Will We Ever Get Rid of Fear?
In a culture fixated on security we have reinforced the myth that there is something fundamentally inadequate about us when we feel fear. If buy into the notion, we construct our lives around avoiding fear and as a result, the real and best opportunities don’t even reach our field of vision. I’ve discussed the topic of fear with a number of behavioral scientists and prefer their point-of-view to the many human potential figures who promise conquering and getting rid of fear. Science has proven that the sole biological purpose of fear is to take action. I notice this when driving through the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. The fear mechanism gets triggered when I see a beat up car weaving in the lane in front of me or the gigantic sport ute with the driver cheerfully texting away oblivious to the danger of being absent at the wheel of a three-ton luxury truck.
We have entered an era of rapid and transformational change in work, culture, how we communicate, and how we view life. In order to keep up or even stay ahead of change, it is so very important that we take right action, even if that produces discomfort. In order to do that it might be a good idea to become used to the experience of fear. And, when it happens, practice a healthy response in dealing with it. Healthy and successful people routinely and fluidly reach out to others for comfort, to get regrounded. Children come into this world more connected to their biology and less connected to training. They naturally come running when they get frightened. We pick them up. The alarm mechanism shuts down and they move on with their lives. On a biological level, we never outgrow this need. Unfortunately, terrible and untrustworthy myths have been imposed on us, often at the very time we needed comfort to shut down the alarm mechnism. So, based on our genetic proclivities or childhood role modeling, we eat a layer cake, lie, become mean spirited, quit what we were doing, leave town, crack open the booze, become aloof or check-out on TV. With all of the change coming towards us, I would suggest getting used to fear and seeking out people who are safe and supportive. This is what healthy humans do.
Political, religious and business leaders have known for centuries that if they promote hinkey ideas about fear they gain more control over the minions. Avoiding fear paralyzes us. Trying to be independent only creates more stress. But, these myths are all around us.
One of the most famous quotes of all time is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We sent over seventeen million Americans into World War II. I have yet to find any of those soldier’s stories repeating the president’s missive! We do find countless narratives from the frontline’s bravest soldiers who characterized the experience as the single most terrifying event in their lives. In some cases they did hide. In others they shot first. But, in all cases they took action.
Perhaps a healthier alternative statement would be, “The only thing have we to fear is to forget courage.” True courage isn’t about walking into difficult situations as a robot devoid of feelings. A famous male icon of that era, the brutish John Wayne once said,
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
Truly successful people are quite accustomed to the experience of fear. When we listen to high performers as they describe their breakthroughs, fear is invariably woven into the narrative. When Ellen DeGeneres got her first TV show, a journalist asked how she felt about it. She responded, “This elevates my terror to a whole new level.”
Cher has experienced lifelong crippling bouts of stage fright. She tells journalists that it is as bad today as it was in her twenties. But, she deals with the problem by hiring stage managers whose primary responsibility is to drag her to the stage door no matter how threatening the words, volume of tears, or the expletives. That manager pushes her out the door and the previously terrified woman becomes Cher.
Our dysfunctional responses to fear erode change and engagement. If someone is afraid to look your customers in the eye, how can they connect? If a leader is afraid to look at the truth, how will employees trust they can live out their personal ambitions? If a CEO is afraid to stand for value versus short term gain, how can we build sustainable success? If we continually pine for a simpler past, how can we possibly learn how to build a richly rewarding future?
“Don’t be frightened” is a phrase that has worn out its welcome. The debate about whether fear is good or bad distracts us from taking action and from the practice of courage. We can always rely on courage. Courage won’t tell us we are inadequate because we get frightened. Courage won’t tell us to wait until we are more comfortable.
When we applaud our children for taking right action, even if the process scares them, we are giving them the permission to do whatever it takes to succeed with their lives, regardless of transitory feelings. If we condition our colleagues, our loved ones and our children to avoid fear because it is bad, we set the stage for a mediocre life.
Organizational culture will get more out of talent if courage is applauded over being slick, being calm or “being cool.”
This past year we lost one of our cultural greats. Muhammad Ali was an iconic fighter but it is his words that live on and on:
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplishing nothing in life.”
The practice of courage elevates every aspect of our lives. The practice moves us out of simply seeking comfort to becoming all that we are meant to be. Why would we want to sacrifice that for a little more comfort?
(C) Copyright, 2017, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)
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