Awareness of Fear is an Important Step in Personal Resilience
It came as a surprise to me, that fear was a factor in my decision making and my way of being.
As a young professional, my late husband and partner would tell me all the time that I was a fearful person, but not in a nice way. It was an insult, a taunt – ‘well the reason you don’t make that call is that you are scared, white people intimidate you (which they used to), you are scared of your mother (which I was and still am a little).
When he brought fear to my awareness in that way … my ego answered first. My ego responded to ‘you are scared’, with ‘hell no I am not … I’ll show you’.
And so, I found myself making a whole bunch of decisions which were not in service of me. Choices that were not very smart either. They were in service of an ego that came out at all the wrong times, and this meant that I was easily manipulated into doing things that my grounded self would never do.
Fear – Rational or Imagined
More often than not though, fear is a killer for an entrepreneur or leader. Not so much because of what we DO but rather what we don’t do.
Fear – rational or imagined, if not acknowledged can cause one to become stuck, slow and out of synch with a world that is going to move you and it anyway. If not managed fear can make you become someone who is dragged by the current as opposed to someone who is intentionally and purposefully cutting through the waves – the wave metaphor is a nice one.
The moment you hesitate in surfing is the moment you will find yourself in trouble … Hesitation is totally the enemy. If you’re not fully committed, you’re history
In an article with strong wave metaphors author Steven Petrow, reflects on what surfing with his niece taught him about life.
He theorizes that with surfing, as in life, the fear of falling can lead to more falls. “The moment you hesitate in surfing is the moment you will find yourself in trouble,” he reads in a surfer magazine. “You will lose momentum; you will miss the wave; you will likely wipe out … Hesitation is totally the enemy. If you’re not fully committed, you’re history.”
Being stuck or hesitant in business is not a good thing – my being stuck stopped me from reaching out to others for help.
In my early days of being a communications professional, I was often overworked, often doing multiple things at the same time, not giving my full attention to any one assignment. And where I could create an amazing piece of work, I would do a good piece, which left me feeling dissatisfied.
Being stuck and fearful meant that I didn’t take risks when and as often as my collaborators and competitors did. It could be anything from increasing my credit limit to buying that new camera (until the old one had finally broken), to form new partnerships and associations and more. Taking calculated and measured risks are not only important for growth, it’s the lifeblood of a business.
How to Manage Fear as a Leader or a Human Being?
So, what do you do with fear as a leader or a business person – as a human being?
First experience it. I can’t know fear unless I am Present in Fear – acknowledge without ego what it is and how you respond to it. I teach myself to be present. I allow myself to experience fear with all my senses. Here my body is key, instead of cutting off my senses, I indulge in them.
I notice when my heart begins to thump in my chest, when my breathing becomes shallow and fast, when I get cold or when my legs and body feel heavy. I find that acknowledging what I am feeling, bringing it into my present – is an important start.
Intention and Purpose
Know that both action and inaction have consequences. The consequences of inaction (caused by fear) are largely out of your control. It’s like you being dragged by the current as opposed to you intentionally cutting through the water. For you to cut through the water you need to have intention and purpose.
Having purpose gives you the energy to propel yourself in a particular direction. Once you have found your path, it’s important to know when to take a breath and take in the world, without action or judgment. The last bit is the hardest, it’s still my life lesson and will be for a bit … Detaching.
The Stoics about Fear
The Stoics have some great advice when it comes to detaching. To Stoic’s, perception is an important tool to generate perspective and detachment.
Ryan Holiday – in his seminal book: The Obstacle is the Way, suggests that fear is a distraction that we cannot afford. He quotes Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear:
“When you worry, ask yourself, ‘What am I choosing to not see right now?’ What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?”
Holiday notes the Greeks on the matter of distance and detachment when he talks about Apatheia.
I can have emotions, and not be emotional
“It’s the kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. Not the loss of feeling altogether, just the loss of the harmful, unhelpful kind. Don’t let the negativity in, don’t let those emotions even get started. Just say: No, thank you. I can’t afford to panic.”
I find this a very powerful thought – that I can have emotions, and not be emotional.
How to Overcome Fear
My sincerest advice when dealing with fear in business and in life is Experience, Act, Align and Be.
Experience fear, know what it feels like, know when it happens, know what it does to you, know perhaps most crucially that fear is not something that happens to you, it’s a part of you, it’s a part of being human.
Act– do something, or choose fully and intentionally to do nothing. Awareness of fear is not enough to dissipate it. It’s like treading water in an ocean – at some stage, you are going to get tired and sink. You need to swim, so you must find the energy to act.
Align your intention with something bigger than you, your higher purpose or that of your business / institutional interests. I find that my energy to act comes from my place of passion … my children. Over and over again, when I have been faced with difficult decisions and have struggled to make them – making instead an argument with my children in mind is a no-brainer.
And then detach and be, because, in the grand scheme of things, life / the universe / God has its own purpose and intention.
And that’s what fear robs you off the most – the bigger picture, it keeps you so focused on you and your shadow self, it stops you from relaxing and understanding that in the ocean of intent, there are slipstreams of purpose and all you ever need to do is Be still long enough to find your flow and then go with it.