Let’s get real about fear. Fear has been on my mind and in my heart. All the ways in which we experience fear, are taught to deal with (or avoid) fear, false expectations around fearlessness, and so much more.
I’ve been holding hands with fear a lot lately. Sometimes it’s a firm, solid hand hold, and sometimes it feels like fear is trying to break my fingers and crush my hand.
It’s so interesting being a human. I’ve tried so many different things to get rid of fear- avoiding it, seeking it out, making choices based on it or in spite of it, saying a lot of positive affirmations, focusing on love and light, pretending it doesn’t exist- you name it, I’ve tried it.
Turns out, you can’t get rid of fear. Every single time you make a new choice, release an old habit, break an energetic pattern, decide to expand what’s possible for you- fear is going to be around.
What you can do is have a relationship with fear that *maybe* is actually beneficial for you.
Over the years I feel like I’ve built a pretty decent relationship with fear. I love in Big Magic when Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how every time we start out on a new endeavor, whether that be a creative project, a new relationship, an adventure, healing your body, or something else, inevitably fear is going to show up.
She uses the metaphor of a road trip- no matter how carefully you pack and plan or try to sneak out the side door, fear is always going to be along for the ride, ready and waiting in the car. You can’t control that.
What you can control though, is- Does fear get to drive? Does fear get to navigate and co-pilot? Or Can fear hang out in the backseat, occasionally offering comments and suggestions but not actually running the show?
Fear has a purpose. Its goal is to keep us safe and alive.
There are primal fears:
Fear for your safety.
Fear of being alone or abandoned by your tribe.
Fear of pain.
These primal fears are at the core of all fear- designed to keep us from being cast out, unable to take care of ourselves, put in dangerous situations.
Then there are the way those fears manifest in our modern lives. The patterns of fear that appear over and over again, especially for women, and are often in the driver’s seat or holding the GPS and telling you where to go, sometimes without you even realizing it.
Those fear patterns look like:
Fear of being judged.
Fear of missing out.
Fear of being not enough.
Fear of being too much.
Fear of being misunderstood.
Fear of everything falling apart.
Finally, there are the actions we take based on fear running the show and controlling the journey.
Staying quiet, not speaking up for your needs or when you are uncomfortable.
Numbing out with food or tv or a novel or sex.
Pretending everything is okay.
Policing our bodies and our points of view.
Overworking and over-giving to appear useful.
Stopping asking questions.
Making endless lists and plans to ‘figure it out’.
This can feel super obvious when you have a specific thing happening in your life that is requiring you to step into a new version of yourself- going through a break up, dealing with sexual harassment at work, getting in a car accident, the death of someone close to you, not knowing how you’re going to pay your bills, meeting a deadline on a creative project… etc.
And sometimes fear is soooo sneaky.
There’s a kind of fear that isn’t talked about too much. It’s a fear that’s been really present for me lately. A sneaky kind of fear that shows up in the background and slowly, insidiously begins to take over thoughts and actions.
I was giving a talk a couple of years ago about how our bodies how the keys to having it all- love, health, freedom, joy, ease, wealth, and fulfillment.
Afterward a woman came up to me and said, “you know, when you asked us if we would like to have it all, a big part of me immediately recoiled and said ‘hell no’. I think I’m most scared of having it all.”
The fear of having it all.
There’s a reason that Marianne Williamson quote is so popular- the one that says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
That fear will sneak in and shut down any choices that would allow you to “have it all” — whatever YOUR version of that looks like.
It all comes back to what we have learned as true, and what we have learned we need to do / how we need to behave in order to fit in with our current society and culture. Which comes back to the primal fears and not being ostracized or alone.
A woman who “has it all” is a dangerous woman in our society. Simply by being she is inviting in judgements, criticisms, scrutiny, and unpopularity from all sides, because she is choosing not to buy into the lie of how women are supposed to behave.
I also want to note that “having it all” is going to look different for everybody.
A woman who dares to be happy with the body she has, openly energized and excited by her life, with clear boundaries in place, making choices for herself, speaking up for her needs and visions of the world, sovereign in all areas of her life- this is the woman our culture fears, and subsequently is the woman many of us both long to be and fear becoming.
This paradox can hold you in a grip so tight that it feels like no matter how much “progress” you make, you are never where you want to be. It’s a safety mechanism. You can also accomplish a LOT from this place.
When you step out on the path toward “having it all”, whether you call it that or not, it usually looks like seeking to have a certain body type, enter into a romantic relationship, start a family, find a job you love, create a home you love, have a possibility oriented mindset, build thriving friendships, or something similar.
It may show up as one of these things in particular, over and over again. Or it may be a combination of things. And as you move down this path, an interesting thing starts to happen.
Maybe you make peace with your body over the years.
Maybe you fall in love or enjoy more intimacy in your relationship than ever before.
Maybe you learn how to release negative emotions and create peace and positivity every day.
Maybe you find work that you are passionate about.
Over time, the things that used to have you in the grips of fear no longer hold the same weight.
You realize you no longer have wild emotional swings based on the number on the scale or the food you put in your mouth.
You are no longer convinced that you are doomed to die alone.
You realize you are paying your bills with ease and have the money to do things you want to do.
A phone call from your mother no longer sends you into a tailspin.
A missed connecting flight is met with a shrug and laughter rather than a meltdown.
