Welcome to Part Three of a collaborative blog series I am writing with my friend Graham Edwards about how to get things done. Graham and I both thrive on action and being able to help others meet their goals. If you missed it, here is the link to my last post about staying on track and the previous post about getting unstuck. Graham and I are approaching this subject from two different perspectives. Graham’s considerable experience in the corporate world is evident in his posts. You can catch up on his posts here. My perspective is more personal. Either way, decisions come from within, so I think both views are valuable.
Now, with all that said, it seems to me that the thing that really prevents us from setting goals and progressing through life is fear. Sometimes it is the fear of failure and sometimes it is the fear of the unknown, and for some, it may even be the fear of success. I thought that writing about ways to push past fear could prove helpful, and as someone who has dared to embrace a lot of change in her life, I feel pretty qualified to share my perspective.
Fear of failure: What makes us fear failure? When we fear failure, what we are really afraid of is typically one or both of the following. We are either afraid of what people will say or do to us, or we are afraid that we will receive some confirmation of our inner belief that we are not good enough. Either way, the story we tell ourselves is not based on reality. We humans put a lot of energy into trying to predict outcomes, and that is understandable, but really, we never know what the future will bring. More often than not, the fear of failure is a symptom of perfectionism. My view is that perfectionism is an attempt to bring harmony to a symphony that is out of tune, but the discord is within. The only way to correct that discord is to tell yourself a different story. I have a very nice blog I wrote called The Failure Myth which may help change your perspective. Mistakes and misfortune are important to our personal development. They allow us to grow, deepen our perspective, and find better paths to pursue. Change and failure are life’s way of introducing us to better things.
Perfectionism is an attempt to bring harmony to a symphony that is out of tune, but the discord is within.
Fear of the unknown: We humans somehow want to have all the answers, don’t we? So much trouble is brought into this world by those who fear the unknown, or fear what they think might happen. Many years ago, I left a strict religious lifestyle and a community of people who were my main support network for a dozen years. I didn’t know if I could ever be a regular Canadian again. It wasn’t a cult, but it was a bit like one in that it consumed all aspects of my life. I was poor, unhappy, and in dire need of changing my life. We are always just one decision away from changing everything, so I determined I should make some new decisions. There were a lot of unknowns for me.
Would I ever be a normal human being again? Would I ever get a job? Would I be able to live safely after leaving my husband? Would I be lonely? Would I end up living on the street?
I didn’t have any answers, but I knew that if I let the “what-ifs” of life stop me, I would never get out of bed. I decided to plod on with the attitude that everything would somehow work out. I found great inner strength and discovered that I have gifts to give this world I would otherwise never have known about. Despite having the responsibility of raising three little children alone, I persevered and now, more than twenty years later, we are all still okay. In fact, I truly believe that the extreme optimism and joy I felt for having freed myself from the constraints of that lifestyle brought many miracles into my life. I wrote about it some time ago in a blog called, Discovering Wisdom, Success, Fate, and Truth. The point is, never fear the unknown because it is unknown! The freedom that comes with choice is absolutely delicious.
We make active choices about the kinds of people we want to be. Circumstances only change your values if you let them.
Fear of success: Many of us go through life collecting a lot of emotional baggage. Our experiences coupled with the influence of those around us add to our opinions about all sorts of things. Some people make assumptions about what will happen to them if they have money, a good job, a great career, an education, or any number of things the rest of the world might consider good fortune. They may feel that success will cause them to adopt values that oppose those they were raised with or that their success will cause relatives to use them for money, or that they will become separated from the lives of their loved ones. All of our thoughts and behaviours are a reflection of the talk in our heads. We make active choices about the kinds of people we want to be. Circumstances only change your values if you let them. People only take advantage of you if you let them and we only become separated from people we love if we make no effort to remain in their lives. Life is always about choices. We all have the power to choose our thoughts and behaviours. We also have the power to choose to feel good about our lives no matter what situation we are in.
If you are very risk-averse, then my advice would be to start by doing something very small. Make one small change in your life at a time. Each time you do something, you will notice that you feel more empowered.
Conclusion: Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. You can change your relationship with failure, the unknown, and success by acknowledging that you are in no real danger. Holding onto the belief that you will be okay, no matter what is what will help you move forward and get things done. If you are very risk-averse, then my advice would be to start by doing something very small. Make one small change in your life at a time. Each time you do something, you will notice that you feel more empowered. The more tiny successes you have, the more powerful and confident you will feel. The key here is to acknowledge those small successes and remind yourself of them often. Keep a record of your wins. Build a wall of accomplishment by sticking pictures, etc. on a bulletin board as a reminder of your strength and accomplishments. Then just rinse and repeat. Before you know it you will have plenty of things to congratulate yourself for and you will be a pro at facing your fears head-on.