(By Erika Napoletano)
“When something scares the living daylights out of us, there are only two ways we deal with that scary thing: We face it, or we run from it. That’s the true essence of fight-or-flight. There are folks who go through life running marathons in the opposite direction of life’s challenges, but that’s not you. You face what scares you, and that’s an asset. Because from there, you can decide your next course of action“.
Fear makes us run in the other direction when a bear wants to have us for lunch. Smart choice, right? You bet!
And that’s why I loathe the overused adage: Be fearless. If you took that saying to heart and stood up to the bear … well, let’s just say you probably didn’t wake up this morning with the goal of being anything’s lunch.
What would happen if we were all fearless? Well, it’s possible we’d all end up serial killers. Not really the career path I envisioned for my life. If we really followed that adage and chose to be fearless, some unarguably dumb and needless results would come about:
- We’d make a slew of bad decisions that could endanger our lives, our families and our livelihoods.
- We’d unwittingly put those who share the responsibility for our success at risk by not taking their needs and the effects of our decisions on them into account.
- We’d … die.
Thanks, but I’ll pass on all of the above.
The Triage Effect
Human beings were built to feel fear. It’s part of our flight-or-fight response. Fear triggers our bodies into action, saving us from everything from distracted drivers to smarmy sales tactics.
And fear has earned a place at the table in both your business and your life. So let’s ditch this silly and senseless saying—the call to be fearless—and replace it with something much more useful: a healthy appreciation of fear as a business asset instead of a liability.
When something scares the living daylights out of us, there are only two ways we deal with that scary thing: We face it, or we run from it. That’s the true essence of fight-or-flight. There are folks who go through life running marathons in the opposite direction of life’s challenges, but that’s not you. You face what scares you, and that’s an asset. Because from there, you can decide your next course of action.
You know you’re not going to get anywhere if you spend your life running in the opposite direction of what freaks you out, so you face it. That’s because fear has an uncanny power to help you triage: When a situation comes along in life or business that kicks your Spidey Sense into high gear, your brain is sending you a signal to evaluate and act. Here’s the process up close:
- You realize “This thing freaks me out!”
- Instead of running away, you face the fear.
- Your brain responds by asking, “What should I do?”
- You weigh your options and choose the next best course of action.
Fear helps us set aside all the distractions that cloud our judgment and identify what needs dealing with—and right freaking now. It tells us what’s worth paying attention to and makes us consider more than the superficial qualities of every harebrained idea that traipses through our brains.
Fear tells us it’s okay to say no to the same old, same old; that it’s okay to try something new. Fear also tells us that what we’re afraid of might be complete nonsense. In those cases, why not take the first step toward what scares us and see how it all turns out?
How to Fall in Love with Fear
Instead of taking the advice to be fearless, grab on to a more useful adage: Do one thing every day that scares you.
Now, don’t be scared. Instead, we need to look at fear from a more pragmatic angle and create a life where we seek out challenges. We need to condition ourselves to face new fears, and by doing so, we’ll conquer those fears and reach something exceptional on the other side.
And sure, we’ll have failures along the way. Some fears will remain fears forever (this is where I file “spiders” and will for the rest of my life). But by falling in love with fear—the rush, the call to action, the chance to accomplish something you would have never dreamed possible had you not been faced with the challenge head-on—you’ll open your businesses and yourself to limitless possibilities.
Falling in love with fear is easier than you might think. Here’s how I do it. When I’m faced with something that scares me, I say, “This scares me.” And then I call one of my trusted business mentors and tell them what scares me, and we talk about the issue. More often than not, I come out the other side of these conversations with a clear vision of the next action I need to take.
It’s the clarity that comes from facing my fears that I’ve fallen in love with. And I’d have never found it if I hadn’t fallen in love with fear.
So don’t be fearless. Instead, fall in love with fear. It’s the beacon in the night, guiding each of us toward the next better decision. It’s the challenge that asks us whether we’re strong enough to receive the benefits of all we’ve asked for. And it’s better than any alarm clock, giving us regular wake-up calls designed to help us rise to the next occasion.
Being fearless—that’s just plain dumb advice. Instead, look what scares you in the eye and say, “I see you. Now let’s get to work.”