And your sights start to turn toward expansion. Toward, “What else might be possible in my life?”
We humans, we love a challenge. We love to grow, change, and experience novelty. We love to push ourselves to see what’s possible, to play with our potential.
When expanding into new possibilities, we often forget about fear. The primal fears seem far away. You have tools to work with that will keep you moving in spite of fear.
Right when we aren’t thinking about fear- this is when fear sidles in the back door and sets up camp.
Welcome to my life the past few weeks- ignoring fear because I thought it wasn’t there. Avoiding the fear that is the hardest for me to identify.
This is the fear that shows up when everything is going well.
When my relationship is filled with love and electricity.
When my business is thriving and I’m lit up with with passion for my work.
When my body feels vibrant and healthy and alive.
When I have the capacity to expand and receive more than ever before.
We all have a set capacity we feel comfortable with having and receiving what we want. A certain capacity for joy and aliveness that we’ve learned is still “safe”. The place that says, “this is what I deserve and as long as I stay here, I won’t upset the status quo.” This capacity comes from a combination of upbringing, society, social conditioning, etc.
We also all absolutely have the ability to expand this capacity as much as we want to. We have the ability to “have it all”.
And every single time you reach your capacity, especially when you are looking to expand beyond it and up that set capacity, guess who’s gonna be there?
Did you guess Fear? Because you were right!
Every time you step into a new way of being, upping your capacity for receiving and becoming more true to who you are, Fear is going to be there.
Remember- the goal of fear is to keep you safe and alive.
And as magical as receiving more and being more of you and enjoying your life more are, they are also unknown realities.
For Fear, unknown = unsafe.
When you don’t pay attention to fear, invite it into the conversation, that’s when it sneaks up behind you and whacks you on the head. Or, to go back to the road trip metaphor, it makes you feel all brain foggy and sleepy and unclear, so you decide to take a nap and when you wake up suddenly Fear is behind the wheel and you are no longer in control of the destination!
This is what has been happening with me this summer. I hit my capacity to receive and have it so good in full force.
I began to notice a hesitancy to sit down and do the work to keep things moving forward, even when I had a really inspiring list of things to create and put into the world.
I would wake up feeling foggy and low energy, even after sleeping 9 hours and eating what my body wanted.
I was spending more time on social media than usual, without creating my own content.
I would feel the desire to paint or go for a hike, and face massive resistance to things I’m normally excited to do.
I started to look for things that were going wrong- in my body, in my relationship, in my business.
I started to feel frustrated and anxious and drained.
I started to think “maybe it’s not for me”.
Until I remembered.
Remembered that Fear is a sneaky lil’ jerk.
And that I had made a mistake.
I didn’t invite fear into the conversation. I didn’t ask fear what it needed me to know or address as I was expanding. I completely ignored fear, so it got louder and louder until I had to face it.
If you ignore Fear, it takes over.
We can’t get rid of fear. So what do you do instead?
Give it a job. Preferably a job that isn’t “driver” or “navigator”.
Even better, give it an ear. Let fear have its moment to shine.
This might seem crazy- don’t all the self-help and law of attraction teachings say don’t give fear any attention? “What you focus on grows” so why would you focus on fear?
Because fear is going to be there regardless of how you choose to interact with it. Wouldn’t the conscious, enlightened thing to do (said tongue-in-cheek) be to acknowledge and face your fear rather than simply pretend it doesn’t exist?
Thought so. But then again, I’m biased. You’ll have to try for yourself.
When you find yourself facing a situation of newness, regardless of whether you perceive that newness as welcome or not, consciously bring fear forward and have a conversation.
A conversation with fear
One of my favorite ways to start that conversation is to imagine I’m sitting down to coffee (or whiskey, depending on the day) with fear.
Say, either in your head or out loud, “Hi fear! How are you? What’s new?”
Keep in mind that fear has one goal: keep you safe and alive.
Some questions you can ask fear:
“What do you have to say about this new thing?”
“What would you like to bring to my attention?”
“Am I missing anything in this equation?”
Tim Ferriss has a TED Talk with a great exercise to help you make peace with fear. Check it out here: Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals
My coach sent this to me after a particularly gnarly conversation with fear and it helped me SO much.
Once I recognized the symptoms I was experiencing as Fear rather than as ALL THE THINGS THAT WERE WRONG WITH ME, I was able to pause, turn, and face what was really going on. (and actually keep moving in the direction I wanted to go!)
Giving fear the space it needs allows you to remain in the driver’s seat.
Actually hear Fear out. Write down things to consider when you confront fear. Ask your fear to fill in any blind spots you may have.
And? Remember that fear does NOT run the show. Fear is only one aspect of your life to bring to the table and have these conversations. Ask it to show you both the extreme ways you may somehow be unsafe or die in this process as well as some of the subtle things you may not have considered.
Give it a new job.
Ask it to make it super clear to you when you are overlooking something important.
Ask it to tap you on the shoulder when there is room to grow and expand.
You can also ask it to release its death grip on your hand, because you are not going to try and leave it behind.
Finally, thank your fear. Acknowledge how well it is performing its purpose. Let it know that you will listen, but ultimately how you proceed is YOUR decision.
And if you’d like some support in redefining your relationship with fear, as well as support in “having it all”, YOUR way, let’s have a conversation.