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Facing Your Fears

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You know the dream -- the one where you are being chased and you simply can't run fast enough. Have you ever actually turned around to look at what's chasing you?

Risk wouldn't be risk without the fear. Most of us can feel fear lurking in our lives, but we can't put our finger on it. It hovers around behind us, almost like a ghost, something we're afraid to stop and examine for fear that it will consume us. I'm a firm believer that you can't tackle what you don't know. The critical part of living with and thriving through the unique stimulation, excitement, and adrenaline that comes with fear is actually defining and facing what you're afraid of.

Your fears are uniquely yours and yours alone (I'm not sure if that's good news or bad) and there are thousands of possibilities of what you might be afraid of. I've taken some of the fears that I hear discussed by young women most frequently and have explored them in this next section. You might see yourself in the fear of actually learning your limits, discomfort, success, failure, or rejection - or your fear might be revealed through the 'What If' exercise.

IT IS FAR MORE DIFFICULT TO KILL A PHANTOM THAN A REALITY. -- Virginia Woolf

Fear of Discomfort
There is a quote from Barbara Sher that makes me feel both reassured and uneasy at the same time. She writes, "What will determine the course of your life more than any other one thing is whether or not you are willing to tolerate necessary discomfort."

As a professional woman dedicated to excellence and stretching to test your potential, you will experience times of discomfort. Fear is unnerving. Success takes work. Of course it's easier to watch Grey's Anatomy than working those couple of extra hours or hitting the gym.

But anticipating the effort is always worse than the reality. Discipline gets easier with practice, and inevitably, the discomfort involved is far less than you anticipated. You can spend your days - and even your life - dreading the down-and-dirty work of creating success, but once you get started, you'll be happy you made the effort. Every time you take the steps and live through the temporary "discomfort," you're building confidence and dedication. You can stand taller knowing you've truly committed yourself to reaching your goals.

Fear of Success
I used to read about fear of success limiting our ability to achieve our dreams and quite honestly thought -- bullshit. What about success isn't desirable? Why wouldn't we want to be successful?

I only started to think about fear of success one day as my best friend Jenn and I were discussing our next career moves. So much of our long-time friendship had been based in supporting each other on our journey. While we would cheer each other on through the hard times, something interesting had started to happen between us with the introduction of the good times. Our careers, in different industries, started to have moments of great success, and the dynamic of our relationship started to change. We supported each other unconditionally, but we were both a little afraid to be left behind.

When we fear success, it's often due to underlying anxieties about change. As much as we long to reach a target or achieve a goal, our current situation is comfortable. We worry our entire life could change and we may somehow lose control. For example, you may dream of starting a family, but you dread abandoning your career, stretching your marriage too thin or losing track of yourself. Or maybe landing that incredible film role could mean you have to move away, leave your family and start a new, potentially isolated, life.

We may also fear the sheer effort it will take to achieve success, and if we do reach the top, we will have to work even harder and achieve even more. For a lot of us, success generates even more fear and anxiety than failure. But acknowledging our fears around success is a powerful way to remove the roadblocks. Life offers enough challenges. Get out of your own way.

Fear of Failure
When you think about it, in the face of failure we most often have two fears: Disappointing others and disappointing ourselves. While both fears can be very real and very powerful, keep one thing in mind. Disappointment and failure are not the same thing. Disappointment is a feeling - an emotion - to manage and, eventually, to get over. Failure, itself, is an experience to learn from.

Disappointing Others:
This is the public side of failure, and it's mainly tied to our ego: "What will people think of me? Will they still like me? Will they think I'm a loser? I don't want to let anyone down."

The truth is people forgive, and more importantly they forget. The next time you're afraid to take on a challenge for fear of embarrassing, discrediting or humiliating yourself, remember these four simple, timeless realities.

Everyone is infinitely more concerned with themselves than they are with you.
Everyone is attracted to people who expose vulnerability - it makes you real.
No one is judging you as harshly as you're judging yourself.
Everyone loves a comeback story.

Disappointing Ourselves:

When it comes down to it, it's our fear of disappointing ourselves that stops us dead in our tracks. I don't know too many people who go out there actually looking to fail, but when it happens (which it inevitably will) the learning, growth and power on the other side makes the whole process well worthwhile.

Failure that makes you feel ashamed or embarrassed offers the most valuable learning experiences - the more it hurts, the more you remember it.
If you're fully prepared and you've tried your best, failure won't wound your self-esteem.
You can always come back stronger, smarter and more powerful.

Fear of the Spotlight
Sometimes our greatest fears go past sheer success or failure. When we put ourselves "out there" and accept a challenge, we become vulnerable. Suddenly, all eyes will be focused directly on us, and we will have to answer to a firing squad of critics and casual observers. Leading the way, standing out from the crowd, positioning yourself at the top - whatever you want to call it, breaking out from the pack requires a special kind of risk.

Other People's Fear
Every Sunday morning I call home. My family lives across the border and thanks to the combination of distance and my non-traditional choices, their fears, worries and anxieties on my behalf travel loud and clear across the phone lines. This morning, I was already feeling a bit scared and overwhelmed. The last thing I needed was to have my fears compounded. As I hung up the phone, I remembered a lesson I apparently still need to learn.

The lesson? There are people who love and want to protect you with all of their heart. When they express fear for you, it comes from the most compassionate of places. Regardless, you need to be able to distance yourself from their fears. Let your family and friends know that while you appreciate their concern, it's more than a little disconcerting when they remind you that going back to school could leave you homeless and in heavy-duty debt.

In the face of challenge and risk, your own fears are more than enough to contend with, thank you very much.

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