Choosing courage in fearful times
From oppression in Syria to famine in Somalia, from the UK riots to the US Credit Rating, from high unemployment to low housing prices to drawn out wars claiming the lives of the finest of young men and women – there’s no doubt about it, we are living in turbulent times.
Switch on the TV and you are quickly bombarded with a zillion reasons why you need to hunker down, play safe, avoid risk, stash your cash under your bed, and think about getting a script for anti-anxiety medication. Just last night watching cable news, a leading anchor predicted that the discontent fuelling the riots sweeping across the UK would soon be fuelling similar violence in the US. And I was only watching TV for 15 minutes to catch that. The messages preaching doom and gloom are pervasive and never have we felt like we have more reasons to feel afraid.
Left unchecked though, anxiety can run amok and fear can become a crippling emotion. And while fear serves a positive purpose in our life to an extent, when we give in to fear on a regular and ongoing basis, it can spread like a virus, until it infiltrates into every corner of our life, our thoughts, decisions and actions. Like all emotions, fear is contagious and powerful. It can siphon the joy out of our day and the life out of our lives. Which is why, now, more than ever before, we need to be mindful about the potentially oppressive impact of fear and increasingly discerning about which fears we pay heed to. After all, history has shown us that it is those who refuse to succumb to fear, and who act most boldly, who reap the richest rewards during times of adversity.
Yes, fear is a powerful emotion but it doesn’t have to overpower our life.
So let me ask you – where is fear running the show in your life and, more so, where is there an opportunity for you right now (yes today), to be more courageous?
Firstly, let me just clarify what I mean by courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, or self-doubt, or misgivings about our future. It’s not pretending that tragedy and turmoil isn’t happening in the world around us, it’s not turning a blind eye to oppression or minimizing genuine threats to our freedom, security, and livelihood. Rather courage is choosing to focus on what we can do and take positive action in the presence of your fear. Courage is choosing to stay optimistic even when the headlines preach that the end of the world is nigh (2012 is it?). It’s choosing to stick your neck out and speak up about an issue even when you know it could ruffle feathers. It’s saying no to a relationship or circumstance that doesn’t inspire you in order to make space for one that does. It’s putting your hand up to present your teams idea to management or take the lead on a business initiative. It’s inviting somone over for dinner even though your home doesn’t qualify for the cover of Vogue living. It’s giving up having to control your future (since you can’t anyway), and holding on to faith in yourself that whatever the future holds, you have the ability to handle it.
Living with courage begins with taking a good honest look at the choices you are making today and challenging the assumptions, stories and excuses that are driving them. And while I don’t know what courage will look like in your life, I do know that every day you are presented with opportunities to live with more of it. And the first opportunity you have right now, given the pressure to buy into the fear that is circling the globe and to become victim to it, is to refuse to engage in conversations that ‘talk up’ that fear, and to focus instead on what you want, and what inspires you, and on what you can do to create for yourself a more meaningful and make a more meaningful contribution to those you are sharing it with – in your office, your business, your community or right in your own home!
Below are three simple questions that will help you identify where fear may be undermining you and keeping you from accessing the power you have inside you to live a more rewarding, courageous and impactful life.
1. What do I really want?
If there is an area(s) of your life in which you feel a clear level of dissatisfaction or unhappiness? If that is the case, then that’s the key place to focus first. What would you need to do to change in those areas of your life, to have them be the way you really wanted them to be? Don’t get stuck on the external stuff here like “I want a top job, a big house, a hot car and cute babe/bloke by my side.” Rather focus on the feeling that you think these things would give you, i.e., “I want a job that is both challenging & rewarding. I want a relationship with a self-assured and honest person whose conversations are stimulating and company fun. I want to live in a home that is great for having friends over…” Get the drill?
Unless you get clear about what you really want – in your career, relationships, health & wellbeing, and life – you’ll have little chance of actually getting it. So get clear about it: if you trusted yourself completely and had no fear of failing or looking foolish, what would you do or say or become?
2. How is fear holding me back?
Fear is not a ‘bad’ thing. Far from it! Rather it’s a question of whether or not your fears are actually serving you (protecting you from REAL threats to your wellbeing) or if they are holding you back keeping you stuck, tip toeing through life and living, as Thoreau called, a “quiet life of desperation.” So what is it that you are afraid might happen if you begin taking action in the direction of your goals and dreams? That you will be humiliated, that you’ll go broke, be rejected or ‘found out’ as inadequate? Whatever your fear, own it. Unless you own your fears, they will own you.
3. What’s the cost of inaction?
Don’t kid yourself, inaction and choosing to do nothing, is costly. Research has identified a psychological phenomenon whereby we human beings tend toward discounting the cost of our choices, even when it’s obvious they are not benefiting us. The reason why? Reality ain’t pretty. The result? We kid ourselves; everything’s hunky dory when really, it’s anything but, and all the while life sails along in a direction that’s taking us far from the life we’d truly love to live. The very act of acknowledging that we are stuck or unhappy is an act of courage all its own, but getting present to the steep price you are paying for letting fear and doubt run your life (or even part of it!) is absolutely crucial to re-creating it the way you want it to be. Only once you have done so can you find the guts to put your fears in their rightful place and be able to rise above them and into action toward whatever tugs at your heart.
Stepping beyond the confines of your comfort zone will call on you to dig deeper into yourself than you have up to now; to dare to accomplish things which have no guarantee of success and to trade the ‘fine and good’ for an experience of life that is far better, deeper, richer and infinitely more gratifying to your spirit. So don’t sell out to your fears; or, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said “…tip toe through life only to make it safely to death.” You are capable of so much more than that. Rather take your ‘fear bully’ by the horns and dare to dream more, do more, say more, live more, give more and be more! Life is far too short and precious to be lived any other way.