• Are you limited by your fears?


    We all have fears. I’m not talking about the fear of snakes or spiders. I’m referring to the fears we have about ourselves and our interactions with others. Many of us tend to keep our fears private. We believe that exposing our fears makes us vulnerable and that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Of course, we are all vulnerable, and our vulnerabilities make us human. It is fear that stifles our thinking and actions: it creates indecisiveness that can result in stagnation.

    Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, professor from INSEAD, has written about how fear hinders success. I’m not a psychologist, but it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize our fears. Here are ten common ones:

    1. Losing control – We want to be in control, or at least believe we’re in control. Many of us spend more time lamenting the things we can’t control than thinking about the things we can: our choices.
    2. Unknown – Much is unknown—some good and some not so good. But if we knew what the future would bring, we would be so preoccupied trying to prevent bad things from happening we’d forget to enjoy today. Instead of fearing the future, we might be wise to remember the past “unknowns” that surprised us and made us happy.
    3. Being wrong – We want to be right. Being wrong may indicate that we’re not as smart as we think we are. And guess what? We often aren’t.
    4. Not knowing – For some of us, worse than being wrong is not knowing. In fact, we might prefer to be wrong than admit we don’t know. Remember, Confucius said, “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.”
    5. Conflict – Most of us avoid conflict because conflict is unpleasant. We gloss over disagreements or push them to the background. Over time, suppressing conflict results in an accumulation of negative feelings that we carry into the future.
    6. Rejection – Most of us want to be liked and accepted. Our fear of rejection can drive us to avoid situations in which we believe that we might experience some form of rejection, limiting our opportunities.
    7. Failure – While it is true we learn from failure, of course we would prefer not to fail in the first place. Focusing on avoiding failure, though, prevents us from taking the risks necessary for learning new skills and exploring novel ideas.
    8. Being found out – Feeling vulnerable can easily lead to anxiety about being “found out.” The “Impostor syndrome” is often used to describe high-achieving individuals who have difficulty acknowledging their accomplishments and fear being exposed as “frauds.” They spend so much time playing defense—trying to hide their perceived inadequacies—that they fail to celebrate their success.
    9. Not measuring up – We often compare ourselves to others, or to some unrealistic ideal. We can easily find a skill for which we are “less than” when we compare ourselves to others. Yet those who believe they do “not measure up” are often high achievers in the eyes of others.
    10. Success – As strange as it might seem, some people fear success. They achieve great success and recognition yet believe that they don’t deserve it, that somehow their success is misplaced. This self-deception of unworthiness can easily get in the way of future success.

    So, if we all have fears, should we be living in a state of fear? Absolutely not! We can be aware of our fears without being a prisoner to them. When we acknowledge our fears, we can better understand why we behave the way we do. Over time some fears will diminish as drivers of our actions.

    Pushing Your Thinking

    • Which fears do you experience most often?
    • What is the source of those fears?
    • What opportunities might be created, or how might you behave if you didn’t have those fears?
    • What can you do to face and move past your fears?

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