We live a world of danger, both perceived and real. This ever-present threat can often paralyze us and keep us from happiness. Sometimes we are afraid of natural disasters, or crime. Sometimes we worry about personal failure and embarrassment. While these things are all possibilities, we don’t have to marry ourselves to their inevitability. Most of the things we worry about never happen. Are we wasting our lives in fear and worry, when we could be forging ahead with faith and confidence instead?
One of my all-time favorite movies is Strictly Ballroom. It is fantastic not only because of the over-the-top acting, great Australian accents, and ridiculous hair, but because of the overriding message of the movie.
A LIFE LIVED IN FEAR IS A LIFE HALF-LIVED.
Think about that. Do you want to only half-live your life, or do you want to live the heck out of it? When I turned (a significant age that I shall not reveal here, but which nevertheless holds much stigma and shock in our culture), I realized that I had been living my life in fear. I was literally afraid of getting in trouble all the time. I was afraid I would get in trouble at the doctor’s office, with my husband, and with myriad other people in myriad situations. I was constantly having conversations in my head where I defended my thoughts and actions. Then I realized, “Hey, I’m 40 years old! I can do what I want!” (Oops. I just revealed my age. Or rather, how old I used to be). Now when I notice myself being afraid, I remind myself of how old I am, and that I am an adult and can do what I want without feeling like a little child who might get in trouble.
Living courageously involves risk, and guarantees failure. But it also guarantees success. I don’t think you can really enjoy one without the other. I recently read that Abraham Lincoln failed at almost everything he tried until he was 40. (Maybe he had the same realization as me when he turned 40). Thomas Edison said, “If we did all the things we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Eleanor Roosevelt posed this searching question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
Richard G. Scott said, “Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously.” I believe that most often, it is our fear of failure that keeps us from succeeding! The key is to accept that failure is part of the journey toward success. You cannot name one successful person who did not first experience some measure of failure. So be bold in working toward your dreams! Cast fear aside and press forward with determination!
Here are four suggestions for overcoming fear:
1. Take baby steps. Instead of doing nothing, start today by doing something. It could just be making a phone call, writing something on your planner, doing some research into your goal, or sending an email. You don’t have to be hugely courageous all at once. Little daily steps of courage give us confidence and lead toward larger leaps of courage later.
2. Imagine yourself on the other side of the fear. What I mean by this is to picture yourself having already done the thing you are afraid of. Do you have a big presentation to give? Imagine that you have just completed the presentation and are sitting down. Are you performing in some way? Imagine that the performance is over, and all the stress is gone. Just picturing the moments after the scary event help me to realize that I will get through it and survive.
3. Play the “What’s the worst that can happen?” game. What if you fall down during your dance? What if you choke during your presentation? What if people laugh at you? Well, what if all those things happen? You might say, “I will feel embarrassed.” Well, then what will happen? “I will return to my seat in shame. Everybody will stare at me.” Then what will happen? “I will get to leave at some point and go home.” Then what will happen? “I will have to go back and see those people the next day.” Then what will happen? “They might laugh at me.” So then what will happen? “I will feel embarrassed.” Then what will happen? “I will come back and see those people every day, but at some point, they will stop laughing at me and just go back to their regular lives.” If we follow things out clear to the end, we realize that even if our worst fear materializes, it won’t be as bad as we think.
But what if your worst fear is death? Suppose you follow that “what if” thinking to the end, and in the end, you die? This is a serious question and should cause most of us to examine our beliefs. I personally believe that I have lived a good life, and that all the people I care about know that I love them. I also believe in an afterlife where I will be reunited with those family and friends who have gone on before me, so even death is not the most horrible outcome I could imagine. If I had lived a life where I hurt people and offended God, then I would seriously consider making big changes right now.
4. Reward yourself for failure. Yes, give yourself a reward when you fail. If you never try, then you’ll never fail. You’re really rewarding the fact that you had faith and tried. Use your failure to teach yourself how to improve, and be grateful for what you choose to learn. It is important that you choose to learn from your failure rather than give up. Remember that Thomas Edison “failed” 10,000 times before he finally invented the lightbulb. But he said, ” I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When you fail after giving your best effort, you can reward yourself with a night out, a movie, a special treat, or anything else you don’t normally do or have. It’s important to celebrate the process, not just the end result.
So I have a question for you. What courageous thing will you do today? Leave your answer in the comments.
Book recommendations: What Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail: How to Transform Fear into Courage by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown.
And remember, if you missed any previous installments in the Happiness series, you can find them all on my Happiness page.