Fear of change, fear of stagnancy, fear of failure, fear of speaking up, fear of not being listened to, fear of losing a job, or making mistakes, or looking dumb to others. Fear of loss, fear of disapproval, fear of punishment. I could go on. So probably could you. It seems like the list of things to be afraid of by any of us is rather long. There have to be hundreds of them, right? Maybe, even thousands?
To ignore fear is to miss key signs and warnings that could save us. From things like rattlesnakes, or crazy bosses, or cars just about to hit us. But to give in to fear is to say that it’s okay for it to move in, and take over.
So, if the answer is not to ignore it, and also to not to give in to it, what are we to do?
I wonder if the answer is to listen to fear.
Now before you call me all crazy and stuff, let me share how I got to that answer.
- First, it seems to me that fear is not a question of IF, but WHEN. I am no stranger to fear having lived in situations worthy of fear. But it seems that fear is not as situational as I once imagined. It is not limited to a certain race, or gender, economic, or status group. It is not as if one gets to a certain place in life and can then live without fear.
- Second, fear is like that loud television next door in too-thin walled-hotel rooms that can’t be tuned out; ignoring it seems like it only gets louder and louder.
- Third, my fears always hold some kernel of a truth … there is some lesson nested within that fear.
Fear as a Signal.
All of these things have me thinking of Fear like I do the signals on my car. I got a new Lexus Hybrid last year after my other car had an untimely death, and the stupid thing loves making sounds. It beeps at every bush, or ant, or leaf if I get too close to one. When I leave the key in the car which I do often cause it’s a hybrid and it makes no real-car-like sounds, it beeps one long beep as if to say, don’t f-o-r-g-e-t me. And of course, if I don’t put on my seat belt as I back up off my long driveway and before I start cruising down my street, it beeps until I do – all in the interest of safety. It’s got me trained to respond because it only gets louder and louder if I ignore it. So, what if fear is just a signal? Wouldn’t the goal be to pay attention to it, perhaps to hear it quickly, learn what you need to do just to get it to shut up?
The Lunch Date.
This explains how I came to find myself having lunch with Fear. I schedule it on my calendar. I get a take-out lunch but go to a quite spot. And then we chat. We talk about everything. We talk about my ideas as a writer – how I wonder if I’m making any sense at all. We talk about my fears as a speaker and the work I do to be big and bold, while also being authentic and grounded. We talk about my fears that my content and ideas don’t really matter because it’s not being seen by enough people. We talk about the crazy juggling act it is to be in relationships and tend to others while also tending one self. We talk about my crazy fear of being a bag lady with no place to live one day. I call this little experiment the “Lunch with The Fear”.
But on my calendar, it just says Lunch w TF. There are just a few ground rules that we’ve negotiated over time – I need to be curious, I need to be conversational, and of course, I need to be real about stuff. I need to actually listen. As in: listen, listen, and listen. I need to not convince fear to go away. I need to hear what I need to hear. Sometimes I get upset. But I try not to defend what I’ve done or overpromise what I will do in response. I just listen. I really don’t like these lunches with Fear. Yet, I keep these appointments even though I would rather get my eyes poked out with forks. Because I believe that in listening at my set lunch dates, I let Fear have its moment and the rest of the time, it can wait (and keep quiet) until we have our next time together. So I am afraid. Very afraid of all the things I fear. But only for a while.
Fear, in turn, has developed manners. It tends not to visit late at night, at 3:00 am. It has stopped consuming me the 30 or so minutes before I go into a live broadcast with several thousand people watching. It doesn’t consume my energy as I prepare for strategy sessions. It doesn’t add side commentary when I’m parenting through tough times. I am more present in high-stakes situations where clarity matters. It tends to shut up when I’m writing. (though, truth be told, it has interrupted a few times during this writing session). If I ask Fear, “what concerns you”, it tells me right away and usually quite clearly. And it usually gives me some insight that I needed to get better at my different pursuits.
When fear had access 24×7, my world was more fear-filled. All the world is dangerous if you are afraid. Or, maybe better said, when… when we are afraid, the world seems scary. As long as there is so much fear, there can rarely be all-out joy. When fear exists in relationships, it limits connections. Now, by scheduling time, I have less overwhelming waves of fear. As a signal, it no longer gets so loud as to overwhelm the other signals. I am no longer my fear. And, oddly enough, my fear also doesn’t leak out in random ways — showing up in situations where it isn’t wanted or needed.
If we could measure the cost of fear – to learning and growth, to sharing and communications, to how fear stops us from having productive, creative, cultures of innovation at work – I’m sure the cost would be enormous. As in, gazillions and trillions, not billions or millions.
So, maybe, – and this is a big maybe – things would change if we each just scheduled our own Lunches with TF? Maybe that’ll create more fear-less cultures.