fear responses. But there is a message in that fear as well. It is giving us perhaps the most useful information for choosing our actions courageously and directing us to the hurts we would be wise to resolve.
So much of what is promoted in self-growth circles encourages us to boldly go forward, always reaching toward expansion. But like any moving object, we need brakes. Fear is our brake mechanism. Learning to use the gas and the brake in tandem is the only way to reach your destination safely.
So, I've been rethinking fear. I've given up the idea that it is something to be exorcised or removed from my life. I'm focusing instead on mastering my fear—finding the situations in which I can use it to my advantage. It's an integral part of my toolbox for living a beautiful, connected, and fulfilling life. It holds a valuable place alongside love, courage, empathy, and gratitude.
In this dance with fear, I've learned a few tricks that help me take the lead.
1. Get familiar with the ways fear shows up in your life.
Once upon a time, I would have told you I wasn't really limited by fear. In reality, I just didn't understand what fear looked like in my life. In the last few years, I've discovered that sometimes fear looks like procrastination, perfectionism, or a kind of aloofness.
It's different for everybody, but when you notice your forward momentum has stalled, especially if it seems out of alignment with your desires, ask yourself if fear is at work.
2. Spend some time with your fear.
As you become aware of the ways fear manifests in your life, get curious about what's triggering that fear. Instead of trying to dismiss or suppress fear, dedicate a few moments to sitting quietly and exploring what it might be trying to tell you.
Journaling, meditation, and repetitive exercises like walking, running, spinning, or swimming are easy ways to create some safe space to be with your fears.
3. Appreciate your fear.
Simply shifting your perspective on fear will go a long way toward loosening its hold on you. Don't label it as an antagonist. Respect it as you would any teacher. To really master it, you must learn to appreciate the role it plays in helping you reach you goals.
Imagine fear as a loving grandmother who just wants the best for you. Let your resistance dissolve, creating space to receive the message she's sending. But know that her message won't necessarily stop you from moving forward into the adventure of the unknown.
When we stop trying to dismiss or fight our fears of what could go wrong, we create room for everything that can go right.