It was the Will Smith and Jaden Smith movie After Earth that promoted the quotable,
“Danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
Throughout your life, you are faced with different variations of the same FEAR theme. What I am interested in are the diversity of the choices presented under the theme of fear. I submit to you that all of these decisions are a choice between sustainability or unsustainability–the opportunity to support your future goals or the chance to thwart your progress. Let us take two common fears to task. I will describe what them, the choice, and the way to overcome the fears.
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is that stifling inclination often misdiagnosed as procrastination or perfectionism. The identifying difference is that fear of failure results in NOTHING being submitted. When gripped by a fear of failure, you hold out even past the deadline. Your logic is, “If I don’t risk while the expectations are high, I can ride the diminished expectations of a late entry.” If you “fail” with these circumstances, you can rationalize that the failure was not yours completely, or “I didn’t fail. I just didn’t compete.”
The danger is real. You could be ridiculed or otherwise embarrassed. Your product could be judged as poor or rudimentary. You could learn that your skills are not as high when compared to others or evaluated by experts.
Yet, the choice is to see your goal as that of a learner. Each risk is an opportunity to learn…about your critics, about your competition, about your craft, and about yourself. No matter the outcome, you benefit because you learn. You have additional knowledge to inform your next production cycle.
Fear of Being Alone
Fear of being alone is that insistence that you engage and remain in unhealthy, unproductive, even hurtful relationships. Often misdiagnosed as loyalty and commitment, they are obvious to outsiders because they leave you bitter, anxious, defensive, and otherwise ill-suited for healthy interactions. You are passionate in your criticisms of the other person. You are quick to identify flaws, lies, slights, and validated suspicions. But, when the suggestion of new directions is made, you begin the defense, “But, he/she is a good person.”
You only have one, maybe two, people in your life that you feel you can truly count on. You live in a constant panic worrying that they will one day pass away. You know it is inevitable, but you thank heaven each day that they remain.
The danger is indeed real. You may have to endure some heartache in your life time. As surely as you find love, you will experience hurt. Those that you count on most may fail you at one time or another.
Yet, the choice is to realize that life is reciprocity–not only what you can receive, but what you can give. A healthy life is not just about keeping yourself in familiar surroundings and clinging to familiar friends. A healthy life includes an inventory of what you offer to others, how you engage the world, and how you build community. As you participate, you can never be alone. Your authenticity will draw others to you. Your engagement, your shine will encourage others to share their brilliance such that the darkness of loneliness never falls.
The Common Thread
What both these have in common is what all ego defenses have in common. You are wired to first defend yourself against what you sense to be attacks on your person. The perceived attacks can be physical, emotional, intellectual or otherwise. You defend instinctively as if to protect yourself from death. And, therein is the choice. The danger of disturbance, the challenge to your ego is real. But, to fear death, to judge yourself by your product, to reduce yourself to a moment’s contribution is a choice to be selfish…unsustainably selfish.
The greatest freedom, the most effective weapon waged against fear is to deny the ego its safety. In other words, risk being wrong. Try something you are unsure about. Trade in your need to be right for a desire to learn something new. Instead of protecting your ego, protect (and optimize) your physical body, your mental acuity, and your intelligences. Explore a place of certainty about who you are and what you can contribute to the world. Identify your sustainable impact on others. This is sustainable selfishness: to be healthy enough to offer yourself in service to others. Because danger in this world is very real, but you can make a difference if you so choose.
[ Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a leadership coach and organization consultant based in Nashville, Tennessee. With over 16 years of experience guiding individuals to their goals, Michael has the techniques and patience to help you succeed. Follow @MAWMedia on Twitter or connect for a consultation at MAWMedia.com ]