I probably haven’t met you, but I’m pretty confident that you’re scared of something. Plenty of somethings, more likely. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, since it’s true of all of us. For example, I am scared of being eaten by sharks (or even just one shark, really the number of sharks is not the key component of my fear). This fear has led my wife to make fun of me on more than one occasion as she is happily swimming farther into the ocean than I want to go. I’m also scared of being buried alive, lima beans (because they’re disgusting and my mother used to force me to eat them), and escalating a ‘conversation’ into an ‘argument’ when I could easily avoid the latter by just keeping my mouth shut and letting the other person get their way. There are a few others, but that should be enough to show you that I’m basically a coward.
Fortunately, most of my fears don’t really matter. I’m not likely to be buried alive, and I don’t live close enough to spectacular caves to feel like my fear has kept me from some amazing spelunking (which is a great word, by the way). But my fear of getting into arguments has definitely caused me to avoid a few intense conversations that I probably should have had. Always conceding to other people’s wishes for the sake of harmony might be the nice thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it is the best thing for you.
There’s a good chance that some of your fears are preventing you from doing things you should be doing, whether that involves pursuing a new career, standing up to an unreasonable relative, or bungee jumping off a construction crane (which I’m also scared of, by the way). You’re never going to eliminate fear entirely, and that shouldn’t be your goal. But you can manage it.
Ask Yourself, “What’s The Worst That Can Happen?”
At its core, fear comes from our uncertainty about the consequences of a particular decision, which is why imagining the worst possible consequences can often be very helpful. In the case of my fear of sharks, the worst thing that can happen is that they will eat me, which doesn’t really help alleviate that particular fear. But in the case of getting into a necessary argument, the worst thing that can happen is generally that you’ll make somebody angry. Is that a good outcome? No. But it probably isn’t a catastrophic outcome either. The more easily you can recognize that the worst-case scenario isn’t a life-or-death kind of thing, the more easily you’ll be able to overcome some of the things currently holding you back.
Ask Yourself, “What Do I Stand To Gain?”
This one should come second, since you’re not likely to move forward if your worst-case scenario is too horrible to contemplate. But assuming that your worst-case outcome is survivable, your next step is to decide whether tackling your fear is actually worth it. When it comes to sharks, for example, it might be amazing to swim with sharks. When it comes to getting into arguments you could have easily avoided, you might end up with something you really want – a raise, a better understanding between you and your spouse, a greater amount of respect from your daughter or colleague. Once you’ve decided the worst-case is OK and the potential upside is sufficiently valuable, you’ll be much better prepared to tackle whatever it is that’s scaring the crap out of you right now.
Fight Your Fear a Piece At a Time
This is often fairly easy to do. If you’re terrified of skydiving but have decided it’s worth doing someday, start off by staring out the window for an hour on your next flight. Then watch a skydiving video, then talk to a skydiving instructor, then maybe go up in the plane as an observer while other people jump out of it, and then maybe give it a try yourself. If you want to ask for a raise but are terrified of being shot down, maybe start with a conversation about how well you are meeting or exceeding your goals – then use the results of that conversation to give you a little courage as you prepare for the conversation you really want to have. If you’re able to tackle your fears all at once, then go right ahead and do it. But there’s no shame in taking a little time to get where you want to go.
I hope that helps. It’s an approach that’s worked for me. I have far more difficult conversations now than my Midwestern upbringing prepared me for, not because I enjoy them but because I know that I often need to have them. And as far as the whole shark thing goes, I’ve gotten to the point where I can swim around like a fish as long as I have goggles on. Apparently I’m perfectly fine as long as I can see my death swimming toward me. Who would’ve thought?