How I Frame My Fears
Love is a universal language. And so is fear.
I can’t tell you when you have first felt fear grip you, hold you back, or stop you in your tracks. But I can tell you with complete confidence that it has the power to do those to you and me.
For years and years, I have struggled with fear in both enormous and minute ways — from fearing a spider, a recitation in second grade, or losing someone I hold dear.
I’ve seen fear as a villain — an enemy to fight, a black hole to resist. I used to want fear to disappear and just be gone.
And if this sounds like a familiar song to you, I invite you to read on. I’ll share with you the three most important lessons I’ve picked up from my history with fear. I hope you find a helpful bit or two!
1. Fear is a teacher, not a master.
After bingeing countless mindfulness podcasts and devouring a batch of self-help books, I finally decided to try meditation.
It used to sound too woo-woo for my taste but I gave it a shot anyway. And though I cannot remember which meditation app or episode it was, its lesson stuck with me. During the session, the instructor asked me to acknowledge and converse with fear,
“Fear, why are you here? What are you trying to tell me?”
Until today, when I sense fear towards a situation or feel afraid for something, I slow down and breathe. And then I ask fear for the news it brings.
This has been very helpful for me because instead of feeling dragged by fear like a sack of potatoes, I can put myself in a position where I am in control. I can take or leave what fear has to say for it is not my master.
Also, in this frame of mind, fear is not an enemy but a benevolent teacher who points out deeper issues within me that need resolving.
For example, if I notice that I’m scared of beginning a creative project, asking fear about it usually reveals that it’s not the hard work that I’m afraid of but the criticisms that it might receive. And from that information, I can work around the feelings of resistance instead of blindly succumbing to the negativity.
We can let fear be a vicious enemy or an ally that helps us cultivate self-awareness.
The wonderful thing about this?
It’s a choice that is ours to make.
2. Fear is a compass, not an atlas.
“Fear is a natural and biological condition that we all experience. It’s important that we experience fear because it keeps us safe.”
— Clinical Psychologist Zachary Sikora, PsyD via Northwestern Medicine
I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix and in one of the episodes, they talked about the fight or flight response — the body’s automatic reaction to frightening or stressful events. This is helpful when we are literally in a life-and-death situation. Not so much when it’s just us facing a blank page and worrying about looming deadlines.
That said, I see fear as a compass as opposed to an atlas.
It is not a book of maps with predictable and pinned points of occurrences. Instead, like a compass, fear guides us and meets us right where we are. It rests when it feels we are safe and wreaks havoc when we’re in distress. Its True North evolves as our priorities do. It’s in step with us, like a shadow journeying with us for life.
“Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.”
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I’m not sure if you believe in God but I do. And I think there is a place for fear in life or why else would a wise and all-powerful God waste His time weaving it into the intricacies of our lives?
3. When we try to escape failure, success eludes us too.
“Perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
How many times have you dropped a project because you were scared?
No, it’s not the sleepless nights that you’re scared of nor the commitment it takes to accomplish it. But when you think of the potential criticisms and negative feedback, plus the imaginary ruin of your endeavor — yikes. That’s when we turn our backs on excitement and bury our passions into the pile of our vast collection of unfulfilled dreams.
When we try to escape failure, we rob ourselves of the chance to succeed. We’re too scared to drop the ball, so we never dare catch it.
But here’s encouragement from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book about creative living,
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
If we hold this mindset, we will not be easily fazed by the discouraging comments of some unsupportive friends or well-meaning family. We can quickly snap out of a funk, especially when we find ourselves knee-deep in self-sabotage. We will not be hindered by trials or triumphs, the booing or applause of an audience, nor by the lack or abundance our endeavor brings.
On my notes from the book Big Magic, I was able to capture this no-nonsense recommendation from the author: “Just write anything and put it out there with reckless abandon.”
So here I am, writing this perfectly imperfect piece.
And I promised myself to keep on creating — whether my content becomes monetized or not. Whether noticed or not. Whether 1,000 or 100 or 0 people are cheering me on.
How about you? What work wants to be made through you?
Will you let fear hold you back or spur you on?
The terrifying, liberating, and wonderful thing is it is all up to you.