Is Fear Holding You Back From Taking Action?

Living in New York City, I get to meet so many different people every single day. Some days it’s hard to believe that a girl who was born in a town of less than 1,000 people grew up to live in a city of 8.4 million.

Do you ever stop to think about where you started?

This weekend I got to celebrate the birth of a beautiful baby boy with my dear friends. Here he is, in a city of 8.4 million people, surrounded by love. We were asked at his baby shower to share a piece of advice that would later be given to him. My wish for him is that he always knows how much he is loved and always feels he is worthy of it because I know that as we get older and as we gain life experience we might forget those very things we are born with.

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” ~Marianne Williamson

So how do we go from love to fear as we grow older?

Through experience.

Have you ever watched a toddler learning how to walk for the first time? They are fearless. They fall down and get back up hundreds of times. They bump into things and don’t even cry. They have not learned fear, yet.

As they get older we teach them what not to do. We are keeping them safe by putting up gates to prevent them from falling down the stairs and by teaching them not to touch the stove because they will get burned.

My earliest memory of fear is when I learned what drowning meant. When I was younger we lived in a house with a swimming pool in the backyard. There were clear rules about going into the backyard without an adult and needing supervision if we wanted to go swimming. I learned about drowning before I learned about swimming.

Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development would describe this as the “Initiative vs. Guilt” stage. Between ages 3 and 5 years old, children naturally will start testing their limits and as a result their parents will attempt to set limits that are designed to protect their children.

As a result, I was terrified of putting my head under the water because then I would be at risk of drowning. Years later I took swimming lessons and I felt like a failure. Some kids jumped right in the water and swam around like fish. I refused to swim without snorkeling goggles on because I knew that they would cover my nose and protect me from drowning. Long after I learned about swimming, I still let the fear of drowning govern my decisions.

Fast forward 20 years and I am not an olympic swimmer, but I am a Certified Scuba Diver. I could have gone my entire life being afraid of drowning. There are certainly other fears that people never overcome like the fear of heights, the fear of public speaking, the fear of spiders, and so many more, but those same people still manage to live fulfilling lives through avoiding those things that terrify them.

We have a choice though. I could have continued to tell my friends “no” when they invited me to go snorkeling or water skiing and I would still be afraid of drowning today, but I didn’t. I made the decision to learn what I could do to prevent myself from drowning and then I did those things to reduce the risk of my big fear becoming a reality.

I suppose the fear of drowning would not be something that could have held me back from being wildly successful, but there are other fears that we learn that do hold us back, if we let them.

  • The fear of judgement.
  • The fear of failing.
  • The fear of not being good enough.

Now, I am not saying if you are afraid of heights then you should go sky diving, unless you want to.

What I am saying is that if you are afraid of failing, and you learned that failure is a really terrible, embarrassing thing that diminishes your character and makes you less worthy of success then you need to take a step back. Are you putting the cart before the horse?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you learning to be afraid of your goal before you learn about how to accomplish it?
  • Is your fear rational?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • If the worst thing happens, do you know how to problem solve it? If not, can you live with that outcome if it does happen?

While that technique of learning about fear before you learned how to perform kept you out of harm’s way when you were younger at some point you have to turn the corner. You are not 5 years old anymore. You are capable of problem solving. You are capable of making decisions for yourself. You just have to decide. Are you going to keep doing things the way you have always done them? Or have you outgrown the old way of doing things and need to try something new?