To make progress in all aspects of our lives, if there is one HUGE impediment that we all need to address, it is FEAR (aka False Expectations Appearing Real). Let’s take a look at how life progresses for most people.
When we are born, we have no fear. Observe young children. They will want to climb over any obstacle in their path, touch everything, and, in short, do anything, because they have no fear. However our parents, in trying to protect us, gradually instill fear in us. From an early age, we are told “don’t touch the fire!,” “don’t go right to the edge!,” “be careful,” etc.
As a parent, I understand why we act the way we do: we are simply trying to protect our children from the many dangers we see or experience. But children and young adults who are exclusively taught not to take risks, even calculated risks, grow up to be risk-averse adults susceptible to fear-related internal messages that resonate loudly within, as they face life’s challenges.
Through our school and college and university years and beyond, we face many fears: of not being liked, not making friends, failing exams, choosing the “wrong” college, career, job, spouse, etc. Such fears can often become front and center in people’s minds. And the media engenders even more fear: of war, of natural disasters, for personal safety, etc. It’s no wonder then that many of us are paralyzed by fear, as I learned I was, because we have more than two decades of fear-related thinking drummed into us by the time we are in our twenties!
What happens in our late twenties, thirties, and forties? We realize we have to take risks to make progress in life, so we try and make them “calculated risks,” i.e., taken after careful thought. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail in our endeavours. But every time we fail, we become more risk averse, and we slow down our growth, at just the age when we have begun to gain the wisdom to more fully realize our potential.
And then there is the imposter syndrome – something I lived with for a long time when at a very young age, I had a massive amount of responsibility thrust on me. Every day that I went to work for many years, I thought: today is when they find out I really don’t know much of what I am talking about – and fire me! “They” did not fire me – instead, I got promotion after promotion because I was resolving complex problems, overcoming “insurmountable” obstacles, and completing huge unique architectural projects on time, on budget and with high quality (without being an architect or engineer). I shudder when I think about the fear that was just below the surface all those years . . .
Simultaneously, many people have not only a fear of failure, but often a fear of success as well. This causes us to “play small.” You may be wondering why anyone would be afraid of success. Think of the inner voices that whisper: “What will ‘they’ say (to our success)?”; “Be modest and don’t show off ”; “I don’t deserve this success because I am not worth it”; “I am an imposter and someone will find out that I am really not that clever/smart/skillful, etc.”; “Will my friends continue to be my friends if I am much more successful than they are?”; “Will I want them as my friends?”; “Will this mean that I am “better” than my parents or siblings, who may not have enjoyed such success?”
Some people also back off from success because they feel that once they succeed, there is nowhere to go but downhill from there, or because they feel they will need to continue to expend huge efforts to maintain their success. Such self-limiting thoughts are common, and they compound the fears described earlier.
But wait – what about when we are in our fifties, sixties, and seventies? Other fears click in: of getting old, disease/illness, being a burden on our families, having insufficient funds to enjoy retirement, and death, to name a few fears.
The end result is a fear of failure and a fear of success. This paralyzes us from being able to move forward in our lives.
So what’s the solution, you say? Stay tuned for the next few posts as I reveal all . . .