Despite mantras to the contrary, attempting to travel through life “fearlessly” is rarely wise. Fear is a fine-tuned survival mechanism. It helps keep us safe on the edge of a cliff or walking down a dark road. It prompts us to proceed carefully in conversations marked by power imbalance or when we have a lot on the line. While unchecked fear and generalized anxiety are problems, escaping fear altogether is not the solution.
It’s courage we’re after. Courage means doing the difficult thing in the face of your fear. You don’t have to stop being afraid to be courageous. It’s quite the opposite. Courage is only possible in the presence of fear. And today is about courage. Because it’s time to confront the three fears most likely to hold you back from the Double Win.
The Fear of Failure
A little risk aversion is a healthy thing. It can protect us from unwise decisions and costly stumbles. A mild fear of failure can prompt us to slow down, weigh possibilities, and guard against the least preferable outcomes.
However, most breakthroughs require some risk. And all growth requires a willingness to get uncomfortable. In fact, we suggest people set goals in their “Discomfort Zone.” A goal that’s appropriately risky usually creates a sense of fear, uncertainty, and doubt: these emotions are all signs you’re on the right track.
So, how can you combat a fear of failure? Naming it goes a long way. Try answering the questions: What could this make possible? What is the belief behind my fear—and is it true? What resources could I leverage to course-correct if necessary?
Perhaps the best single strategy is to start framing the new risk as an experiment. In experiments, failure is just datahelping to shape your future decisions. We’ve tried this with our six-hour workday, asynchronous work, and adopting Slack to replace internal email, just to name a few. Start by defining what you’re going to try, for how long, and when the feedback period will be. Then, give it a go. Failure is data on the way to success.
The Fear of Disappointing Others
If you find yourself saying “yes” when you want to say “no,” it’s possible you may have a fear of disappointing others. It feels good to be sought after, and high achievers are likely to field more incoming requests due to their reputation for reliability and excellence. But your “yes” comes at a cost.
As Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
One of the best tools for combatting this fear is called the “Positive No,” a strategy created by Harvard professor William Ury. It says this:
- Express your yes to your priorities. This is usually internal. You can also say an external yes to the other party’s priorities.
- Assert your no to the opportunity. Clearly, directly, respectfully, with no wiggle room.
- Propose your yes to how you can help. Are there resources you can provide in place of your participation? That’s a great place to start.
Here’s an example. Your brother just asked you for help filing his new company’s taxes because you have a background in accounting. You might say:
It’s a busy season at work, and I’m trying to make the most of the time I have with my family at home. I do think it’s a wise idea to seek help filing your company’s taxes this year, but I can’t be the person to help. I can send you information about two straightforward online resources that include access to experts, or I could send you the information of two of my colleagues who could help you for a reasonable price. I’d even be willing to pitch in on the cost! What do you think?
It takes a little more effort, but you’ll feel good saying No. In the meantime, you can adopt a policy like, “I always wait 24 hours before saying yes to a new opportunity.” It might keep you from saying yes too quickly.
Usually, saying “no” won’t make others disappointed in you. It will make them respect you.
The Fear of Confronting Our Reality
Overwork is frequently a tactic of avoidance.
People who feel like failures as spouses or parents but experience success at work find themselves spending long hours at the office. People who struggle to establish a sense of confidence or self-worth might crave the praise their performance earns. People who have felt chronically unseen might work harder and longer to earn admiration from their colleagues.
You’re a whole person designed to live an integrated life. Your body, spirit, mind, relationships, work—everything is interconnected. And avoiding a problem doesn’t make it go away. It makes it grow. Sitting with our internal world can open the door to the change we need.
If you find yourself working too much in this season, what might you be avoiding? Who might you be avoiding? What might be the next right step to solving the real problem? And who can come alongside you to help on the journey?
You don’t need to be ashamed when you find yourself afraid. Be kind and patient with yourself. Then, take the next courageous step in the right direction. Breakthroughs are just around the corner.
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