This has been a rough week in the markets with many of us watching our investments go South while a fragile coalition of our national political leaders posture and plan a stimulus plan that we'll have to pay for down the line. The bickering and name calling in the primaries highlights the absence of compelling candidates who inspire us and instill confidence. We keep listening for convincing, compelling, authentic invitations to a future beyond our underled present but failing that, we slip into uncertainty, anxiety about the future and fear.
Fear is a stronger motivator than success. The two giant fears, abandonment and death, are the origin of most of our other fears: of rejection, failure, humiliation, poverty, and change, which can be traced to our primal fear of being abandoned. We are all terrified of loneliness. In our mythologies and religions we witness the angry Gods tossing us out of paradise to fend for ourselves. That fear resides in the deepest spaces of our cellular structure, and we will do anything to avoid facing it.
Leaders who become captive of their fears soon find that they have an invisible shadow that limits and edits their decisions, relationships, work, and play. In fact, fear can weave a steely web of beliefs about ourselves that can cripple our ability to grow, love, care, connect, feel. In extreme cases, when fear is our master, it becomes the constant companion of our days and nights.
Most of the men and women in our senior leadership Practice have had to confront fear and face it down to experience any kind of possibility to lead (and live) a shadow-free life. The good news is that facing down fears can produce remarkable breakthroughs.
Fear is also a topic most of us would like to avoid. Instead, tight-jawed and steely-eyed, we confront our days looking confident and unafraid. We fear being unloved, or facing disruptive change. In some cases, we accumulate more things to mask our fear of poverty, or we become exhausted workaholics to mask our fear of being discovered as imposters, fearful children posing as wise adults.
To avoid some of my fears, I became an Expert. I collected experience, information and data with the passion, only to slip into more hours of coaching, teaching, counseling others and in the process to become lost to myself. It's often the curse of The Achiever, and I'd bet you know it well.
Overcoming my own fears took lots of work, and the realization that there's no Red Cross Swimmer's beginner's card for getting into the deep end. And you will get wet. I thought learning about my fears would help me break through, but that only happens by naming them, feeling them, confronting them, and finally, ironically, loving your way through them.
Often entire corporations stay mired in the past because leaders won't confront their fear of change and the uncertainty it brings. We stay rooted in bad marriages or exhausted partnerships because we fear being alone. We spend fortunes to appear younger because of our fear of aging and death. Fear, like all negative emotions, is dumb. It is repetitive and we empower it and give it permission to keep us feeling afraid.
This is a multilayered topic that's easy to avoid.
Here are several courageous steps to begin:
Acknowledge your fear:
Name your fear. Find its' birthplace. Admit it, sit in it, feel it. Don't wallow in it, but find a vocabulary for it. Can you rationally "describe" how it makes you feel? What is the worst-case scenario if you surrendered to the fear? Is this a rational outcome?
Is the Fear Still Real?
Who is still afraid? You as a child? As an adult? Aren't the feelings different? (Clinical experience confirms that many of our fears are time oriented, and our childhood fears are always exaggerated and may be out of date.) Do you still feel the fear at the same level when you examine it as an adult?
Confront the Fear!
We know that to diminish a fear you must confront it. Slay the dragon. Talk to the fear and challenge it directly. Get angry for the hours it has stolen from you. Tell your fear that you will now take it on directly, see it for what it is, and that you're going to release it.
Hold and Release!
Armed with the adult knowledge that your fear has crippled part of your experience, clutch it close to feel it once more, and then surrender it. Map a program for yourself of slowly testing it, holding it and letting it go. If you need a counselor, coach or a partner to take you into the fear, find them. Together, slip into the shallow end of the pool and feel the safety of it. Then, move into the deeper water and look fear in the face. You must DO this, not think about it. You can't unblock fear without feeling it. It may be scary, but you can do this! The rewards are lifelong.