“Be more curious than afraid.” -Ishi
I am calling BULLSHIT on fearlessness. Fearlessness is a myth. A set-up. An illusion. On the other hand, fear is a natural, often healthy response that arises deep in our reptilian brain. Evolutionarily speaking, it got us here. It helped our species survive in a world that really wasn’t safe, when “not belonging” to a family or a tribe really was a matter of life and death.
While there are no more saw-tooth tigers threatening us, our reptilian brain – and its fear response – is not going away. Trying to get rid of fear is like Sisyphus trying to roll the stone up that mountain. It’s a no-win. That’s why I’m calling BULLSHIT on fearlessness.
If fear is here to stay, how do we move beyond it? Here’s my current fear challenge. I long to move out into the world. To give what I know I came here to give. Yet, when it comes to acting on my desire, I am often paralyzed by fear. It feels like I’m on my own personal see-saw. One breath, I’m up, ready to take off. The next breath, I’m down, so scared I can’t move. It’s crazy-making.
Does this sound familiar? How often do we find ourselves here? Too many to count right? Sigh. Each time I wake up in this place, I have to re-remember that I can be scared AND move forward at the same time. I can choose to move through – and beyond – fear, if I’m willing to practice – a lot! – compassion, curiosity and courage.
When faced with the kind of fear that makes your gut churn, practice self-love and be compassionate with yourself. Resist the urge to beat yourself up or compare yourself to others or to an earlier version of “you.” Instead, acknowledge that you are scared. Accept that fear is normal, that you are not a wimp just because you’re afraid, and that you’re not the only person who has been frozen by fear. Talk to your reptilian self from the “you” that knows you are not in physical danger and that you will be alright. (Science has shown that this kind of self-talk actually helps us move more easily through fear.)
Hold yourself – and your fear – gently in your heart. Breathe. Repeat. One breath at a time, just soften the edges. This practice is not about trying to make fear go away. It’s about accepting its presence and learning to soften its edges.
Next, engage your curiosity and explore your fear. What exactly are you afraid of? Name it. Be specific. For each answer that arises, ask “why?” Keep asking, “what else am I afraid of?” Trust the process and go where it leads you. Are you afraid of being seen? Of speaking your truth? If so, why? If you do speak up, what’s the worst thing that can happen? How likely is it? Continue being compassionate with yourself. This is an inquiry not an inquisition. 🙂
As I explore my fear of showing up in the world as teacher and coach, I realize that much as I long for it, sometimes being seen and heard is really scary. Why? Well it’s complicated. One thing I know is that I’m scared “people” might start expecting me to show up a certain way all the time and then what happens if I can’t? What if my health gives out? What if I run out of money? What if I don’t know what to do next? What if I don’t know how? What if people judge me and find me lacking? We all know that this list of “what ifs” is endless. It’s a rabbit hole worthy of Alice!
So instead of diving into the rabbit hole, I breathe and compassionately hold that fear in my heart. Almost instantly, I realize that there is space here for a different truth. There is space for the truth of my own inner wisdom, that voice within that reminds me I have much to give to those who are trying to find and use their own voice, to those who struggle with worthiness and belonging, to those who have experienced trauma and seek to heal. I know I can help. I know this is who I came here to be and what I came here to do. And I know that I determine my own value. It is not dependent on the opinions of others.
Sure failure is possible. But it’s not the end of the world. Even if my life looks like a failure on the outside or feels like a failure on the inside, the reality is I will survive. Oftentimes I will even thrive! When I am able to sit with fear and breathe through it, I discover that there are gifts here for me. Gifts that will help me grow and become more of who I am and better able to share what I have to give. And that’s what really matters.
Ok, we’ve been compassionate and curious, so now what? How do we move forward?
First, let’s get one thing straight. Courage is NOT the same as fearlessness. It is not the absence of fear. It’s the mastery of it. It’s learning to accept the presence of fear and move forward anyway. Courage is choosing to JUMP scared!
Think back to the first time you ever jumped off a diving board or swam into the deep end. Think about the first time you ever traveled somewhere alone or spoke your truth in a situation where you had previously held your tongue. Were you afraid? I sure was. Did you feel really vulnerable? I know I did. Are you glad you did it anyway? I sure am. It’s how I grew. How I learned to trust myself.
So how do we find the courage to jump scared? You know the answer, right? As with all things, we PRACTICE. Each time you find yourself face to face with fear that limits your ability to share your gifts, practice the steps above. Be compassionate. Be curious. And then, strengthen your courage muscle by jumping scared. Take action. No matter how small the step, move forward. Lean into your future. And if that’s too scary right now, try just leaning into the possibility that you can lean into your future! Even the smallest step helps build your courage muscles.
As you contemplate jumping scared, I invite you to consider this question: is fear the only thing you are feeling or are you maybe, just maybe, also feeling a wee bit excited?
Fear and excitement are often just different sides of the same coin. What you experience depends on your perspective. Are you scared or are those “butterflies in your tummy”? If you feel the butterflies, maybe they’re telling you something really important. Maybe they want you to know that you’re on the right track!
If you’ve got butterflies in your tummy, resist the urge to run. Instead, ENGAGE THEM. USE THEM. Choose ONE step you can take today. Then climb on board those masters of transformation and let them help you get where your heart wants to go! As the insightful and successful author, podcaster and business strategist Jonathan Fields said in one of his final talks at Camp GLP.
The world needs your voice and what you have to give. Instead of letting fear hold you back, step forward and let the butterflies support you as you move towards the call of your own heart.
I can’t wait to hear about your progress. Let us know what step you are committed to taking and what happened when you took it. If you have other tricks that help you move forward in the face of fear, please share your wisdom here so we can all benefit from your experience. After all, it does take a village!