Voice Over - Fear is the Mind-Killer

Working with people undertaking major change either to themselves or to the organisation within which they are embedded, I see over and over again the power of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear of the unknown. Fear of social ostracism. Fear of disappointing others.

So many fears.

I want you to know what really terrifies me. Let’s start there. What terrifies me is losing Dean.

That’s it.

In the face of losing the person in your life that has meant and continues to mean the most, everything else is really small chips. And sometimes when I work with people who are facing into something that they personally find really scary, I want to blurt out, “Snap out of it! You might have to [work differently | move desks | go upstairs to heat your breakfast | get a new job | move house]! Big f*cking deal people. COPE.”

Which isn’t fair. It really isn’t. I know that, even in my heart, which is why I’m pretty sure none of you in all of these many years of coaching and ice cream walks and resiliency sessions and chats over beer has ever heard me tell you that. It is the impulse of a small selfish person who is hurting and wants to lash out, not a true reflection of how I think about this topic.

Because our fears are real, and they belong to us individually. When a fear causes pain, it hurts, it really really hurts. It never matters that someone else might have a ‘bigger fear’ or ‘more intimidating challenge’. Fear is like young love; it has no perspective whatsoever, no possibility to be objective or reasoned or smart.  

Even when you line up all your internal fears in a row like an exploded nesting doll of horrors, it’s very hard to say, “Because this fear is bigger, I’m going to give myself permission to be more scared of it then this other little one.” Compared to losing Dean or one of the girls getting hurt, losing my currently awesome job is trivial. On the other hand, no one has threatened that job recently. Restructure me tomorrow, and we can revisit the question… because I’ll bet in the moment I’ll probably have a bit of a panic attack.

The trick to overcoming fear though is that – ironically –we do need to just COPE. We do need to just get over it. Coaching someone to get over a fear, however, is about as useful as telling them to calm down. (Yeah… not at all right?) So instead of trying to coach someone to let go of a fear, I increasingly lean towards changing the subject. Instead of looking directly at the fear, discussing the fear, sussing out strategies to address the fear, mitigate the fear, overcome the fear, I work with people on how to think about the world beyond the fear. What does the future look like when the worst thing has happened? when the best thing has happened? Who are you in a new role? What are you doing? What does it look like in the new house? Where will you put things? How are you going to do that thing, live in that place, work on that new work.

And even then, sometimes it’s just too hard. Some futures just don’t seem to have anything in them that I want, no silver lining that makes it okay to change in that particular way. This is when I strongly recommend putting your head in the sand, sticking your ass in the air and telling the world to go f*ck themselves. I’m fine people, denying the obvious, pretending it can’t happen to me. A little healthy denialism can get you a very long way in this world. Frankly, life keeps just on happening, companies keep reorganising, the world keeps changing, and we keep having dinner with the people we love as often as they are willing to sit down with us.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Marie Curie

Karen ToastComment