In my work as a coach of “exuberant leaders” I have discovered that fear is a constant companion to anyone stepping outside their comfort zone. Fear as an emotion has surprising benefits. However, when we become stuck in fear as our persistent mood, we lose access to our natural exuberance. To take risks, and to rally others to leave the status quo behind requires a healthy relationship with fear.
All progress depends on how we deal with fear.
It takes practice to welcome fear as a benefactor; to utilize fear as a guide onto our right path. To embrace fear as an old friend without letting it take us over.
Let’s take a look at some of the unexpected benefits that fear offers.
Benefit #1: FOCUS. As a serial entrepreneur, I am very familiar with the cold sweats of fear that come at 3am. In an early business venture, sales had fallen off a cliff, my credit was maxed out, and I had a payroll to meet in a few days with no money in the bank.
After tossing all night long, I woke up with crystal clarity. I dropped everything unless it could generate short term revenue. I called my staff together; we identified where we could offer immediate added value to current and past clients and fanned out to make special offers that we could deliver immediately. We were energized and focused. In a matter of days, we had new commitments with checks on the way. I made that payroll with just a slight delay and every payday to follow. And within six months, I accepted a very good offer to sell the business which opened up a whole new set of opportunities for me and my people.
Benefit #2: 100% PRESENCE. We live in a world of perpetually seductive distractions. Fear snaps us out of “web-surfing mode” and into being fully awake and alert. Recently, in Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains, I was rock climbing for the first time in my life. Halfway up the infamous “slab”, I felt waves of fear run down my spine. I responded by breathing deep and giving my total attention to what was right in front of me. Looking for my next handhold and foothold. Making sure my hips were over my feet. And I made it up to the first belay point. And the second belay point. My fear simply became fuel. I achieved way more than I ever predicted just by being 100% present.
Benefit #3: A SAFE COCOON. The writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein recently said to me “we have to be careful not to make fear the new bogeyman. Fear can help us slow down and go to a safe “cocoon” during times of great change and personal transition.”
I had always seen fear as a problem; e.g., a form of resistance that I had to push through. That any other response was cowardly. Charles helped me see that fear can also be telling us to give our “caterpillar” a little more time to transform into our “butterfly”. To relax, stop working so hard, and let the divine universe work with us a bit before we take our next bold move.
Benefit #4: CLARITY ON WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT. When our life is threatened, our career is derailed, our marriage is falling apart, or our child is suddenly ill … our fears can be a great clarifier on how to take care of what is truly most important in our lives.
In everyday life, we often say “When I have more time, I will exercise more, eat healthier, sleep better, spend more time with my family, and pursue my passion in my work. Fear can shake us awake to a simple fact. “Right now” is the only time we have to take care of what is most important. “Later” is never guaranteed.
Being clear on what we care most about … and acting accordingly … is priceless.
Benefit #5: OPENNESS TO RECEIVING HELP. My friend Tony, a veteran Navy SEAL, tells me that the primary lesson of the infamous SEAL training course is that you cannot survive on your own. You must learn to work with your fellow SEALS or you will absolutely fail. No exceptions.
Fear reveals our self sufficiency as a illusion. It can crack us open to receive a helping hand from others. And to offer help to anyone on the journey with us.
When I successfully battled Stage 3 prostate cancer a few years ago, my first reaction was to hit a virtual wall of fear. All my life, my automatic answer to offers of help was “that’s OK, I can handle it myself”. Cancer was something I could not deal with on my own. I needed help. I learned to ask for and welcome the support of family and friends; and of courageous strangers, whose lives were also at stake. I will never forget the kindness of my colleague, Roger, who had 10,000 people praying for me at the precise time of my surgery. That morning I told the doctors that there was no way they could fail to succeed.
Discovering the power of your support network will give you great confidence as you stick your neck out and commit to a purpose greater than yourself.
The next time you feel fear, welcome it as an old friend
The next time you feel fear, first take three deep breaths. Then, ask your fear “what benefit are you offering to me? What are you trying to teach me?
How you relate to fear provides a model to all those who follow you. You can teach them to appreciate its benefits. To not run from fear or let it take them over, but to experience the exuberant energy of life outside the comfort zone.