I have a veritable carnival event of different types of friends and personalities in my life. I decided long ago to not cheat myself out of challenging and inspiring relationships because I judged folks by their exterior and to, instead, acquaint myself with people from all manner of living. Admittedly, I still judge people based on what I see in the first seven seconds… let’s be real. But I stick with it. I hang in there and attempt to go deeper than what is floating on the surface.
By practicing this, I have ended up with a lot of… tough guy characters in my circles. Even a few tough gals. You know the sort of thing: “I eat nails for breakfast and enemies for lunch. I don’t eat dinner cause I’m out taking over the world. I have NO fear!”
But I’m a pretty amiable guy. They all know I used to be in the ministry. They vaguely know that I am in the recruiting and social media world for a career. So quite a lot of them turn to me for counsel from time-to-time. They trust me.
They come to me with varying degrees of what, very simply, is fear-based paralysis. From being stuck in a relationship they want out of desperately, to being blocked from taking their next career move, my analysis for them is that they need to deal with the fear.
Here is what I am met with more times than not: “Come on, Man! I ain’t afraid!” Their chest puffs up. They square their shoulders. They look like they are about to spit or cuss. Clearly they want to break my nose.
“You didn’t hear me.” I chide gently. “I am not saying you are a sissy. I did not say you couldn’t win in a bar fight. I did not say you let people push you around. We are not talking about boogey men or ghosts. I did not say you were afraid. I said you have to deal with fear. It’s not the same. “ What they are hearing and what I am saying gets confused by pride and ego.
One of the best definitions I have encountered for fear was from our friends in the recovery support communities. It goes like this:
“…fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of [these] unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance or frustration.” - Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
When we can look at it in this way we take away the stigma of fear that assaults our pride and we can measurably deal with what the root problem is and take real action.
Whether we are refusing to end a relationship, go on an interview, meet with a high profile client, start a workout regimen, start writing a book, or research the career path we feel called to switch to, if we look at the fear in this way we can walk through it.
Later in that passage it goes on to say that this type of fear is the main activator of our defects of character. When not attended to it draws out our procrastination, excuse-making, attempts to ignore, anger, sarcasm, anxiety, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, isolation, even jealousy. Anyone can add to the list.
It is worth mentioning that wildly successful people in many areas of life can still be crippled by this form of fear in just one nagging corner of their psyche. Because of their overwhelming confidence and results in every other facet of life, this one little area dogs them at every turn and they attempt to gloss over it. They cannot or will not admit that in just this one area of existence they are stuck. At best, they ignore it. At worse it bleeds over into work and home and trouble starts to brew. Many times they can’t even link the two together.
So what can we do?
I’m a lover of charts and lists and I think a very logical, excel-spreadsheet-type of approach, can best tackle this often illogical, yet stubborn form of thinking.
So we get out a pad and pencil. We draw a chart with three columns and we head them like this:
In the first column we list the issue that is troubling us. No one is watching so we forge ahead. In the middle section we use the above definition and we write out as thoroughly as we can what we are fearful of losing that we already have or what we are fearful we won’t get. We also list some of the ways that we have been reacting by not dealing with this constructively. Those undesirable personality traits we mentioned. In the last column we face the real truth about the matter. We list what would happen if we did, in fact, lose the thing we already have or don’t get the thing we want. We face it. We list what real actions we can take. And we leave some extra space for a little later.
Let’s try it with an interview for an exciting job opening:
We already begin to see clearer. No hocus pocus. No spooky couch therapy or feel-good mantras. No sloppy pep talks. We are approaching it seriously and business-like. We have logically dealt with illogical thinking.
I mentioned leaving space in the last column. If we have done the first three parts we have made a serious approach at tackling this pesky fear. Chances are though, that our thinking can still be clouded. Our last task is to find someone in whom we have true confidence and ask if we can get their opinion on the matter. We tell them, almost nonchalantly, that we have a little problem and would like their insight. We read the part we have done on our own and we ask for their take on the matter. Invariably, they will offer up some additional insight that we did not think of ourselves and we can jot it down in our last part of the table.
This is just one way that I have used and shared with many other people to deal with all manner of issues that are troubling them. It is by no means new or revolutionary. It is purposeful. And because of the table format, it is a linear answer to a cyclical way of thinking. It works! Now, it may not be for you. That’s okay. Maybe looking at the alternative definition for fear we started out with is enough to change how you look at the problem. Either way, by honestly admitting to ourselves that this kind of fear has nothing to do with how manly… or womanly we really are, then we can remove any lingering prejudice from stereotypes and get down to the business of moving on.
Whatever the challenge, if we are not facing it I think we can finally agree it is not because we are weak or afraid or not strong. I think we can also agree it is because we have a form of fear we have not honestly dealt with. When we do, we have taken away all of our last feeble excuses.
Let me know what you think! I’m not afraid… I can handle it.