When I was in university, I had many opportunities to travel and study abroad. I could’ve met my best friend Jennifer in the UK and spent the summer adventuring around Europe together. I could have spent multiple summers working on archaeological digs in Jordan.
I really wanted to have these experiences, but I took exactly none of these opportunities. I had very good reasons. I needed to stay home and I had a summer job lined up (not a dream job, but come on, be reasonable). I needed to work full time and save the money for the next year’s tuition. It was all very reasonable and responsible of me.
I couldn’t afford to go off gallivanting. I was trying to stay out of student debt (I didn’t succeed). I wasn’t afraid; I had obligations and responsibilities. At least, that’s what I told myself and anyone else who asked. It was all very convincing. I even believed it until long after those opportunities were no longer available to me.
Do you know what fear feels like? I bet you do. If you’ve survived long enough to be reading this, then I’m sure Fear has done its job to keep you alive and safe.
That’s what Fear does. It helps us to know when something is wrong or dangerous and keeps us from wandering off cliffs and trying to hug lions and other apex predators. Fear’s strategy is particularly advantageous for people who’d like to keep on living.
Fear’s strategy isn’t particularly sophisticated, but it is very effective. Fear does its job mostly by frantically shouting “STOP” with great urgency in every cell of your body. Even your hair stands on end, while your heart races and your muscles tense, ready to help you hightail it out of whatever dangerous predicament in which you’ve found yourself.
These days, we have less potentially life-threatening interactions with predators, but Fear is still there, taking its job very seriously. You know that jolt of adrenaline when someone driving in front of you slams on their brakes or swerves into your lane? Thanks, Fear, for helping me react without thinking, and keeping me from a crash.
For what it’s worth, fear isn’t a bad thing. It plays an important role when it comes to keeping us alive. Fear is not the enemy. Fear can be an ally.
But what happens when Fear gets in the way of things that really aren’t any of Fear’s business? Fear may help us survive, but it doesn’t necessarily help us thrive.
You know those things that you’re afraid to do but aren’t things that will kill you? I’m talking about things like goals, dreams, small actions and any undertaking that leaves you feeling even moderately vulnerable.
In those less-than-death-defying circumstances, our Fear has to find a more subtle way to stop you that doesn’t involve shrieking in panic through every fibre of your being. Often, it finds a more effective inroad by whispering very reasonable terms at a very reasonable volume.
This Reasonable Fear is the fear that we must watch out for. This is the fear that isn’t going to save your life; it’s going to cost you the life you want to create.
Your Fear is always going to sound reasonable to you. Your Fear will always be palatable to you. Your Fear will be acceptable to you. This is how it gets under your skin.
Your Fear is clever; it knows that the best way to stop you from taking action is by appealing to your deep-seated fears around who you are and who you aren’t, what you want and what you think you can get.
Your Reasonable Fear is convinced that feeling nervous or vulnerable is a near-death experience. Your Reasonable Fear views your goals, dreams, difficult conversations and tiny-but-bold actions like lions, tigers and bears.
Reasonable Fear can show up like resistance, resentment, complaints and criticism. It shows up like a lot of attention on what other people need to be doing, or should be doing, rather than on what you could be doing yourself.
It can show up like excuses (not enough time, money, talent, etc). It can show up like perfectionism, or “not now”, or waiting for the “right” time or circumstance to move something important forward.
What are your reasonable reasons for being a no to opportunities? What are your acceptable excuses and rationale for avoiding stepping outside the boundaries of your comfort zone?
Start to learn the language of your Fear and you’ll be able to distinguish between fear that keeps you alive and fear that’s keeping you from thriving.
The only thing we need to fear is fear that doesn’t seem like Fear at all.