Last week I did a short workshop with the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce to kick off a Woman in Business Series. Our topic? Using Fear to Thrive and Grow. These courageous women tackled the topic of fear in a profound way. Fear is an interesting topic – because it’s like eating. We need fear to survive, just like we need to eat to survive. And like eating, we can overdo fear, becoming bloated with woulda, coulda, shoulda instead of living the big life we are meant to live.
Every single woman in this session had a story of doing something big and important in the face of fear. Some of these actions involved physical danger – like jumping out of an airplane. Others involved following her own spirit instead of falling prey to “what will people think?” And some involved speaking truth to power, where the danger was more political than physical.
Since that session, I’ve been corresponding with some of those women and reflecting a lot more on how fear can help us learn and grow. Here is what I’m learning.
You don’t jump out of an airplane without some training. You start with some level of skill and then continue to build on that until you are ready to do a tandem jump, and eventually, with enough skill, you do a solo jump. Skilled skydivers do all kinds of things a newbie would never dare to try. Me? Not interested in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane! (Nor do I want to get over that kind of fear!) I would rather fly them.
When I was in pilot training, my first flight had me to do the takeoff, flying around and landing, with the instructor in the right seat of the plane. Even though I had a lot of fear and no skills. You can bet he wouldn’t hand me the keys to the plane without him being in there! He gave me the illusion of control and it was exhilarating. It made me want to learn to fly – which was the point of giving me the challenge of being in the left seat. The key was the support of having someone in the right seat who could fly the plane – and more importantly get us out of any trouble I got us into.
As my flight training advanced, I came to learn that flight instructors train specifically to handle rookies, who are probably scared or sometimes too cocky. They learn to do everything from the right seat, which is very different than the perspective of the left seat. While it can be very scary to turn an airplane over to abject beginner, they are trained for it.
So if I had accidentally gotten our airplane into a stall the very first day I flew, the instructor was trained to get us out of it. Would he have been scared? Probably not, because it is a maneuver he had done successfully so many times. Was I scared the first time we intentionally stalled the airplane? Heck yeah! Was I scared after doing many times? Not as scared, because I eventually learned to do it without being totally freaked out.
If fear is stopping us from doing something we would like to do, we need to build our skills to deal with the fear.
First, we have to acknowledge that we even have fear. Take the idea of speaking truth to power. This is not an impossible task. Somebody has spoken truth to power before. They did it knowing they could be fired. They did it knowing that the person in power might get mad. They did it while being aware that they may not be listened to. All of that is ok. The point is to learn to say what needs to be said, to not let fear stop us.
Fear almost stopped me from learning pottery. I tell that story in this video (which also includes our drawing for who wins the mug in today’s drawing!
Fear can help us thrive and grow. It points us to our personal edge of discomfort.
When we reach that place, we have a choice. We can either turn back and say – nah, I wanna be comfortable. I want to feel secure in what I know, I would rather be really good in my sandbox instead of learning to play at the beach or swim the ocean. Or we can move forward and decide to learn and grow.
We can seek the skills needed to help us navigate the “discomfort zone”. We can take a risk and act while being scared.
Where is your discomfort zone? Do you have more fear in physical danger, or social and relationship situations? What do you do to overcome your fear?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I want to learn from you!
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