09/03/2006 07:54 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Standing up to Fear

Women friends are an integral part of my life, and daily, I learn from them. Some of my "peeps," as my daughter would call them, have been my friends for years. Others entered my field of awareness only recently, but all of these women are, in one way or another, fearless. From my perspective, this characteristic is the quality that beats out everything else at the end of the day; my definition of living fearlessly involves taking responsibility for what we experience in our lives.

That said, fear is a dreadful foe. Fear is pernicious. Fear makes us weak, alters our perspective, blurs our judgment, and devours our vitality. Like jealousy, fear is subjective, and it eats at you from the inside out. I'm not only talking about colossal fears like earthquakes, tidal waves, terrorism and death, but also the everyday stuff-of-life-fears that threaten to immobilize us - those that keep us from achieving goals, living life to the fullest, and finding happiness.

We live fearlessly when we stand up to our fears. This stand often occurs without much pre-conceived thought - it may appear simply as the need to survive. A primal instinct takes over, and you rise to the occasion. That's being fearless. When I believe I can alter a situation - or at least alter my perception and cognitive assumptions about a situation, then I am in charge despite the fear. When we think we can affect our circumstances, we can be fearless in our quest for the things in life that make us feel whole and content.

I am fearless when it comes to my children - I'd move hell and high water to protect them. This primal response is most clear to me when I consider my family, but it is easily translated to other facets of life. It takes guts to face and overcome a divorce, for example. You need a deep well of courage to conquer addictions and mental demons, and you definitely need to get beyond fear to cope with illness and devastating diseases. I know fearless women who are navigating all of these issues.

I discovered that survival instinct within myself in my mid-twenties, and it surprised me, because at that time, I was very much consumed with being afraid. I had been slumping through an unhappy marriage - and for the lion's share of those years, I lived in fear - fear that I wasn't good enough; afraid I wouldn't be able to support my young daughters, afraid of being a failure. But though the situation didn't get better - something inside me did. I responded to that tiny inner voice of strength and reason that had never totally caved in to accepting an unhappy existence, and I got the hell out of Dodge. At that critical moment, I had no fear. None. The strength, courage, power, chutzpa, balls, inner locus of control - whatever you want to call it, just appeared, and I changed my life.

Living fearlessly doesn't mean we are always stoic; nor are we aloof or numb to the frightening problems in the world. It simply means that at the crucial moment, we don't allow fear to be our ruler. We pull ourselves up by our boot-straps and take it to task. Taking what life pitches us and dealing with it in a positive way is the epitome of fearlessness and strength. It's resisting inertia - it is facing the very thing that is causing the fear, and holding the belief that we can have an impact on it -- that we can make a difference on the outcome, even if that difference is merely changing the way we think about it. Noted existentialist Viktor Frankl often quoted philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." Frankl, who survived the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust, learned this concept first-hand.

Every day in our circle of fearless women friends, there are big and small acts of courage, of rising to the occasion, of doing what it takes to navigate life successfully. Living fearlessly is also about resilience -- the flexibility to move on, accept, and adapt. One of my girlfriends has cancer. She's a tiny, energetic activist, accustomed to battling for children's rights. Now she's been pitched a curve ball by the fickle hand of fate, and she is fighting for her own life. I can only imagine the fear she felt when she received her diagnosis, and endured the surgery. But I don't need to imagine how she rose to meet this challenge, because I have seen it. She is resolute in her stand -- she is putting one foot in front of the other, and living her life. She's handling the chemo and the procedures, and the good days and the difficult days with courage and aplomb. I'm sure she still has fear - but she's not letting it immobilize her. Not even close. She is living fearlessly.

Ironically, we must all experience fear in order to become fearless. Fear is a necessary signal - it's a warning alarm to our bodies and minds that action is needed. We become fearless when we heed that warning; when we tap into our inner strength, exude self-confidence, and forge ahead. Being fearless may not mean you dance through your days without fear - it simply means you confront it, and interpret it in a way that makes you the master.

Living fearlessly is more than merely viewing the glass as half full - it is holding an enduring, optimistic vision of the full quart of milk.

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