When Fear Becomes The Master

I was talking with some friends earlier today about someone I know, a woman who has a lot of talent and capability, but is governed by a great deal of fear.

Because of that fear, she has continually held herself back from things she wanted to do.

That’s not to say she doesn’t have successes. She does. Yet they’ve usually come about because she was thrust into circumstances rather than her jumping in willingly.

Every time that’s happened, she has risen to the occasion and proven she can do far more than she believed she could do. Afterward, she would reflect on that fact and acknowledge she was wrong…

…only to allow fear to be her master once again.

Fear is a tough thing to overcome. Especially if your upbringing was built around avoiding things that made you afraid. 

It’s important to understand that fear has its place. It’s a warning to ourselves from a part of our brain that is telling us that danger is ahead. Maybe not physical danger, but danger none the less.

Danger comes in many forms today, including the danger of failure. That’s where fear can become particularly insidious.

The problem, though, is that people don’t think about needing courage on a daily basis, so they never develop it. They never develop the skills needed to face that fear, to overcome it. Instead, they allow that fear to ride on their shoulder, whispering all the potentially unfavorable outcomes.

Now, that’s not always a bad thing. Fear keeps us from being stupid. It has its place.

Fear is why most people don’t break the law, for example. It’s not that everyone is so moral and upstanding, it’s that they fear being arrested and going to prison. They’re scared of what will happen to them should they go to prison. 

In a case like that, fear is ultimately a good thing.

But fear doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot. Fear also tells people not to try to audition for America’s Got Talent when they don’t have a lick of any talent. The humiliation would be severe, and the fear knows it and tells you all about it.

The thing is, there’s something we always have to take into account when fear is being considered, and that’s Risk vs. Reward. 

In other words, does the risk outweigh the potential rewards you’re facing?

Here’s a thought exercise to consider how Risk vs. Reward works.

Imagine you had the chance to gain all the powers of God. All you had to do was audition for a singing competition like American Idol, but you were stripped of any musical talent and training you had. However, your horrible audition wouldn’t be shown on television. 

Would you do it?

Well, yeah, most all of us would. I mean, unlimited power in exchange for humiliating myself in front of a handful of people? Sure. The risk is small and the reward is huge. It’s an easy choice.

Now, let’s say the situation is the same, but now you face the possibility

I suspect most would still do it, but a few would go, “No way.” That’s fine.

What if you were facing that second scenario, but now you only might

You’re probably far less likely to risk being humiliated over there mere possibility of getting the reward, but a lot of people would take a chance. After all, why not, right?

The thing is, as you increase the risk and/or decrease the reward, people become more and more unwilling to risk it. The risk-to-reward ratio changes beyond people’s comfort level.

It’s why people don’t really feel bad challenging folks to do something that scares them. I mean, if someone jumped out of an airplane at 40,000 feet without a parachute because it scared them, wouldn’t the person making that suggestion be liable?

They’re not overly worried about that because almost no one would do so because there’s virtually no reward over an insane amount of risk. I mean, some people are dumb, which is why you get disclaimers all over the place, but most people will know better.

With regard to this individual I’m talking about, she merely focused on the risk in front of her, not the reward. She was willing to forego success, including financial success, simply because she was fearful of what? A small bit of polite rejection?

The thing is, she’s kind of an extreme example.

Most of us have some degree of risk adversity, and it’s worse after a failure in a lot of cases. It was for me after my paper collapsed. I was scared to risk anything.

Other failures kind of added to it as well.

The thing is, though, I’d spent a lot of time in my life trying to understand and internalize the concept of courage. I’d been a scared kid most of my life, always afraid to stand up for myself. 

Over time, though, I came to understand that feeling fear is natural. Especially when you’re the skinny, short kid and you’re facing people a lot bigger than you just looking for a reason to pound your skull in. You’re going to feel fear at a time like that. You just are.

But once you understand that fear is natural, but it’s not what makes your decisions, you get past it.

I got hurt after the business collapsed, but I keep pushing. I’m self-employed now, which is helping me understand what I know and what I don’t know. I’m using that fear to fill in gaps in my knowledge. I’m not

Fear is normal.

Fear is even healthy.

What fear isn’t, however, is a good thing to allow to make decisions for you. After all, fear is a punk.

Yet more and more people seem to be allowing fear to be in the driver’s seat than ever before, and that’s really not good.

The question is, what do we do about it?

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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