I've lived with a lot of fear in my lifetime. Here are some of the things I've learned about it:
It protected me when my mom's drunken boyfriend started raging at us all.
It saved me when my sister's boyfriend tried to strangle me.
It has kept me company when I was intimidated by my shortcomings - all of the "not enoughs" that I heard in my head (not strong enough, cool enough, sexy enough, etc.)
It's an acronym for Fuck Everything And Run.
It - my fear of my fear, that is - has driven me to show the world what I can do. Over and over again, I've outdone fear.
Yeah, fear has come up big for me, been a really handy partner for my whole life. It's made me very successful - varsity athlete, honors student, bassist in a rock band, elected official, company president, and many more outward signs of "success".
When big questions have come up in my life, I could count on fear to be there as a guide. It offered me so many answers. Here's a partial list:
Lie. (Especially about how I feel.)
The aforementioned "Run".
Hide. (Especially any sign of weakness.)
Prove yourself - again.
The curious thing is that I only recently realized just how much fear was motivating me. To clarify, it's not like I knew fear was fueling me and I just didn't understand the extent of it. I actually didn't realize that fear was my primary motivator.
It's Not Your Fault
And guess what? I don't think I'm alone, especially among the people who look most like me. If you're a straight, white, cisgender man, I bet you have been running on fear, too. You almost have to be based on our culture's dominant messages for men like me:
Don't show your emotions
Take care of business
Suck it up
You got this!
There's no room for fear in those messages. But fear is a natural human emotion - you can't avoid it!!!
Fear is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world. Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined. While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.
- Paul Ekman
When we unnaturally pretend that we don't have fear, we harm our emotional, psychological, and physical states of being. You can only do that for so long before you start harming others.
Dude - We Can Still See Your Fear
You might be doing your best to hide it, but it doesn't work after a while. Here's what it can look like:
You become stressed out and snap at your partner all the time, making your relationship suffer (or come to an end).
You check out because you're feeling depressed and become unavailable to your kids, who then start to seek out your attention in ways you probably don't like.
You see someone that looks different than you encroaching on your opportunities and you lash out or use your privilege to shut them down, perpetuating systemic oppression that harms society.
You dull the pain of all that stuffed-down fear with a shot or three of courage every night and stop being involved in your life - no more friends, no more hobbies.
You hide your fear of rejection by women behind misogyny or porn, which only serves to deepen your sense of isolation and disconnection.
What other fears do you have? No need to say them. Give us a little time - we'll be able to figure them out.
Survey Says ... X X X
What are the contributing factors to your sense of success and happiness, men?
Well, I ain't Richard Dawson and this ain't Family Feud. But if the top five answers were on the board for that question, I'm gonna tell you that "Fear" wouldn't be on that list.
If I asked the question differently - without "happiness"involved - I would grant you that Fear is the Answer. (At least for a while.)
But if you want to be both successful AND happy, Fear is NOT the Answer. I've got my own set of answers to that and they've been working wonders for me.
What are yours?
Jim Young is a convert. His new way of interpreting FEAR as an acronym is to Face Everything And Rise. He's done that by taking on his fears honestly and moving through them, one risk at a time. That's worked out way better than ignoring them, both for his sense of success and his happiness.
Jim lives in Western Massachusetts and works with leaders all over the globe to help them become more successful and happy versions of themselves. His latest passion is bringing groups of men together to dare each other to get through their fears on the way to a 3-D life.
Feel free to start a debate with Jim about fear - of just say "hi" - at firstname.lastname@example.org.