The snow was falling sideways as I peered through the only 12” space on the windshield of my Jeep CJ that I could see through. Since the heater was broken in my rickety but awesome vehicle, I had to stop every hour or so to re-scrape my windshield with a credit card. Who knew you’d need an ice scraper in Minnesota?
It was cold and treacherous, but I was a man on a mission. I was on the way to visit my new girl friend for Christmas break. I remember thinking how much I must like her to brave the subzero apocalypse also known as an average Minnesota winter. But truth be told, even more than the weather, what worried me most was “the meeting.”
I had never met Sarah’s parents and on that 8 hour drive, I remember playing out every “meet the parents” scenario I could imagine — the silent treatment, the machine-gun questioning, the pranking, the waterboarding. And this was before Meet the Parents. I had heard stories of greater men than me being eaten alive and I was petrified. Several times, I almost considered just turning around and using the weather as my excuse.
Fear is one of the biggest things that keeps us from stepping out and doing things that matter. When people are asked about their greatest fear, the most common answers are things like loneliness, the unknown and death. Some people would include clowns, spiders and carnival rides. I know a guy who has a serious fear of cotton balls. Yes, cotton balls.
Even though some fears are unfounded, the power of fear is real. It can suck the life right out of your dreams. You probably know that there’s some contribution that you could make to the world, but fear is standing in the way. Here are a few of the things I think we tend to fear the most…
1. Fear of failure
As I drove down that highway, I thought to myself, “what if I blow this? What if her parent’s hate me?” In life, fear of failure can be gripping. “What if I’m bad at it? What if it doesn’t work? What if we lose all of our savings?” No doubt, the fear of failure is real.
2. Fear of success
I remember thinking “What if her parents love me but I fall out of love with Sarah?” Man, that’d be weird. Some people actually self-sabotage because they are afraid of success. Maybe you’re afraid of how success would change you, how money or opportunity would ruin the life you’ve already built. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll lose friends, reputation or your ideals. I get that.
3. Fear of making the wrong choice
Anyone in a relationship can relate to this. What if she’s not ‘the one’? Or what if I make a mistake? Fear of making a bad choice can paralyze us as much as anything. So often, we’re faced with several seemingly great opportunities and we’re afraid to step forward because we don’t want to make a mistake. We’re afraid by choosing, we miss out on something else. We don’t want to pick the wrong path and so we pick no path at all.
4. Fear of others knowing we’re faking it
This is the one I struggle with. Sometimes I find myself afraid of stepping out because I’m afraid that everyone will discover that I’m faking it. I remember wondering if Sarah’s parents would find out that I was just a normal guy and not the entrepreneurial rockstar she’d made me out to be. I’ve since found out that almost every successful person I know deals with this fear — all of them are wondering when everyone is going to realize that they don’t know as much as they let on.
So…what do you do when you’re faced with fear?
A lot of people talk about facing your fears. I think fear is part of life. You’ll never out run it, you’ll never destroy it, you’ll never make it go away. What you can do is acknowledge it, call out the fear. That’s what we have to do — realize that fear is part of life and that overcoming fear is really more about learning to recognize it and learning to push ahead in spite of it.
Whatever you do, don’t let fear keep you from stepping out and starting. Chances are, you will encounter fear to some degree or the other. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s part of the process. The key is to learn from it, to let it make you stronger.
Turns out, Sarah’s parents liked me just fine. In fact, I remember long talks and lots of laughter on that trip. And in a few weeks Sarah and I will celebrate 23 years of marriage. We even have 5 kids and a dog. And a cat. Boy am I glad I pushed through my fears that day.
How about you? What fear is your worst enemy?
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