What is your greatest fear?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always struggled with a lack of self-confidence. The fear that I wouldn’t measure up.
I remember having a long conversation with my dad when I was probably 10 or 11 where we talked about my self-doubt and he expressed his confidence in me.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time I think that conversation led to a subconscious turning point in my life.
I started looking for opportunities to push myself well beyond my comfort zone physically and intellectually.
I gained some measure of confidence as I racked up personal successes like scouting awards for swimming a mile, hiking 20 miles and biking 50 miles. I lettered in track & field and won a number of medals from Tae Kwon Do tournaments.
Each success I achieved as a young man was a huge mental victory that helped me understand that I was capable of much more than I thought I was.
Some Fears You Don’t Grow Out Of
As an adult my childhood fears that I was somehow inferior because I wasn’t a football or basketball star morphed into concerns about not measuring up in college and being unable to get a job after graduation.
During the first three years of my engineering studies every rational measure (please don’t ask about my math grades) was screaming that I wasn’t cut out to be an engineer. However my drive to prove I could hack it in the same program my friends were succeeding in led to my discovery of the benefits of being too dumb to know when to quit.
When I did secure a job after graduation my fear morphed again into one of not measuring up in my assignments and being laid off. This fear drove me to be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to go above and beyond.
During those first few years I earned a second degree, obtained my professional engineering license and succeeded in a variety of assignments and built a solid reputation with my coworkers and supervisors.
Reflecting On Fear
One might reasonably suspect that after 25+ years of accomplishing goals I once thought impossible that I would have conquered my fear of failure.
What’s interesting to me is that in one sense none of my efforts have eliminated my fear.
I still worry with every new assignment at work that this will be the time when I fall flat on my face and everyone will realize that I’m not nearly as good as they thought I was.
A couple of years ago I discovered that there is a name for this condition: Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is essentially the belief that your achievements have been the result of luck rather than hard work or skill. This belief leaves one in constant fear that their luck may run out at any time and they will be exposed as a fraud.
I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this belief. While that’s comforting it hasn’t helped cure me of my fear of failure. I continue to battle imposter syndrome and may have to deal with it all my life.
However, I learned something the other day that helped me see this fear in a new light.
Seeing My Fear in a New Light
When I got home from work on Friday my family was not home. Wanting to unwind after an extremely long week I opened up Facebook to indulge in some mindless surfing.
What I found instead was the tail end of a live presentation by Tara Williams who in addition to being a wife and mother is a successful investor, entrepreneur and podcaster. You can check out some of her excellent material on the 8 Minute Millionaire podcast or The Energy Healing podcast.
When I tuned in Tara was in the middle of an interview with a gentleman who had volunteered to talk about his greatest fear which, as it turned out, was essentially the same as mine: fear of failing, being exposed as a talent-less fraud and letting down those who depend on him.
Tara asked this gentleman a number of questions along the lines of:
- Have you ever done something outside your comfort zone because of your fear?
- Has your fear caused you to work harder?
- Has your fear helped you to take care of your family?
As I asked myself the same questions her point became obvious, i.e. far from being the worst threat to my growth and success, this fear has actually been one of my single greatest allies in my efforts to reach my goals.
Is Your Greatest Fear Your Greatest Ally?
Your greatest fear may be the same as mine. It may be very different. My challenge to you today is to spend a few minutes thinking about your greatest personal fear and then to take a step back to evaluate its true impact on your life.
What decisions have you made or actions have you taken to fight your fear?
What impact have those decisions/actions had on your life?
Is your life better in any way because of your fear?
As you examine your own greatest fear and your response to it over the years you may find, as I did, that the result hasn’t actually been all that bad.
In fact you may find that your unwillingness to give in to or become a victim of your fear has been the impetus for significant personal growth and accomplishment.
Turning Your Fear into a Force for Good
Tara’s advice at the end of her interview was that the best way to let go of your fears is to be thankful for them.
She suggested that this is accomplished by taking your fears out of the closet where you try to keep them locked up, acknowledging them, identifying which aspects of them are positive and deciding to focus on the good they can do for you.
Those are some pretty abstract concepts for my concrete-principle-loving engineer’s mind. But while it will take me some time to understand how to embrace the positive aspects of my fears and kick the rest to the curb, even someone like me can appreciate the principle she taught.
You can refuse to let your fears own you or to hold you back. Instead of allowing your fears to scare you into inaction, make a plan to fight them. Use your fear as motivation to push yourself beyond your limits.
As you do you can discover, just as I have, that that fear you have been so afraid of is actually a powerful ally that will help push you to new heights.