The F Word that Keeps us Playing Small

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Got big dreams, aspirations or maybe even a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) in mind that needs a degree of fearlessness in order to execute?  

Maybe your plans are on hold while you doggedly work through that bunch of really good reasons for not going ahead.

Maybe you are still justifying the energy required to be fearless so you can tackle those big plans that might just change your world as you know it.

Maybe you are simply feeling fear - and all you know is that it doesn't feel good.

  • Is that really the case that you need to be fearless?
  • Is it merely that getting out of a rut is more difficult than you imagine? 
  •  Or is it simply that discomfort with the thought of being uncomfortable gets in the way?

Fear is irrational

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Let’s look at fear as a starting place and here are some fun (or maybe scary) statistics from Statistics Brain, Fear and Phobias:

  • Did you know that more people are scared of public speaking (74%) than they are of dying (68%)? 
  • Did you know that 60 % of things that you are scared of that will never take place?
  • Did you also know that 90 % off things feared are considered to be insignificant issues?

When our fear response is triggered we literally are not able to think (i.e. fight, flight or freeze) - ergo it's irrational and designed to be that way. So when we’re stressed, anxious or fearful we are actually bypassing the more rational parts of our brains making it more challenging to make great decisions about our future plans and what is in fact likely or even possible. 

Perception appears to be the key

The brain doesn’t really discern much of a difference between threat of pain to person and threat of pain to ego. The pain centres of the brain light up in the same place when you hurt yourself or when someone “unfriends” you on Facebook.   We even avoid threats to ego with as much energy as we avoid threats to physical self - perhaps explaining (Seinfeld style) why more of us are afraid of giving the eulogy at a funeral than being in the casket.

Why is this important? If your fear response is triggered in some way when thinking about a BHAG or big change, you may not be perceiving the situation accurately or rationally. So let's get some of the most common fears out in the open so you can recognise them and let them go when you start moving past dreams into execution phase.

1. Fear of failure

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
— Winston Churchill

Many of us appear to imagine that failure is fatal. And yet our society revers stories of the invention of the “post it” note, Thomas Edison inventing the light globe - and the good old fashioned "try, try again" approach.   When was the last time you tried something you were bound to fail at? Probably not since you were a kid.  We've been socialised to play it safe, get it right, do it properly (women in particular). So why not try something really out of the box that you are bound to fail at?  Go do something that you know that you'll be lousy at and just see how it actually feels (not what you might imagine it feels like). Instead of running excuses and justifications through your brain afterwards, just let it happen. Accept it. Enjoy the "experience" of not being perfect and move on. 

2. Fear that people will find out that you are a fraud – Imposter Syndrome

“Any moment someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud – I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am.”
— Emma Watson

If Emma Watson can experience it, then it must be okay for the rest of us mere mortals to experience it. Certainly if you are worn down, worn out and under pressure, your Imposter Syndrome is highly likely to kick in.  Once you've heard of it, there's no going back. It's a real syndrome but once again, not fatal. Nearly every one experiences it at some stage. Identify it. Move through it. Just to be clear, apparently men and women experience it differently but it's still fixable.

“Both men and women suffer from it in different ways, but it does affect both sexes .......... With women they are more likely to be afraid of success – as well as failure – because they sense there will be a price to pay in other parts of their life. ...........  With men it is more ‘fake it, until you make it’. They think the syndrome is part and parcel of work life and they tend to push through it.” According to behavioural change consultant Suzanne Mercier 

3. Fear that you won’t like it when you get there

Embedded in this one is the idea that there is a “there” or end point. Surely life, success, career, adventures are just one big continuum?  If perception is everything why not extend your end point so that you've still got something enjoyable to aim for? Then refer back to point 1.

 “Success is not final.” Winston Churchill

In my article How Will You Know if You've Made It  I talk about a bunch of serial entrepreneurs who all agree that the path of fearlessness, entrepreneurialism and leadership is not easy. So be clear about what are you looking for. Easy? Challenge? To make a difference?  Do your homework. What is important to you about work? Once you are clear about that, it will be far easier to like when you get there.

4. Fear of being great

Did you get to see Marianne Williamson in her recent Australian tour? If not, click through for a visual update on highlights of both Melbourne and Sydney.  She knows people, and I don’t mean big name people (although she actually does). Rather, she knows the human spirit intimately.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
— Marianne Williamson

I’ve had clients share with me that they are worried that they might change if and when they “shine” and that it will change their relationship with their family or significant other -hence hesitation or stalling of goals.  Why not stop worrying about it, and work it though instead?  Journal it, have a conversation with your significant other. Work it through with the “5 why’s” or similar process, and put some plans, routines and certainty in place to nurture those relationships in advance.  To paraphrase an old proverb: 

Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you sometime to do but it doesn't get you anywhere. 

5. Fear that you won’t be enough

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t - you’re right
— Henry Ford

The ailment and the remedy in one wise statement above. If you think you are enough or you think you aren't enough, you will be right. You decide. Change your mindset pure and simple.

6. Fear that it won't work and you'll have wasted your time and energy 

This idea is predicated on a model of scarcity. That time, energy and confidence will run out if you don’t shepherd them carefully. I know this one intimately. I’ve lived with this for half a decade (possibly more). It keeps you at home on the couch ostensibly restoring but in actual fact that's depleting.  But what if you believe instead that energy breeds energy, that action boosts confidence and that time feels endless as soon as you allow yourself to realise it's not running out?

At some level we know deep down that these fears are irrational. We also know that when we are overwhelmed, overworked and feeling stressed, perceived fear has far more impact. So be sure to keep your eye on the prize and focused on the end goal.  Put systems, processes and routines in place that keep you supported physically and mentally allowing you to tackle big, important career and entrepreneurial goals while managing your perceptions of fear more easily.

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.”
— Brian Tracy

What are you afraid of? What holds you back? What stops you from executing big, audacious goals? What can we learn so that others don't need to go through the same?

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

If you missed it- 10 game changing practices to keep you firing at your best 

  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 

  • I mentor ambitious professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.

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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months