Fear Isn't Good or Bad, It's Necessary
When I was 16, I decided to move from Hong Kong to Karachi to study for a business degree. It was a decision borne of economics and necessity more than anything else, but it seemed to make sense at the time, given the reputation of the school and my family ties there.
It was also the first time I'd ever left home, the first time I'd left my hometown (country) on my own. Couple this with the fact that I was in an environment that was mine by birth but not by practical experience (having grown up in a completely different culture in Hong Kong), that I wasn't clear on what I wanted in terms of a career, that perhaps I hadn't done enough diligence on my options, I became extremely uncomfortable. I felt fearful of this new life, away from everything I knew and understood.
I debated what I should do. Stay and tough it out? Immerse myself in this new (for me) culture? Figure out my path there? Or, should I leave, go back to something closer to what I knew, explore my other options, continue my education elsewhere? I ended up choosing to go back home.
I've often thought about that point in time and the decision I made. Today, I can cast it in both a positive and negative light or, as is the case with most things in life, somewhere in between. In retrospect (and practical experience since), it isn't one I regret, for many reasons. But it was my first real experience of the role fear plays in defining what we (should) do and, ultimately, who we are.
I used to think of fear as a state, but what I've come to believe is that fear is actually a transit point. It's a signal that your mind and body is at an inflection point, as if you're getting ready for something. In many ways, like when you're about to enter a doorway of some sort. This means that feeling of fear is neither good nor bad. It could be either or both.
Often, we experience fear as a paralyzing emotion. One that stops us from doing things, launching us into analysis paralysis, thinking about things for much longer than we should. Many times, stopping us from doing things.
I've tried to become much more open to fear today. To become more analytical about it, as opposed to emotional. (Or at least more analytical after the initial wave of emotion surfaces.)
I assess whether the judgement I am making in response to that fear is based on emotion or is it based on analysis? What are the facts behind what I'm thinking - good or bad?
Today, when I feel fear, I try and ask why.
Is it something that is going to hurt me? Will it have positive or negative consequences? In the near term versus medium versus longer term? Or is it a signal that I simply don't know enough or I've never done it before?
The point is to be less emotionally reactive.
Because fear is necessary for personal growth. Actually, it's more than that - it's a requirement for it. We need fear. If we don't ever feel it, it means we're complacent, that we're not challenging ourselves enough.
Fear means we're about to be taken out of our comfort zone. And more often than not, we're better off for it.
Fear teaches us. Yes, the path we choose in facing those fears will be hard. But once we go down that path, once we overcome (because we can overcome), we learn more about ourselves, we achieve something (tangible or otherwise). Our actions in the face of our fears is the fount of our confidence.
I felt this fear when I started my business, leaving the relative comfort of a decade long career in management consulting to bootstrap a business with nothing but a laptop and a few good ideas. What made me take that step was the overwhelming fear of waking up at the age of 60, having never taken the entrepreneurial step. (Whether the business did well or not was almost secondary - I knew I could go back to consulting or some other job if I had to. I couldn't necessarily do this again.)
I felt this fear as we looked to bring in clients and revenue. The fear that I had to sell to put food on the table, to house and feed and clothe my family, which included a 4 year old and a (barely) 1 year old. This fear ensured I wouldn't be complacent, that I would push to do everything I could to grow the business.
I feel the fear today to ensure we stay relevant to our customers, to ensure they value what we bring to them, and that what we do serves them in ways that are unique and differentiated. Accepting and working with that "fear" is an important part of running a business.
So the practical reality is that fear plays a very motivating role in helping make us better than who we are. In helping us grow and achieve things in life beyond what we would normally expect is possible.
Fear is a practical reality. It's essential we keep working to tame this beast.