I recently asked 125 National Society of Leadership & Success conference attendees what they wanted the courage to do. Nearly a quarter of the respondents, 24.5%, wanted the courage to stand or speak up for themselves. This was the most popular response.
And, it got me thinking.
Of all the things we can fear, why are we afraid of siding with ourselves? It comes down to one thing. Fear of loss.
Overwhelmingly, youth and adults, alike, are afraid of losing — friends, jobs, family connections, intimate relationships, status, normalcy, money, power, stability and more.
And, the two biggest sub-categories within fear of loss that survey respondents were most concerned about were fear of rejection and fear of failure.
Of all the things we can fear, why are we afraid of siding with ourselves?
Fear of Rejection
It’s the kind of fear that surfaces from being judged in a critical way, and it often conjures feelings of not belonging. One conference attendee asked me how she could act courageously when it was her family that posed the risk. She didn’t share a specific example connected to the fear, but the weight of her confusion was palpable.
According to author Caroline Myss, “we are energetically designed to live together, create together, learn together, be together and need one another.” So, rejection from a familial tribe, or from another group like classmates or teammates, presents a risk of separation that threatens the stability and security a tribe offers. It’s why individuals, like the student who asked me the question, avert rejection, even at the cost of self-exploration and discovery. Fear of rejection often comes down to the mental tension between tribe vs personal truth.
Fear of Failure
It’s not uncommon for youth to confuse a moment of failure with being a failure, so they opt to stay away from failure altogether. A conference participant ask me how to muster up the courage to take the first step toward his goal when fear of failure was so strong. My answer involved increasing competence and confidence by taking small steps with little risks and building upon them.
But, what is failure, anyway? Oprah told a graduating class at Stanford that “There is no such thing as failure; failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” Researcher Theo Tsaousides says that the fear of failure “is a prediction, a product of your imagination, a scenario you built. This doesn’t make your fear unfounded or irrational. But it makes it premature and unnecessary.” Avoiding failure is often about preventing the ego from getting bruised and not having or trusting the ability to be resilient. A focus on failing makes it impossible to win.
A focus on failing makes it impossible to win.
Somehow within all the fear of loss, youth don’t seem to recognize the potential of losing themselves … because that’s what happens when they stop choosing themselves. It’s common to harbor worry, guilt, stress and pain as a result of choosing something or someone else.
Starting Point for Overcoming Fear
There are several starting points to overcome fear, including opening up to the felt experience (feeling your feelings) and detaching from a particular outcome. These are important, but I prefer starting with the cause, or purpose, behind an action and clarifying it. It begins with asking “am I worth the risk?”
Determining a cause worth fighting for – worth risking rejection, failure, embarrassment and ridicule is essential to choosing courage. In this case, youth have to decide that their place in the world, voice, and freedom are worth it – whatever it may be. Without this kind of clarity, it’s easy to allow fear to overwhelm and overcome. Once they decide that they are worth whatever risks arise from choosing themselves, they can start to build up their internal resources to face the risks.
Here’s a simple formula to start conjuring the courage to do the thing:
Ask: What do I want the courage to do?
Understand: What is the risk or fear in front of me?
Clarify: Am I worth the risk?
What do you want the courage to do? It was a question asked to 125 National Society of Leadership and Success conference participants. Below are the results.