Fear can be a proxy for when you are going to do something great.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell started to rekindle their friendship as they worked together; preparing to face a magician of seemingly insurmountable skill. Mr. Norrell’s hands shook as he tried to conjure enough magic to save England. Jonathan Strange clasped his hands around Mr. Norrell’s and said,
“My hands trembled like that in the peninsula and after Waterloo. Sometimes it was a sign that I was afraid. Sometimes a sign that I was doing great magic. The two things go together.”
FEAR vs IMPOSTER SYNDROME
We often stand on the precipice of greatness, but balk at the task because fear rips our confidence to shreds. I know that in high school, I had a streak of not turning in homework. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing, it was the fear that somehow my confidence was misplaced. Maybe I was wrong about the correctness of my work? It wasn’t an outward sign that I was off-base or incorrect. No, it was coming from inside.
The Startup Bros put together a list of 21 ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome. But fear goes beyond that. It’s isn’t just “high achieving individuals”. Fear can also consume the novice, the role-jumper, the expert dipping their toes into something different.
I’ve never heard it explained as well as Vince Vaughn did on The Tim Ferriss Show. I have a newfound respect for Vince Vaughn after listening to this episode for many reasons, but especially one line at 1:37:07.
“How much of it is the woods we’ve created, versus the actual path to the destination.”
It’s simple and astute. How much of my fear was distractions and obstructions that I was placing myself? How much of it was the actual task of getting to my goal? Looking back I can clearly say that it was all self-made.
But in the moment, it’s hard to discern the two.
WHAT TO DO WITH FEAR OF THE AWESOME
There we are, about to do something amazing, and the fear creeps in. The woods spring up around our path ahead, and our hands start to tremble.
Just like the process for leading a productive brainstorm, we need every action to be purposeful. So let’s repurpose a strategy from “Getting More”, a fantastic book on negotiation by Stuart Diamond. In Chapter 6, Diamond discusses a process for negotiating and dealing with emotional situations. We’re going to use pieces from that, but make it more about dealing with the fear from inside ourselves.
- Recognize when you are acting against your goals
- Stop, breathe, and reflect. Are these fears stopping you from doing what you want to do?
- Find the cause of your fear.
- Go through the five why exercise with yourself. Keep asking yourself why you are afraid until you find the root.
- Avoid using extreme statements.
- “Life or death”, “Never”, “Always”… don’t use them if you can. Dial down the drama. Don’t initiate the “fight or flight” response unless absolutely necessary.
- Correct erroneous facts.
- Is there anything you are fearing because of a misunderstanding? An error in logic? Try to math this one out. Give your fear a percentage of probability (but only AFTER dialing down the drama).
- Write down possible actions you can take.
- When you’ve done all you can to prepare for success, it gets easier to make the jump. Also realize, you may not be able to do absolutely EVERYTHING.
- Tell your fear to shut it.
- You got to the root, you’ve kept the drama to a realistic level, you’ve corrected errors and done all you can. Now it’s time to tell fear to “hold my drink and watch this”.
- Go forth and be awesome.
- Press start and be the “fantastic you” that you want to be. The world needs you to be awesome.
You will still feel fear. It’s inevitable. We can’t eliminate it entirely. But now you have a plan of attack, and the ability to realize that sometimes your “woods of fear” is a sign you are about do some great magic on your path to awesome.