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We live in a society defined by its insecurities. We fear the loss of our jobs, our health, our money, our relationships, our sense of control. Here is a sampling of some less common fears to illustrate how far human fears reach:

  • Bennophobia – fear of slime
  • Dextrophobia: fear of objects on the right side of the body
  • Auroraphobia: fear of the northern lights
  • Thalassophobia: fear of being seated
  • Graphophobia: fear of writing in public
  • Phobophobia: fear of being afraid
  • Pentheraphobia – fear of a mother-in-law
  • Xanthrophobia – fear of the color yellow
  • Consultaphobia – fear of consultants (I made that one up!).

You get the point. Fear is deeply imbedded in many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Fear fills the void left by our lack of faith.

Check out the evening news. Stories are often posed to get our attention by playing on our fears. A headline that reads, “Are you poisoning your family at the dinner table?” is guaranteed to get attention. So is the one asking, “Are your children safe at school?” In fact, when I was a youngster, I remember my mother saying, “We can watch the six o’clock news and not eat or watch the eleven o’clock news and not sleep!”

Since we fear most that which is unknown to us, defining moments can occur when we choose to know our fears.

Fear keeps us in the background, convincing us we can never accomplish our dreams. It is the voice of fear that tells us to keep quiet and to stay within our comfort zones. Without question, it is fear that stops us in our tracks toward our goals and limits what we are willing to try. For many, it is fear that leads to smaller lives. But fear can also motivate us.

The acronym F.E.A.R. stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” It’s a true definition of fear. It describes how our minds can weave together false tales of how situations will turn out.

Knowing our fears and facing them will set us free. I recently jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 to overcome my fear of heights. I started by knowing the facts and dispelling my false assumptions about the risk.

There is plenty of fear in the workplace also. If I ask my boss about that promotion, I will get blacklisted. If I terminate Joan, I know she will sue us. If I don’t nail this project, I will be off the fast track. If I don’t get that bonus, I will never be able to afford our new mortgage payment. If I succeed at this job, I don’t think I can take it to the next level again.

Fear is really a secondary emotion, not a primary one. Since we jump to fear so reflexively, we fail to think about our first reaction, which is the cause for our fear.

Causes of our behavior are easier to address than the symptoms. For example, fear of flying might a symptom of a high need for control, and giving up that control produces tremendous anxiety and fear. Fear of public speaking (#1 on the world’s list of fears) might be a symptom of insecurities – not feeling expert enough or prepared enough to give a fluent speech or feeling vulnerable to criticism or being judged.

This introspection, typically helped by getting feedback from others, often requires more courage than overcoming the very thing we fear. The battles inside of us are scarier than those inside of us.

Facing Fear

The key is to identify our primary response to a situation or change and think about it. When we stop to think about our fear, we can determine if our primary response is insecurity, sense of loss, need for control or discomfort with uncertainty, etc. Once we honestly identify our primary response, we start to know our fear more intimately. Then, we can equip ourselves with information and experiences to fearlessly manage change in our lives.

We must think about and act on our fear instead of simply reacting to it.

This thought reminds me of the prison warden who told the condemned man to order whatever he wanted for his last meal, and he offered suggestions, “Lobster, Filet Mignon, Beef Wellington or shrimp?”

“No,” the prisoner said. “I’ll just have a bowl of mushrooms.”

“Why mushrooms?” the warden asked him.

“I’ve always been afraid to eat them.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late to know your fears. Fear is a natural reaction to the challenges of life and leadership.

To grow, change and excel, we must know fear.

Learn more about your defining moment to conquer in 7 Moments… that Define Excellent Leaders.