One of the ways that we stop ourselves from truly achieving our goals or moving forward in our lives is fear. We fear that we are going to fail or lose something like money, status or time in the process. What happens though if we live our lives in fear of fear? We stay where we are. So much of what’s going to be good for us in terms of growth comes at the expense of fear. Today, we’ll talk about cleaning up fears and how that’s related to living more purposefully.
When you want to live a life filled with purpose, it means that you’re no longer willing to accept old fears. Purpose is the driving force behind why you’re doing something. It is the intention of this season of your life or even sometimes the whole of your life. So many of us reach a sense of success or fulfillment with our career that has to do with proving something to ourselves or to others. Proving we can make it in a world dominated by people who don’t look like us. Proving that we can do something when we put our minds to it. Proving that we’re good enough.
Isn’t it interesting though, that no matter what you’ve achieved – the next thing you know you feel like you’re back to square one. You have a new goal. You have to make new decisions. You’re up against those same questions of worth or uncertainty. Your results are now the next set of circumstances. Circumstances that will either help you or hurt your chances of success. Yet – if we can see that we get to choose what we think about our past results, we get to create a new future.
What happens though when you have a hard time thinking new thoughts? How come some people seem to make progress effortlessly while others keep circling the same questions again and again without decision? It’s in the way that we approach fear.
We make decisions based on Values and Purpose
I teach my clients to make goals and decisions based on their values. Their values don’t come from fear. Values are the ways you want to live your life even when there is fear. Your purpose and your values are that guiding north star. It’s who you are when no one’s watching you and you have nothing to prove. When you focus on your purpose and your values, you stop focusing on fear because your purpose and values are bigger than fear. Purpose and values will create way more expansive lives than fear ever would.
If we decided to live our lives based on fear, we’d stay as small as possible for as long as possible. Fear reduces us, purpose expands us. I’ll give you an example. I remember being in my first consulting project and it was a really difficult and challenging project. All the people on the team were telling me that it was the worst project they have ever done, not because of results but because of the climate and the constant changes and reprioritization that was occurring. Yet, since it was my first project, I didn’t know what was next and how much better it could be because I never experienced other projects for myself at that point. So when they asked me if I would stay on the project for all the reasons that felt good to my ego, I said yes.
At that time, I was constantly getting sick and so were the other people on my team. It was a sign that something wasn’t right – yet, I stayed. Why? Because of fear of the unknown. I stayed for 7 months when the normal length of engagements were 2-3 months. This actually came at a cost to my career in the long-term because I could have experienced something completely new and different – been exposed to different teams and leadership and grown in the process. I actually received a less than stellar rating based on that one project. As soon as I left, however – the next two projects were completely different and my performance measurably improved. I developed new relationships, met new people, and learned entirely new things about myself and the other industries I worked in.
It makes no sense in hindsight why we stay where we are because of fears that we have of not knowing if the next thing is really going to work out, but one of the best ways to overcome that is to realize the worst case scenario is the one you are in right now.
The Worst Case is not what you think It is
We often think the worst case is something even worse or less but that’s because our brain optimizes and focuses on fear. That’s what our brain does to protect us. We can say to ourselves every time we experience fear, “Thank you brain for that fear, but I’m going to use the prefrontal cortex – the one that is more strategic, to realize that what’s keeping me safe may not be good for me or even necessary”.
I always remember this story of when I stayed too long in that one project because so many people ask me about fear of moving onto the next thing or fear of cutting off a path by making a decision. Yet, this is what you’re here for – to evolve. You don’t evolve by not making any decisions. You evolve by making a decision and learning from it. I don’t think of my decisions anymore as right or wrong and I encourage all my clients to do the same. I ask myself, what do I want to learn through this decision?
We don’t give up our long-term growth to satisfy short-term fear
When you do that, you stop letting fear be the driving force of your decisions. If you fear that you don’t have enough money, and that it’s not enough – you will stay in one place doing the same work. The thought is that you have to stay because what if it doesn’t work out and the finances change? We forget about other things that might help our growth. What if you also wanted to learn about a new industry, role, or develop relationships? I’d argue that you would benefit more from those AND make more money in the long-term. You’d actually be adding more value to yourself and what you can do, which would make you wealthier. Maybe in the short term, you’ll take a financial hit. I know I have many times, when I invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into education, coaching, and experiences – yet my life was much more full and rich in the process. I also ended up making more money and being a lot more fulfilled in the long run. I really like the person I became and am becoming. That’s worth so much more money than an extra paycheck or two.
Fear, however, is based so much more on short-term thinking. Short-term thinking is about survival and unless you are literally asking a life or death question – we don’t need to use fear to make our decisions.
Most of our decisions on a daily basis are not life or death decisions. We are thinking about higher quality problems when we put things in perspective. We are thinking about what is better than what I have now. All the fears about you failing and not being able to show the world that you are perfect are not useful in this arena. Literally not useful. No one is asking you to show up without fear. No one expects you to be superhuman except for you. Often, people are so focused on living their own lives that they don’t actually care that much about you and what you’re doing unless it affects them. So you might as well go and do what you want to do to grow, have fun and enjoy this gift of life and the people and opportunities that are all around you.
Make it less about others, more about yourself
I want to leave you with this story, which is that for a while – I was in fear that someone would find out how capable I was and ask me to do something that utilized my full potential – and I would burn out. When I was in that fear, I was losing my power. My power to decide. Once I realized that it would never be about the environment, but it would always be about me and my own decisions – I knew that no amount of external change was going to make the fear go away. I could change jobs, relationships and have tons of money but if I was going to burn myself out and not enjoy life – that was really on me, not someone else. My fears of not being enough so I have to say yes to requests. My fears of not being good enough so I had to overwork to prove it.
It is so freeing to realize that your fears are your own. If you are the problem, then you are the solution. This is the work. Constantly creating new thoughts based on the way you want to show up in the world and being aware of when your thoughts are based on fear so that you can notice what happens in your life when you act based on fears or freedom and love. I had to change my thoughts to “I’m ok with the discomfort of not working more than I planned”. “I’m ok with the discomfort of not pleasing everyone”. “’I’m ok with the discomfort of having space and time and energy in my life for myself to not think about work or the next push or to-do”. “I’m ok with the discomfort of not having to prove my worth.”
We don’t just arrive without these fears, we have to prove to ourselves that we can hold them, accept them and be willing to choose another belief or thought that we want to get behind. The belief of pleasing people doesn’t support growth – it supports resentment and we have to fully own our part in that picture.
As much as we want to wish our fears away, the best way of managing them is to notice them when they appear. Accept them as they are, thank them for their service and realize that these are human instincts of survival that are natural and ordinary. Nothing has gone wrong here. Once we accept them, we don’t give them as much attention because we don’t expend energy hating them. Instead, we look at what we want instead. We focus on what we desire. We focus on the energy of the freedom or love we want to have in our lives and we use that focus to crowd fear out so that it’s not the only thing running through our minds.
This is what we work on in coaching. Identifying what we truly desire and feels like freedom so that we naturally evolve through focusing our energy, time and efforts on seeing the world differently – as more full of possibilities and opportunities. All we have to do is accept that maybe, that’s more real than our fears.
If this topic resonates with you and you want to see transformational results in your life, you’ll love coaching. Getting coached consistently is the spark that will light the fire of inspiration to make the change you’re looking to make. It is the first step in creating clarity, making a massive shift and moving obstacles out of your way so you can move forward. You can go to www.mayempson.com/contact to learn more.