How to Overcome Fear

Apr 24, 2017

My son approached me just the other day asking for my advice. When this happens I drop whatever I’m doing and give him my undivided attention. I know it’s hard for all of us to ask for help when we’re struggling to figure out a problem. And knowing my son as I do, I appreciate just how difficult he finds it to ask me for advice. He’s a driven and hard-working kid with loads of ambition, with a tendency towards perfectionism. I wonder where he got those traits from? As the saying goes “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” His dilemma was relating to his game of basketball and something that was really bothering him. He couldn’t figure out why he was well able to perform a particular drill in training but when it came to implementing this in a real game he froze. He just couldn’t do it. As I explained to him what was happening and why, he walked away with a clearer understanding of himself and some tools to help him overcome the issue. He was delighted with himself. I admired his courage in asking for help.


So this got me thinking. How many times have I seen potential clients who really want to change something in their career struggling to take action. We had spoken on Skype and discussed their ambitions but then I never heard from them again. Silence. Or clients who had started out with great confidence in their attempts to change their role or sector, and then often found themselves struggling to maintain momentum. And others who were simply exploring their options in terms of their next career move and at some point in the process began worrying about whether they were doing the right thing. I noticed this trend repeating over and over, so I felt it was important to write something about it. The issue is fear.


Well here’s the thing. Admitting we’re afraid is not seen in a very positive light in our society. It’s often perceived as a weakness and represents self-doubt. If I can share with you, I was scared to death setting up my own business in 2015 but I couldn’t show it. I certainly didn’t feel confident articulating my fears to new people I met. I had to put on a brave face and outwardly exude an air of confidence that I had (a) made the right decision, and (b) that the business would be a success. But I hadn’t a clue whether either of these were true. At the beginning it was a hot mess and I continue to make mistakes and struggle to figure out what I’m doing. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.  But now that I find myself building a second business and web platform around career strategizing and executive coaching the funny thing is that I’m less fearful than I was in 2015. We all remember Susan Jeffers book from the late 80’s “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. But let’s be honest for a moment.  It really isn’t that easy. Fear is a complicated and debilitating emotion that holds many of us back and prevents us from achieving our goals.


As I was researching the topic of fear, it became clear that there are a number of  types. I believe that if we know what type of fear we’re feeling, we can take it by the scruff of the neck, look it in the eyes, and work out the best way to overcome it. We are all creative, resourceful and whole, with an innate ability to figure things out.


Three Main Types of Fear:


Loss: During our lifetime and often as a result of hard work we achieve and attain many things in our life and career: a senior title; a corner office; respect; a great salary; a great team etc. You’ll notice that it includes both tangible and intangible objects and things. The fear of loss is preceded by the process of attachment i.e. we connect things and people to our sense of identity, making them an extension of ourselves. The fear of loss is a very real and powerful emotion when we’re strongly attached to people or things which we don’t want to lose.  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t fear losing their family or losing a prestigious job in a great company. Isn’t this type of fear completely normal for people?


Process: We are all fearful of pain. Pain hurts. While pain is present to protect the body from further harm it’s really unhelpful when it prevents us from taking action. When we feel psychological pain it often presents as stress or anxiety in the body and can be every bit as harmful and unbearable as physical pain. If you’re considering changing job you know it’s going to be hard work. You may question your ability to handle the demands of such change. Will you have enough support from others i.e. your partner? There is going to be hardship and it’s going to take effort. I wonder if the fear of the process is keeping you stuck where you are and preventing you from taking action?


Outcome: If we understand that we fear loss, we also need to be aware that we also fear gain or the anticipated outcome. In particular, we worry that after all the hardship and effort what we desired or hoped for doesn’t materialise. We can’t predict the future so often the fear of the unknown and the thought of not gaining what we had wished for can be painful. These types of thoughts can make us fearful of even trying. Fear of not achieving our desired outcome can be driven by anticipated loss when we have imagined and dreamed our desired outcome, but feel a sense of loss when we think about not getting it.


Fear of failure, fear of uncertainty and fear of rejection are all very real for each and every one of us. But if we at least acknowledge how we’re feeling and can understand why we feel that way, we’re going to be better equipped to handle it. Staying stuck is not going to serve us or the people around us. If you think of the people you admire most in the world and you reflect on their achievements and their impact on you, you can be 100% sure that they’ve had to overcome all type of adversity, challenges and fears to become the best version of themselves. This doesn’t have to be some high flying mega successful international personality either. Some of the people whom I admire most are simple folk who are overcoming challenges and fears on a daily basis simply to survive.


In all my research I didn’t find any reference to this final fear but for me it’s huge. And that’s the fear of stepping into your light. How many of us know people who are amazing at what they do or are incredible role models yet they don’t realise it. Perhaps you’re living your life in the shadows afraid to step into your light? I remember my fathers funeral many years ago and my brother telling a story that he had heard on Oprah. Her guest was the son of a very famous actor and was asked how it felt to always be in his fathers shadow. With that, the guest looked straight at Oprah and replied: “But Oprah I never walked in his shadow I was blessed to walk in his light. And that has made all the difference.” Fear is real and it’s painful. Let’s honour the struggle and the challenges we each face to overcome adversity and fulfil our dreams. It’s your time to shine.


Did you like this article?

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter to receive advice, tips and insights to help you advance your career.