I get it, we all experience fear. It’s like a noisy alarm that fires every time we approach a ‘risky’, uncertain patch, every time we are about to make a major decision, and every time we feel threatened.
Fear is a strong emotion. Often we feel powerless against it.
Here is another way to look at it:
Given the fear is there, and it will never go away, how can we use it to catapult us forward?
Like in martial arts, how can we turn our opponent’s strength and energy against him?
FOMU vs FOMO
When I turned 32, the topic of motherhood started popping up more and more on my mind. I was approaching the 35, the dreadful female fertility expiry date (which is not entirely true, but it’s a topic for another article altogether).
I was never someone who dreamed of having kids. Instead, education, career, financial stability, designing a life I don’t need a vacation from were my primary focus.
Fear of Messing Up (my life)
On one side, embracing my feminine side, together with motherhood was scaring the hell out of me. It meant losing my independence and entering complete uncertainty. I call this feeling FOMU – Fear of Messing Up (my life).
Fear of Missing Out
On the other side, I didn’t want to wake up one day in my 40s childless, having missed the window of opportunity to become a mother in my 30s, and not even being able to do much about it. My FOMO – Fear of Missing Out was increasing slowly but surely.
The battle of FOMU vs FOMO
The FOMU and FOMO were fighting for a couple of years until the time pressure was too strong and I had to choose. I went with the lesser fear: FOMU. I made a conscious decision to have a child.
The fear gradually transformed into Love but I made the move out of pure FOMO.
Do you resonate? Whether it applies to starting a business, moving to a new country, leaving your job to pursue a passion, you can ask yourself:
What would I regret if I don’t do it now?
You will have to host the battle of FOMU vs FOMO within yourself until the field clears out and you are ready to move on.
Re-write stories we tell ourselves
Taking a 6-months sabbatical was one of the scariest things I had done. I voluntarily separated myself from my comfort zone, the only source of income, the career I was strongly identifying with, the rhythm that held my life symphony together (5 working days followed by a weekend; a holiday now and then).
To do what? Follow an uncertain path of exploring myself, a desire to create a side project, live off the hook for a while, test-drive a dream. Here is the story that was running in my head:
💭 Without an external reason to wake up and get going in the morning. I will be lonely, purposeless, broke and after the initial excitement I will end up on the sofa in my pajamas binging on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Netflix.
While my colleagues continue progressing in their careers I will lose momentum (in a career I wasn’t interested in anymore but still, a career that I had invested many years of education and work into and gave me confidence and identity).
After a month or two, I will beg to return and they’ll laugh at me coming back with my tail between my legs.
Fear is an excellent storyteller
Have you noticed that Fear is an excellent storyteller and has the darkest of imagination? Do these stories sound familiar?
- If you quit/change your unmotivating job, you end up in an even worse situation
- If you raise your voice in disagreement (with a colleague, partner, or friend), you will be isolated, criticized and you might even lose the relationship altogether
- If you make some lifestyle changes (like changing country, career, downsizing, ignoring well-meaning relatives, etc) to pursue your dream, you will end up on the street, because you won’t have a source of income/someone to keep your back.
These are all Stories. Not particularly empowering.
Re-write your stories
If we really want to get moving and create what we’re here for, we need to inspect and re-write those stories:
- If I quit my job, I will have so much space and time! It’s a big and abundant world out there. There are so many opportunities, people, and projects I am not aware of. I don’t know what I don’t know.
Once the space is there, and I can embrace a new chapter of my life, these new opportunities will flood in, I will only have to choose which one to go with.
Yes, even if I do some Netflix binging, what’s wrong with that?
- If I raise my voice, things might actually change for the better. Even if my input is rejected, I will re-adjust and learn how to offer feedback in a better way.
Even if they ignore me, I would have released myself from the pressure building inside me.
- If I make the decision to leave, and start packing my bags, all kinds of fortunate circumstances will open up.
In the end, I will see it was much easier than I thought… I might even find something even better on the way.
I have so many examples of how things worked out of me in the past.
Play out the worst-case scenario
I must have been 6 when I started losing my milk teeth. It was scary and painful. What scared me even further were my parents’ well-meaning but abrupt techniques to take the shaking teeth out.
Until I took the matter into my own hands. Literally.
I started gently touching the shaky tooth, feeling what’s to be felt day after day until it was holding on to almost nothing and it fell out of itself.
Exploring the feeling and the process of this tooth was fascinating! And much less painful.
By entering the worst-case scenario, I was able to ‘normalize’ the experience of losing my milk teeth.
Take things into your hands
Have you noticed how fear is there but it only shows up in manageable doses? Just the right amount to stop us in our tracks, without causing us to lose our minds, or get a heart attack.
On one side, this is protecting our psyche from shock. On the other side, it keeps us stuck in permanent low-stress limbo.
Here’s what you can do. You can take the matter into your own hands and go deep. Ask yourself:
What’s the worst-case scenario?
What’s so bad about it?
Keep digging until you get to the root of it.
You need to get really close to this particular feeling. Don’t try to run away, to heal it, or distract yourself. Just be with it. Feel it, process it, get used to it. Cry if you have to, scream, beat pillows, whatever your natural body response to the fear is.
Similar to how Buddhist monks contemplate death first thing in the morning, just to prime themselves for the day, you can make meeting your fear a daily practice.
A small secret: At the bottom of it it’s always a variation of the following: 😱 a feeling of being abandoned, alone, disconnected, lost, powerless, separated.
You can use a coach or a mentor to support you. The process is not pleasant and it’s not natural to do it by yourself.
It will become more and more familiar with your deepest fear. You might even process and forgive the painful events in your life that made you experience this feeling. There’s enormous relief and liberation in that.
Fear will not be such a strong threat anymore. When you make friends with the monsters that lurk in the dark, you won’t be afraid of the dark anymore.