Fearlessness is a Myth

Go ahead and fight me on that

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The last time I watched the American Idol tryouts I was struck by how much joy I could feel for the contestants. They are hopeful, tearful, future-facing and, sometimes, utterly delusional.  

But they are bold and we value boldness. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy watching others succeed (assuming, of course, that they are grateful for their success). Facing a daunting task and mustering the courage to conquer the task is admirable. It’s part of why we gravitate toward those who put themselves “out there” and risk public failure.

What we may be feeling is vicarious confidence. Or, perhaps, it’s simple inspiration. A sense that we can do it if that person can do it. 

Of course they are afraid, anxious, trembling with nerves. But they overcome those potentially paralyzing fears to pursue their dreams. What does it take to overcome fear and pursue success despite that stage fright?


We like the concept of fearlessness. Think about the newly famous (and now relocated) Wall Street sculpture, Fearless Girl, placed directly before the iconic charging bull sculpture.  Fearless Girl was hailed as a beacon of female empowerment, a stalwart against intimidation and bullying. It’s hard to argue with those tenets as admirable. However, it’s an oversimplification of fear and courage.

The idea that we should be (or can be) fearless is, frankly, a little silly. As we’ve discussed previously, fear has a healthy, life-preserving purpose. Fear is a natural response to perceived risk that can safeguard life and limb. The idea of being without fear always struck me as unnecessary pressure to push past our natural limits, not to mention bolstering a culture of inauthenticity. 

Merely standing before a charging foe does not signal fearlessness, per se. But it does call to mind courage. There is a difference.


The pressure to be fearless can rob us of our ability to face our fear with bravery and dignity. It’s healthy and acceptable to acknowledge our fear before taking calculated risks.

In other words, embrace your fear. Confront it. Acknowledge its presence and accept its role in your life. And then make concrete steps to proceed despite that fear.

Assess your current state of mind against these areas of inquiry:

“What does this decision or direction bring up for me emotionally? Is it excitement? Nerves? Terror?” Once you establish your honest perspective, you can examine where the fear comes from. Is it fear of failing? Of being judged? Of closing doors on opportunities? Once you can openly recognize and articulate the source of your fear, you can begin to dismantle it.

1.     Determine if your motivation is fear based

Ask yourself:

  • Am I making decisions because I am nervous about the outcome? 

  • Am I being conservative in my goals? 

  • Am I honoring my dreams? 

  • Am I compromising for someone/something outside myself?

  • Do I feel good about the goals I’ve set?


2.     Establish your worst-case-scenario baseline

  • Make a list of anything and everything that can go wrong if you pursue your true goal.

  • Ask yourself what is the absolute nightmare scenario if it all goes wrong?

 

3.     Consider what you would advise a close friend in your situation

  • Try to imagine that you are hearing your concerns from an outside perspective. 

  • What would you ask of a friend in a similar situation? 

  • What would you suggest as a first step? 

  • Ask yourself, “am I showing myself the same kindness and generosity of spirit I would a good friend?”

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If you’ve never read Osho, I strongly recommend Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously.

“Courage is not the absence of fear,” says Osho. “It is, rather, the total presence of fear, with the courage to face it.”