Bottom Line Up Front: Fear will save your life, but being afraid will ruin it.
What’s the difference between fear and being afraid?
It’s dangerous to be afraid, yet fear is the beginning of wisdom. We know these are both true, but how? Fear brings out our worst qualities: Fear of failure, fear of succeeding, fear of public speaking, fear of someone at the office. Fear of getting up and tackling the day, fear of letting our children make mistakes. Fear is scary; it can debilitate us. If we let it. When we let it, it’s because we are giving in to fear.
Listen to it, stare it down and master it.
When I first read the words “It’s dangerous to be afraid,” I found myself thinking that that phrase captures it perfectly. On the one hand we know fear can save our lives. There are some things we are wise to fear and in those instances we should listen to our fear. In his excellent book, The Gift of Fear author Gavin de Becker writes, “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” Fear helps us calibrate our response to reality. On the other hand, if we allow fear to get out of control, it robs us of all we have.
Here’s how to discriminate: Identify your fears, listen to your reaction to them, confront them and stare them down. For a long time we have lived with no fear. Our lives are so safe, so antiseptic, that we needn’t be brave, but that’s changing. The realities of the world are pushing into our lives. Crime, terrorism, moral threats, threats to our liberty, threats to our rights are all growing. As men we must confront those threats and respond to them.
Four steps to use reason and action to save [the quality of] your life.
What is the proper response?
First, accept reality. The first responsibility of all leaders is to accept reality. If you are a man, you are called to lead. Be realistic about the threats around you and why you fear them. Are the threats real or are they the popular acronym False Evidence Appearing Real? If real, start to assess.
Second, take responsibility. I can’t change what I don’t own. Take responsibility for your life, your corner of the world, your side of the street, or your zone of influence. If you’re walking down the street and you see a problem, take responsibility for it. If your life is a problem, take responsibility for it. This doesn’t mean you are foolish about confronting it.
Third, use your reason to continue to assess the problem. Don’t let fear drive you, use it. Assess the situation, whatever it may be—political, social, criminal, or practical—and think your way through it to the prudent, appropriate solution. Reason will save your life. Nobody is smarter or better than you are. Use your own common sense to solve the problem you face.
Fourth, take systematic, consistent action and follow through. Take action. Action relieves anxiety. Whatever the problem, wherever you are in life, take action against the threats or difficulties you face. A good way to start—unless you face an immediate threat of violence—is to do your thinking on paper.
Call to Action: Today, right now, write down the three things you fear the most. Go through the four steps above and add a fifth—write up a short plan to confront each fear.