When I was a young lad, my uncle had a farm up north. He also had a rooster that dominated his front yard with much venom and aggression. I was terrified of it at first, but my cousins were never bothered by it. When I asked why it didn’t mess with them, they told me it was because they had all, at some point, given it a good swift kick and it kept its distance after that.
I could write a book on the conversations that took place in my head about gathering the courage to let that kick go, especially as most of them ended with "young man killed by vicious, man eating rooster". But with much needling from the cousins and from the sheer boredom of being a prisoner in a farmhouse, I put foot to rooster booty and VOILA!, freedom. A whole new world opened up to me and that farmhouse became many memories of happiness and learning instead of a place of terror and exposure.
Fear is like that isn’t it? It stops our growth, paralyzes our logic, and makes us emotionally reactive to even minor events. Webster defines fear as being afraid of someone or something, and being afraid has to do with feelings of aversion or unwillingness to do something. So what is it that has so much power over us? Fear takes many forms like fear of spiders or snakes (yikes), fear of public speaking, fear of difficult conversations, fear of failure, fear of loss, etc. But there is one common thread that runs through all things that make us afraid and it is the UNKNOWN!
Most of us have set up our lives to be mostly habitual, we are creatures of repetition and like the comfort of knowing what, when and how life is going to go on a daily basis. We gain confidence that when we do certain things, we already know what will happen because of it and when we say certain things, we pretty much know what the response will be. Then we see a certain rooster, or we get called to the boss’s office, or someone we love gets diagnosed with a serious illness and we lose our minds. It’s because that which we know is now that which we do not know and we are unsure what’s going to happen. We fear the unknown!
Fear is not all negative though, it is needed for many things in our life. Fear of failure, gets us up in the morning and off to work so we don’t get fired. Fear of loss can keep us in touch with our loved ones just as fear of injury keeps us mindful of safety rules and regulations. But when fear becomes debilitating and we can’t make a sound decision or come up with a good game plan and we are stuck in that emotional bubble of despair, then action must be taken. So, I have four strategies for you, a kind of a mini action plan to combat any fear that has you stuck.
1. Educate yourself – Find out as much as you can about your problem. In today’s world, the internet gives us insight into pretty much everything. Use it to your advantage. Fear runs strongest in the uneducated.
2. Find a mentor – someone has already done what you are struggling with. Seek out that person and pick their brain. They can make the unknown seem less scary and help you with a plan.
3. Craft a plan – after steps one and two, you should have an idea of a plan that will work. Remember to add Plan B and maybe Plan C, just in case and if you can, get someone to help you work through it, a little playacting is good for the soul.
4. Commit and Take the Leap – I know far too many friends who bemoan the fact of how hard and unfair life is and yet will not take the action necessary to improve their lot. Only those who commit and take the leap will grow from their experience.
As a retired paramedic and firefighter, I am intimately aware of how hard and unfair life can be. I’ve seen cruelty and stupidity crush the very life out of people and watched many co- workers retreat behind ever-hardening walls of apathy as fear had its way with their lives. I was lucky, I had a couple of harsh, yet caring mentors who challenged me to grow through fear. They showed me that fear is an opportunity for growth. That which you do not know is not the end, it is the beginning. Try the four steps, be that person. Take that leap!