Fear can hold us back. Keep us stuck in the familiar and comfortable, and keep us from putting ourselves out there and achieving our dreams. We definitely need to do something about our fear so it doesn't hold us back. But should we be shooting for fearless?
Fearless is the lack or absence of fear. Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear might be unpleasant, but it is a very useful emotion. It keeps us safe.
Lately we seem to be using the word fearless to describe people, especially women and girls, when they stand up to something, or do something we would be too afraid to do. There is a desire to raise the next generation of women to be fearless. There’s even a statue called “Fearless Girl” standing up to the bull of Wall Street. I love this statue, and looking at it makes me stand a little taller with confidence. But I wonder, how much more powerful is it to be afraid and still step forward and stand tall than it is to not have fear at all? How much more admirable is it for someone to overcome their fear than to have no fear?
My Issue with “Fearless”
Being fearless doesn’t mean being courageous. Saying someone is fearless ignores and undermines all the strength and vulnerability to took to put themselves out there and achieve what they have achieved. Saying someone is fearless ignores everything it took for them to approach the situation with courage.
I’ve known many paratroopers (Soldiers that jump from airplanes with their gear and weapons) say they will stop jumping from planes the moment they aren’t afraid to do it. The fear keeps them safe; the fear makes them review safety procedures and take every step seriously. The being afraid and still doing it is what makes it exciting.
Stretching and growing outside of your comfort zone is…wait for it…uncomfortable. Being brave is knowing it’s dangerous or hard, being uncomfortable or afraid, and doing it anyway. Being fearless doesn’t make the road easy, but encouraging people to be fearless can miss the power you draw from mustering courage even though you are afraid.
Many inspirational quotes state or allude to the question “what would you do if you weren’t afraid.” A better question, in my opinion, is what could you do even if you are afraid? How could you build the courage to step out there even though you were afraid?
Instead of getting rid of fear, let’s explore four ways we can build courage to move forward, even if we are afraid or nervous or not quite ready.
In Jen Sincero’s book You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life, she recommends viewing fear from your rear view mirror. She encourages you to imagine something in your past that terrified you. How scary is it to look back on it now? It might still cause fear, but does it cause the same level of fear that it caused you at that moment? Most likely not. “Envision your challenges from the future, look back on them from a place of victory, and they will lose much of their power to paralyze you.”
Using visualization this way can help put your fear into perspective. Knowing it will fade can help you build the courage to start moving forward.
Decision Theory: Minimize Regrets
Decision theory is a mathematics principle that examines gains and losses from particular courses of action. This theory can help you make a decision by examining which course of action will cause the least regret by temporarily assuming both options end in failure. Say you’re considering leaving your job to start a business, and that terrifies you. First, visualize yourself a few years down the road, assuming you stayed in your current position and your situation never improved. How much would you regret not leaving to start your business? Then, imagine you had left to start your own business, and the business fails. How much would you regret leaving your job? Compare how much you would regret staying in a job that never improved vs leaving and having your business fail. The option you would regret less is the option you should take, according to decision theory.
By visualizing failure of both options, you can build courage and confidence that you’re taking the right step.
Going back to my previous post on being a Super Fail-er, I talked about small wins. To build courage, we can use small wins by identifying one small step you can take in the right direction.
You can also create a “fear list.” First, write down things you are afraid to do (skydive, wear a bikini on the beach, deliver a speech, etc.). Then, start identifying things you can do to practice being afraid and doing it anyway. These small wins can help you build momentum.
By identifying and building momentum on small wins, you can train the courage muscle over time.
“In the Arena” Allies
We all need allies. Allies can help lift us up when we need a confidence boost. Identify who your allies are. These are people who can cheer you on and lift you up, but also people that are “In the Arena” with us. This comes from the Teddy Roosevelt quote. They know what it is to try and fail and to try and succeed. They know what it is to be afraid and do it anyway.
If you don’t have these allies yet, you can be your own ally. Write down what you need to hear and say these affirmations to yourself. Say them in the mirror. Record yourself reading them on your phone and listen to it. Create a motivational video of yourself set to music and watch it.
Be Afraid; and Do It Anyway
It’s okay to have doubts, to be afraid, to be uncomfortable. It’s not okay to let these fears hold you back from what you want to be or achieve. But you don’t have to lose the fear to get where you want to be. You do have to build courage to leap.
I’d like to end this advice from Jo Nichols: “leap afraid.”
Fearless Girl. (2018, August 08). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fearless_Girl
Sincero, J. (2013). You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers.
Steele, K., & Stefánsson, H. O. (2015, December 16). Decision Theory. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/decision-theory/.
Weick, K.E. (1984). “Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems.” The American Psychologist. 39(1): 40-49.