Fear is truly complex. It has so many facets. Ultimately, all fears grow out of some well-meaning process of self-preservation but can create a permanent state of anxiety. And yet, while that younger self no longer exists, the fear may remain in some form.
Fear dominated my mother’s life, so it is a feeling I am intimately familiar with. It therefore floated around the house as I grew up. Much of it revolved around a fear of others.
In addition to a fear of being physically attacked (at a time when this was almost unheard of in Ireland), there was a fear of what neighbours, friends and family might think of us and indeed that they might think less of us for some reason. This created a massive drive to do well in exams, get a respectable job and live within the rules.
Now that I am writing this, I realise that much of what I did as a young adult was in some way to get away from my Mother’s fears. My primary fear was letting her down or more specifically having to manage the emotional meltdown and blackmail that would follow. Distance allowed me to mitigate much of that.
Despite, or perhaps because of, being surrounded by all these fears as a child, I had relatively few fears but they were there nonetheless. In fact, for years, I didn’t even realise that I had any real fears because they were in fact driving me to do things rather than holding me back so were much less noticeable.
For example, I had a fear of being tied down in a role or being overly controlled in how I worked. This led to a whole series of life choices including leaving salaried employment and setting up my own businesses. Fear of failure or what other people thought didn’t enter the equation but not living an autonomous life was terrifying. In many ways, it still drives me.
The first step is therefore acknowledging that we have fears.
There can be some judgement around this, particularly for men in many societies. We simply lose critical information when we fail to acknowledge them, so it makes sense to start there. It is then about noticing, about gently peeling back the feeling to get a sense for what the real underlying fear is. This can take some detective work at times.
Ultimately, though, it is often not possible to think our way out of fear because many of the responses are fully embodied. Think of speaking in front of a large unruly crowd! If you are like most people, that will generate some level of fear in your body.
It is therefore necessary to transform the experience by to some extent embracing the fear rather than running away from it and replacing one feeling for another feeling rather than a feeling for a thought.
Questions in the Image:
- What fears drive me?
- What fears hold me back?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (link to Amazon.co.uk). The book delves into the concept of vulnerability, and how embracing our vulnerabilities can lead to greater courage, compassion and connection in our lives.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. As I pass my kitchen garden and notice how it will shortly need pruning, I wonder what I might prune from my life? To make space for the new plants in our lives, we may need to prune back the ones that are taking up too much space, light and energy and offering us little nourishment in return.
About Tom O’Leary
My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.
The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.
And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.
That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.
How Might Tom Help?
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