“If you don’t know the nature of fear, then you can never be fearless.”~Pema Chödrön
I think many of us do whatever we can to avoid feeling afraid. Somehow we’ve learned, or come to believe, that fear is wrong. Or dangerous. Or shows our weakness. We’re literally afraid of fear.
I’ve come to believe the opposite.
I was with a client the other day, as she received very bad personal news. I sat with her, holding space for her to absorb and react as she needed to. “I don’t want to feel this,” she said to me. “I can’t let myself feel this. If I do, I’m afraid that the feeling will never end. That I’ll never get out of it again.”
That’s fear. And many years ago I learned an acronym for fear – False Evidence Appearing Real.
“You have to feel it, even if you’re afraid,” I answered. “You have to let it flow through you or it will eat at you.”
It’s not weak to feel afraid. It’s strength. It’s not cowardly to sometimes feel like a coward. It’s human. And again, it’s strength. To admit that we’re terrified of speaking in front of a large group, and then doing it anyway. To own up to our nervousness about the big project, the new team, our new leadership position. None of that makes us a weakling – or a poor leader. Admitting our fears – to the safe, appropriate people – and moving through them or past them or with them is modeling power, backbone, and resilience.
To my client who was afraid to feel her feelings, and needed to find a safe space to do so; to the leader who challenges himself to admit his fear and take actions anyway; to the new managers who admit their fears and choose to hang back for another day – they are all models of passionate, potent leadership. And humanity.
Fear itself can’t harm us. Or at least, it can only harm us if we let it. Fear alone can’t stop us, or lessen our impact. We must feel fear to understand fearlessness. We must, at times, walk through it to lead.
How have you faced your fears?
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