Everyone is afraid of something. And most of us have bunches of little fears, worries and apprehensions that we walk around with every day. Some are bigger than others. And some are more rational than others.
One of the things that separates successful people from the wallowing masses trapped in mediocrity out there is their ability to overcome their fears and move beyond them. For so many of us fear paralyzes our potential. It keeps us from moving forward and achieving the success that is calling to us.
I know fear has held me back for years.
The Source of Fear
Fear is hardwired into each of us. It is a natural phenomenon that can be critical to our survival. That fight-or-flight instinct which kicks in dumping adrenalin into our system to gives us the power we need to escape when we are in danger. There is healthy fear that can keep us alive.
Someone trapped in a burning building will be more likely to escape with a healthy level of fear of the flames. In my case, I am totally OK with my fear of snakes because it helps keep me from getting bitten. (And no, I have no plans to go see Snakes on a Plane!)
When I was in flight school a guy I knew washed out because of what the Navy termed “NAFOD.” It was an acronym which stood for “No Apparent Fear Of Death.” The Navy knew that some level of fear was required for safety. They had no use for reckless pilots who would endanger lives and expensive pieces of hardware. Some level of fear is required for good decision making.
When we recklessly ignore our fears, or when healthy fear is absent, tragedy often results. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, tragically demonstrated that this weekend when he got too close to a stingray which killed him. While it is true that Steve was successful because he overcame any fear of dangerous creatures, unfortunately for him the very source of his success became his undoing. We lay aside healthy fear at our own peril.
The experts say that we are born with only two fears. They say that all of our other fears are learned by one means or another. Apparently newborns only fear being dropped and loud noises. Now I don’t know how they determined that, but it does seem to make sense. Kids generally are far more willing to try new things than adults are. And it is a good thing too. Because to children pretty much everything is new!
Children are inherently more willing to accept the unknown than adults are. We want to know the outcome before we move forward.
Ultimately our fears come down to a control issue. We so much want to be sure that everything will work out in our favor that when we face uncertainty of outcomes we fear moving forward. If we were certain that we could control the outcome, we would not be afraid.
This is true across the board. It doesn’t matter what your particular fear is: heights, spiders, asking your boss for a raise, standing in front of a group to give that presentation, talking to people you don’t know, flying, getting audited, going to the doctor or dentist, or even clowns. Whatever your fear, somewhere at its root is an uncertainty of outcome that is in conflict with your desire to be in control of the situation.
That is the reason fear is so paralyzing. And that is the reason why so many of our fears are completely irrational. Our intense desire for control of our lives can overwhelm any rational thought when we are faced with a situation where the outcome is totally unpredictable.
Avalanche of Fear
Have you ever experienced a time when you found yourself all worked up in a tizzy about something and then caught yourself, said, “Hold on. This is nuts. Let’s get a grip here.”
We can sometimes find ourselves trapped in the cascading “what if” thoughts and run through imaginary scenarios that can totally paralyze us. Know anyone who has an unhealthy fear of confrontation? Their thought process might go something like this.
“Jones keeps screwing up. He needs to get on the stick because he is bringing the whole organization down. It’s my job to deal with it. I’ll go talk to him. But what if he doesn’t receive it well? What if he gets angry? He could cause bigger problems. Our sales might drop. I could lose my job. Then we wouldn’t be able to pay our mortgage. We’d lose the house. We’d be out on the street. Starving. Everyone would hate me. My kids would end up on drugs or as prostitutes.
“I’ll talk to him later.”
Meanwhile Jones keeps screwing up and the organization is dragged down. Neither is the organization nor anyone in it as successful as they have the potential to be.
And none of those thoughts are true.
How did we get to that place where our thoughts spun so far out of control?
Did you know that the three most common fears are death, loneliness, and failure? And while we can exert some influence over each of these areas in our lives there is no way for us to totally control any of them.
So what can we do?
The truth is that we cannot overcome fear simply by saying, “I will not be afraid.”
The problem with our fears is that we latch onto things that are not true. We believe negative possibilities instead of the truth. If instead we would cling to the truth, the truth would set us free. We would overcome our fear and move on to success.
I can’t remember which movie John Wayne said,
“Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and still doing what you know needs to be done anyway.”
Most of us know the story of David and Goliath from the Bible. The entire nation trembled at the thought of facing the giant, Goliath. Not only was Goliath big and scary, but did you know he was also a darn good speaker? For forty days he strutted in front of the battle lines twice a day and gave a speech tormenting David’s people.
Most of us who heard the story as kids in Sunday School heard how David was just a boy but was braver than his entire nation. David wasn’t afraid, we were told. He marched straight out there and killed Goliath. The lesson was that we should be fearless like David.
Well if that is the version of the story you heard I hate to break the news to you. But David was scared too. You can read the story in 1 Samuel chapter 17. I’m not making this up.
Actually there are two reasons I know David was afraid. The first comes straight from the story. Check out verses 23 and 24:
As [David] was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear.
David ran away too!
But David did something to overcome his fear. If you read through the story you find that after running away David twice asks the question what will happen to the one who kills Goliath. The answer he got both times was that the hero would get to marry the king’s daughter and be exempt from paying taxes for the rest of his life. (For some reason they skipped the talk about tax exemptions in Sunday School!)
David replaced his fear with the truth. In this case the truth was a big reward. Once David had that truth firmly established, he was able to overcome his fear, face the giant, and prevail.
I said there are two reasons I know David was afraid. The other comes from one of the most often quoted passages of scripture. Scholars say that the 23 Psalm was written by David about his encounter with Goliath. Read again what David had to say about that day when he’d had a little while to reflect on it:
The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.
David describes that march out to face Goliath as a walk through the dark Valley of Death. Yet David was able to find courage in that desolate discouraging place. Not only did David replace the fear with the truth of what would happen, but he also turned to God for the spiritual strength to overcome his fear.
Unhealthy fear comes with a spiritual component. And the only way we can truly overcome those fears after finding the truth needed to replace the fear is by addressing that spiritual element.
We will never be truly successful until we do.