What do I need most to succeed in business?
What do I do when doubts creep in?
How do I get over my fears?
Last week, I attended an outstanding Puget Sound Business Journal “Grow Your Business” Expo. The day was full of exhibitors and presenters, all focused on providing resources and strategies to entrepreneurs. A common theme of many of the speakers? Be fearless!
Every time someone said that, I cringed inside.
More than 12 years ago, I read the book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!” by Susan Jeffers. It comes up in conversation on a regular basis with clients, colleagues and friends. In it, Jeffers speaks of the role that fear plays in our lives, and how we can move THROUGH it, rather than trying (always in vain) to completely rid ourselves of it. It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge that fear has a purpose and that there are ways to manage it. It was my first formal introduction to empowering language, about how to move our words from “pain to power,” as Jeffers calls it. And I picked up the handy mantra that crosses my mind and lips almost daily: whatever happens, I can handle it.
So you might be able to imagine why I would bristle whenever we were invited (or ordered) to “Be fearless!” Between Jeffers’ book and my coaching training, I’ve spent years making friends with my fears and helping others do the same. Rather than relying on off-the-cuff phrases such as “just do it,” “get over it,” or “be fearless,” I see the phrase “I’m afraid…” as the opening to a treasure chest of rich information.
If we’re afraid, it means we care. We’re invested. We’re self-aware. Something in our minds is telling us that there’s an opportunity to reflect, examine, grow and change.
I heard a few years ago that there are only two things at the root of any feeling: love or fear. This means we are driven by one of those two root emotions in everything we do. Sometimes fear is a powerful motivator, much more potent than love: Make the calls or lose your job. Lose the weight or die of a heart attack. Don’t help that person who just fell because you might get sued.
Sometimes the fear-based motivation is obvious. Other times, it’s stealth. You can usually spot it by how you answer the question “Why am I doing this?” – if your answer starts with “Because I don’t want…”, you are most likely coming from fear.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is an Old English proverb that says, “Fear knocked on the door. Love answered, and no one was there.”
It’s a magical image for me. It acknowledges that fear knocks. All the time. Everyday. And then it shows me that by answering with love, the fear will fade (at least until it’s ready to come knocking again!).
So telling me to “be fearless” is not recognizing and honoring my flawed humanity. It’s not challenging me to shift my thinking, to come from a place of love and to respond to “Why?” with “Because I want…” It’s not giving me space to feel what I feel.
I understand that the people who say “be fearless!” have only the best intentions. They don’t mean to be flippant or to dishonor my feelings. And for some who hear them, those words inspire them to step up and take action. Or the phrase reminds them that they can let fear get in the way, or they can kick it to the curb.
For me, though, it’s like a pep rally. I feel a momentary boost of energy and courage, and that might last me a few days. But then, the fear knocks again, this time louder. And I’m no more equipped to deal with it than I was the first time around.
While “Be fearless” was a common Expo theme, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” is a common entrepreneurial theme for me. I’ve written about it a few times, and here I want to share a portion of a post from April 2010 that still rings true (now more than ever!):
And while he [Wayne Dyer in “Excuses, Begone!“] states that the excuses are presented in no particular order, I believe he saved the biggest and best for last: “I’m too scared.”
At the root of all of our excuses is fear. As Dyer points out from “A Course in Miracles,” there are only two emotions we can experience: fear and love. If we were coming from a place of love – for ourselves, for others, for our purpose, for our existence as a representation of the divine – then there would be no place for excuses, i.e. fear. The excuses are simply a way to put a label on the fear.
As I made my way through Dyer’s book, I sometimes felt like he’d received a transcript of my thoughts. The excuses that resonated most with me: It will take a long time, I don’t have the energy, I’m too scared. And on some days, when I forget that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, I fall back on the excuse It’s too big.
These excuses keep me small. They think they are protecting me from being hurt by keeping me in a safe, comfortable place where I know where everything is and how things are going to turn out.
Excuses mean I am approaching my purpose from a place of fear, rather than love.
When I realize that, I am drawn (as I am over and over again) to Marianne Williamson’s words from “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles:”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
And who am I, if I’m not someone who is motivated by love? Why is it relatively easy to love others, to give them space to be human, yet forget that I, too, am a flawed yet powerful human being capable of magnificent deeds? My relationships, contributions and work are all about love. Fear is a signal that I’m making assumptions and thinking small, which does not support love.
Rather than try to be fearless, I prefer to lean into the fear (just a little, not enough to fall down), acknowledge it and then challenge it. I find a way to either change the situation or change my attitude about the situation by tapping into the part of me that’s motivated by love. It’s not always easy or obvious, but it’s definitely worth it.