12/10/2013 04:16 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2014

The Big Lie We Tell Ourselves About Fear

It seems that some of the most powerful lessons come when you realize that something you used to believe with absolute certainty is dead wrong. I offer you now an example from a recent experience, and think it a nice little gift for you this holiday season.

So Mom arrived for a visit last week. During a walk around town we ran Adam, a local icon.

Adam is a leader in our community. He's confident. He's successful. He's respected. Heck, he's beloved.

Upon meeting Mom he spent all kinds of time engaging her... about himself. He spun tale after tale of his many accomplishments, the things he's achieved, the people he knows.

When it was over Mom was dizzy... and impressed. Until I burst her bubble. As we walked away I told her that I happen to know a member of Adam's close circle, who has shared with me the reality.

Sure, Adam is indeed accomplished. But he's also very, very insecure. Turns out one of the reasons he spends so much time talking about all he has done is because he's afraid people will think he hasn't done anything. And then where would he be?

The more and more we talked about it the more I realized Adam is not an exception. He's the rule.

Yes, Adam is afraid. And so are the rest of us. Think about it.

We are afraid of failing.

We are afraid of looking foolish.

We are afraid of being disconnected from our group.

We are afraid of being disliked.

We are afraid of being bad parents.

We are afraid of losing our jobs.

We are each afraid of some of these things -- perhaps all of them -- and plenty of other things, too. We don't often admit it to others. And some of us don't admit it to ourselves.

But it's true. I've spent years around by successful, professional, self-assured people. And when I've truly gotten to know them, truly understood them, I learned that they are just as afraid as the rest of us. The fact that they aren't afraid to admit it makes them even stronger.

And the fact that they take action despite their fears make them truly great.

I promise you. Everyone is afraid: your boss, your staff, your colleagues, your friends. The guy next to you at the gym, the woman next to you at the spa.

I say this because the grand lie we tell ourselves -- the one where we're the only one with these fears -- can really mess us up.

We allow ourselves to believe that those we run into, those we have lunch with, those we work with are so together, so confident... that they aren't afraid of anything.

And then we do the really dangerous thing -- compare our outside perception of them with our inside reality of us... and come up with the only conclusion: that we are the only ones who have self-doubt. That we are the only ones who are afraid. That we are weak as a result. That we must shake this fear thing as quickly as possible.


Being afraid is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. It drives us to do things better. It makes us think through our work more strategically, our words more carefully, our actions more meaningfully.

Sure, sometimes despite our best efforts we do make mistakes. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we look silly. Sometimes we make a bad parenting decision. Sometimes people like us less.

But they don't break us. And often they are actually good for us. After all, how else would we grow?

You may be doubting me on this. You may be thinking through the people you know who couldn't possibly be afraid of anything. Who are too together. Who are too polished. Who are too confident.

Of course you are. My Mom was convinced, too, when she Adam.

So this holiday season, give yourself the gift of reality.

We're all afraid of something. Of many things.

It's just that some people have figured out how to embrace it and use it to move themselves forward.

And others, well, still need to go on about themselves to convince us otherwise. And make us dizzy in the process.