I am full of fear. And that’s a good thing. It’s all the rage now to proclaim oneself “fearless.” I understand the sentiment behind that proclamation, but I don’t think it’s the right word. It means “free from fear, lacking fear.” A healthy dose of fear is, well, healthy. Otherwise, we’d all be completely reckless and make impulsive decisions and never learn great life lessons. And let me tell you, I was reckless and impulsive when I was younger, and I was still completely consumed by fear. Bravada about being fearless doesn’t actually take the fear away. You just ignore it and believe it doesn’t impact you, which isn’t true. We need to understand how fear drives us, how, why, when.
We need fear to guide us, to warn us, to keep us safe. We should be afraid of tigers, tornadoes, stalkers. These things will hurt us. We should be afraid of love, judgment, failure. These things will hurt us.
Does this potential for hurt mean we never go on safari, spend time outdoors when it’s cloudy, partake in online communities? No, of course not. That would make us paranoid recluses. That would make for an isolated, cold existence. These fears tell us to appreciate the majesty of tigers from afar, respect Mother Nature and head down to basements when tornado warnings are issued, and to use proper precautions online while enjoying the ability to meet people you’d otherwise never have access to. We also should not ignore our fears and play tag with tigers, run through fields during a tornado warning, or over-disclose to strangers. Otherwise, Darwin demonstrates yet again he was on to something.
Does this potential for hurt mean we should put on protective armor and be emotionally unavailable, aim for perfection, or shy away from risks? No, of course not. This would make for a lonely, boring, small life.
It is in the midst of these fears AND failures that life really happens. It’s in the falls and mistakes and messiness that real life occurs. These things WILL happen regardless of if you acknowledge the fear, if you name it, or not. People will judge you, people will condemn you, people will disappoint you. Hurts will happen. Again and again. And yes, one more time for good measure. Even when you don’t get too close to someone. Even when you try to be who people expect you to be. Even when you underachieve.
So when you find fear, you are in a place that matters. You can only be afraid of something if there’s a potential loss. This place where fear lives is a place that matters. There’s a good chance you might lose your dignity, your heart, your reputation, so don’t be fearless. You should be afraid. This fear makes you human, makes you real. Sit right there in this space. Because when you lose these things, it doesn’t mean you’re lost.
It means you’re found. The pain and hurt that accompanies losing your heart and your pride and your perceived security, that’s what makes you who you are. And who you are is someone brave and courageous. It is the brave who continue to get up every day, show up every day, to do the things that scare you. That isn’t a loss. That’s a gain.
The problem with fear is when we allow ourselves to be dictated by fear. When we say, “You’re right. I’m not good enough.” When we say, “I can’t, I just can’t bear to get hurt again like that.” When we say, “I can’t risk trying, what if I fail? What if I look like a fool?”
When we give in to these fears, when we let them control our behaviors, they control how big or small our lives are. How bright or dark our lives are. How full or empty our souls are. We think giving in to these fears keeps us safe. You’re not safe. You’re just scared. And that’s OK.
Because you can be be brave and courageous AND afraid. We can’t ignore the realities of judgments, rejection, loss. True courage is acknowledging those realities, and risking in the face of those realities. Courage is saying I am full of fear, and I am also full of life and light.