What is Fear?
We all experience it – even if we pretend we don’t.
There is fear of the dark. Fear of snakes. Fear of spiders. Fear of the unknown. Fear of travel. Fear of flying. Fear of death. Fear of germs. Fear of making a fool of oneself. Fear of speaking up. Fear of not being heard.
Fear of failure.
I have spent a good part of my life fearing failure. Fear of disappointing my dad. Fear of not making the cut. Fear of missing my alarm and being late for work. Fear of letting my colleagues down. Fear of being a bad parent, a bad husband, a bad son, a bad brother. Fear of being found to be incompetent.
I am a perfect example of someone living with “imposter syndrome”, a fear that someone will discover you aren’t as smart, as worthy, as dependable, as capable of doing the job you are being paid to do. Officially: “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills”.
That was me. I never felt worthy. To protect myself, I developed a sense of humour encased in self-deprecation. If anyone was going to belittle me, I would do it first. It is better to be laughed with, rather than laughed at!
In talking to colleagues over the years, imposter syndrome is very common. A friend once told me “if you look around the room for an expert, more often than not, you will discover that expert is you”.
But here I am, newly retired and if anyone ever did discover that I was not capable, they never divulged it to me. I MADE IT!!
The reality is that the biggest fear many of us have is fear of failure. As a long time professional in the IT world and the telecom space before that, I can tell you that it is completely normal. We all hide it in our own way, so we are not “discovered”.
Failure is simply “experience shrouded in adversity”.
Throughout our careers we learn far more through failure and adversity than we do our successes. In fact, some of my longest lasting and most valued relationships were developed through working together on difficult projects, consumed by pressure and many points of failure along the way. Through adversity, we find out a lot about our own resilience, the capacity for empathy and the commitment of those around us, to a common goal.
Fear and adversity galvanizes – and steels us for what is to come.
Roadblocks to Success
Don’t let fear consume you, but rather let it drive you. Embrace it and use it to propel you through difficult times. I have often counselled colleagues with these words: “If you have a healthy dose of fear – managed correctly – you are unlikely to fail”. You just won’t allow yourself.
Some people are quick on their feet. Quick to have a response. Quick to problem solve. Quick to see the big picture. I was not one of those people. I discovered early in my career that I needed time to let ideas “percolate” in my head. Sometimes that meant a few hours. Sometimes a few days. Often answers came to me in the night, while I was at rest or asleep.
I was a “30 thousand foot” guy. Details were not my strength. I was at my best when I could see the big picture, but less so when requiring finishing touches. By that time I was bored and ready to move on to the next project.
Learn how your brain operates most effectively. We all function differently and react to different stimuli. Learn early to trust your gut or instincts. Your gut will seldom let you down or mislead you. Learn to listen. Learn to ask probing questions.
Learn to embrace your fears.
Allow it to propel you, rather than paralyze you.