What Kind of Fear Owns You?

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have two experiences that have taught me more about the human condition than all other things in life combined, being a parent and being an integral part of a small company. What I have concluded is that fear is an unavoidable component in most of the decisions we make, whether conscious or not, and that the opposite of fear is not courage, it is love.

Not all fears are equal when it comes to the paths that people take in life. Some are ruled by fear of failure while others fear success, fear of losing something seems to rise in proportion to the number of things that one can lose, fear of unrealized ambition is distinct, fear of relationships and self-exposure seem to go hand in hand, there is a prominent fear of conflict in most people, and lastly, being ruled by a fear of being discovered as being in over one’s head leads to a range of very bad outcomes.

Fear itself is nothing more than a warning mechanism that exists within us, it is something that is constructive in our decision making process by slowing down our mental responses in order to capture more detail about the thing that fears us, and taken to an extreme fear crosses a line and become debilitating. People fail when they are unable to overcome the fear dimension they hold and become locked, and they give up fighting the thing they fear and shrink from it.

This opposite of fear is not courage, and people who are referred to as courageous in the face of fear are actually reacting to something that is fear itself, the failure that comes from letting down people who count on you, the mastering of fear that accepts it is still present. The opposite of fear is not courage, it is love… love that is expressed through a compelling desire to face any challenge not for the reward it brought me but because someone was counting on me to do it. Being a parent has taught me this more than any other lesson.

The fear of being discovered as incompetent is the most destructive of all fears when it comes to a leadership team because this fear leads to isolation and incompetent decisions as well as the inability to make a decision that is not unnecessarily restricted in the pursuit of risk mitigation.  Very bad things happen when people fear being discovered as an impostor, for the person at the center and all those around them.

Fear is part of the human condition and in order to understand the people who are close to us we have to first accept the things that we fear the most. I say accept not in the benign manner but rather in the context of facing and then overcoming fear in order to be a better person and to serve those close to us in the best possible way.

“.. almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
– Steve Jobs