We all experience moments of fear. Fear can help fuel us to success, but far too often, we let it stop us from doing things we are capable of. It becomes our enemy instead of our friend.
My timid dog, Grace, fears children, loud noises, and a long list of other things. She can be paralyzed with new experiences, visibly trembling as if she might jump out of her own skin to flee from the trauma. Over the years, she has become courageous in some situations and in those moments, she is such a shining example of what can be accomplished.
I fear snakes– among many other silly things, like falling short of someone else’s expectations or being judged unfavorably by someone else. Like Grace, I face some kind of fear every day. Fear can be beneficial, such as providing a warning to be careful in places where I know snakes might likely be sunning themselves in our lawn. But sometimes, fear can hold me back because it’s easier to stay within my comfort zone rather than pushing through it.
Fear has benefits
I was reminded of the benefits of managing fear this week, as I listened to an inspirational speaker that transported me through his adventures.
I had the good fortune to hear Jamie Clarke present at a business meeting on Tuesday. Jamie was the keynote presenter and by some good luck, I sat at his luncheon table. He was quiet and unassuming, joining in the conversation only a few times. That was not an accurate indicator for how powerful his presence on stage would become. I knew from his bio that he was a mountain climber and adventurer and he would be sharing lessons learned from his Mt. Everest experiences. Since I live in southern New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock, I hear and think about mountain metaphors a lot. Climbing to new heights absolutely provides a new and a different perspective than being at sea level. But I wasn’t expecting the extent to which his stories would lift me.
Jamie talked much more about life than he did of mountains (though the part about the mountains was absolutely spell-binding). I hung on every word for more than an hour while he spoke. A gifted story teller, Jamie had me near tears a few times but mostly laughing out loud, as he recounted times growing up in rural Canada with a supportive but stern mom and a grandfather who put him in his place more than once.
“On the other side of fear is freedom”
What was my biggest take-away from Jamie’s talk? One of the many lines that resonated with me was when he said this: “On the other side of fear is freedom.” Ahhh, I thought to myself, how true that is! In Jamie’s situation, achieving the ultimate challenge of climbing Mt Everest allows you to physically and mentally feel the freedom of standing atop that summit. The views, the air, the enormity of the world beaming at your footsteps. But any of us can feel our own freedom when we tackle our fears. Jamie got me thinking that you don’t have to climb Mt Everest to experience that sensation. Freedom can be felt anywhere and by everyone. It’s within all of us and I appreciate Jamie allowing me to see that.
In my conversations with business people, I am constantly aware of situations where fear is holding a person back from doing something they want to do. Here are a few examples:
- Being honest with a co-worker about something that is negatively impacting the relationship because they don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings
- Wanting more time with family but feeling stuck by heavy work demands
- Ability to have a team that is focused on the same goals and objectives but settling for what is in front of them
- Wanting to start a new career that better matches their skills and interests, but fearful of leaving a stable income
- Desire to voice concerns to a manager about a toxic work environment, but stopping for fear of retribution
- Not making a call to someone for help for fear of rejection or judgment
- Avoiding an assignment for fear of failure or looking stupid because of the learning curve
These are real situations that do not have easy answers. But when we resolve to stay in these situations, fear is our enemy. When we take on fear as a friend, only then can we feel the freedom that is ours to have.
Everyone suffers when we limit our own potential
Our work and our workplaces suffer when each of us limits our own potential. Managers need to help create cultures where risk-taking is appreciated and valued. But it is also the responsibility of each person to recognize and own your fear, and find ways to manage it rather than letting it manage you.
I hope that Jamie’s message inspires you, as it did me, to climb your own metaphorical mountain. Let fear become your friend and not your enemy.