I'm gonna come right out with it: I’ve been scared shitless lately. Quitting my job and starting my own business has been terrifying. I knew it would be stressful, but I didn’t expect to feel so afraid.
Every time I reach out to a prospective client, or publish a blog post, I’m afraid I’ll be rejected, or worse, ignored. I’m afraid no one will hire me and this whole thing will fail miserably. And what's crazy is that my fears aren't even based on reality.
The fact is, my business is doing pretty well. I'm getting clients and paying my bills. So why am I so scared?
To answer this, I did some research about fear (i.e. I listened to a couple podcasts and talked my husband's ear off about how terrified I was.) And as a result of my not-at-all-scientific study, I've learned how to use my fear to my advantage. Here's how.
Understand not all fear is the same
First, I identified different types of fear. Because let's face it, not all fear is equal and they don't all mean the same thing.
So, the first type of fear is instinctual, fight-or-flight fear. This is when you are genuinely afraid for your safety or the safety of someone else. It’s the survival instinct. Most of us are lucky enough that we don’t feel this that often. Feeling like something threatens your life -or the life of someone you care about- is one of the worst feelings in the world.
Second, there’s the adrenaline-rush fear.This happens when you're scared enough to release adrenaline, but you don’t actually think you're going to die. So if the first fear is what you feel when you almost get into a car wreck, the second fear is what you feel bungee-jumping or skiing really fast. It’s a “good” fear.
Now, here’s where we get kind of philosophical. Brace yourself.
The third fear is anxiety. It’s the fear of something that hasn’t actually happened, but you are afraid might happen. It’s the fear of failing. The fear of rejection. The fear of being laughed at. It’s the fear we feel whenever we make ourselves vulnerable-- emotionally, financially, socially. It’s the fear I feel every time I hit “Publish” on a blog post or send a client proposal.
There is nothing good about this kind of fear.
The last fear is even more conceptual, and is best described as "awe."
Now, the word “awe” is often misused to reflect only the positive part of its meaning, i.e., “I’m in awe of her courage,” or, "I stood in awe before the beautiful cathedral.”
But the real definition of awe is: “an emotion variously combining dread, reverence and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”
See what I mean? When we all say, “That’s awesome!” we do not, in fact, mean, “That inspires dread, reverence and wonder.”
Recognize awe vs. anxiety
It's important to recognize the difference between these last two fears, especially in the context of making big life changes.
Certainly, in times of change, we feel the third fear-- anxiety-- the most. We are worried we're making the wrong decision, or scared of the consequences of our actions. We are afraid of being judged. The fear is real, even if what we are afraid of isn't.
But what about the fourth fear: the feeling of awe. That mix of fear and dread, excitement and wonder. How often do we feel that? How often do we actually do something that makes us feel awe?
Awe is not a comfortable feeling. For sure, you rarely feel dread, reverence and wonder when you are firmly in your comfort zone. But I'm starting to think this kind of fear isn't a bad thing.
In fact, maybe being a little scared of your life choices is the whole point.
Use fear to your advantage
The feeling of awe comes from being outside our comfort zone. It's doing something important to us that could potentially fail.
Maybe that's why it's so scary. Maybe we're afraid of creating something meaningful, of really putting our heart into something. Scared of getting out of our comfort zone and into a place where we're constantly pushing our own limits. Terrified of building something we desperately care about.
Because as much as you hear about "following your heart," really doing it isn't not easy. Just recently I was in the fetal position on my couch, weeping because I'd been offered a big contract and was scared to take it.
Read that again: something good happened, and it terrified me. Awe is f---ing uncomfortable.
But what if we reframe it? What if, instead of feeling afraid, we let ourselves feel awed? What if we balance the dread with the wonder? Because the truth is:
The fact that you're afraid is a good thing: it means you actually care.
Being afraid means you aren't just living by default and staying in your comfort zone-- you're pushing our limits and challenging yourself to create something that feels sacred.
So, what are you afraid of? And, more importantly, what does that fear keep you from doing? Are you afraid of failure? Or are you actually afraid of success? Are you afraid of being judged? Or are you afraid of finally doing something that matters to you?
Maybe it's a bit of both, a bit of everything. But the only way to get past fear is by getting honest with yourself about what you're afraid of.
It won't be easy. You'll feel afraid. You'll feel anxious. And you might even start feeling "an emotion variously combining dread, reverence and wonder."
And when you do? You'll know you're doing something right.