I read something about fear recently that caused me to pause and make a list of all the ways fear controls my life.
Not the obvious ways, but the subtle subconscious ways that fear takes control without us even realizing.
Because of fear, I don’t tell anyone I’m a writer. Editor, sure. Stay-at-home mom, all the time. Former lawyer, yup, I’ll throw that in there. But never ever do I say the word “writer.”
Because of fear, I hold on to my five-year-old daughter so tightly when we ride the New York subway, and I feel wary of the strangers around us.
Because of fear, I sometimes take on other people’s worries as my own, allowing myself to feel and live out the fears they’ve shared with me.
My list of fears went on and on, and I filled with disappointment. I thought I had come so far in my self-growth, but there I was, staring at all my many fears.
My children had two weeks off from school for the holidays. We had a great time together as a family, but by the time their vacation was over, my inbox had 600 new unread messages.
I opened my computer and froze. Why did I have so many emails?
Because of fear.
Because I’ve been afraid of calling myself a writer, I’ve signed up for sooooo many newsletters that teach people how to become a writer. Newsletter after newsletter after newsletter, designed to teach me how to become something I already am.
In my last job I spent over two years teaching and editing the work of other writers, yet here I was, completely and utterly demoted to email slave. Why?
All because of fear. Damn fear.
And because I’ve allowed my fear to fill my inbox with so many distractions, I’ve been spending more time reading than doing what I need to do to actually be a writer — writing.
For the last few months I’ve felt incredibly anxious whenever I take the subway with my five-year-old daughter. With all that’s happened in the world this past year, I worry for her safety constantly. I’ve been seeing the world and all its people through the lens of fear and tragedy projected by the news.
Not until we set foot inside her school or back in our apartment do I breathe a sigh of relief.
Seeing this in my list of fears, I felt ashamed of how jaded I’ve become.
Fears can be so sneaky, they creep in so subtly, so subconsciously, you don’t even realize they’re there. Until you stop and take notice and hold your fears in front of you.
Once I held my fear in front of me, I grew determined to change. I got on the subway the next day with an open heart, determined to see and trust in the good in people.
Immediately a nice young man offered my daughter his seat. She sat next to an older woman who started chatting with her. Soon, we were all chatting: me, my five-year-old, this older woman and the nice young man. We talked for the entire ride, almost 40 minutes. The man shared pictures of his one-year-old son, the woman told us stories of her days as a teacher, my daughter shared her love of dried seaweed.
We were all so different; different ethnicities, different ages, heading to different destinations but it was the best conversation I’ve had with strangers in ages. As we each got off at our stops, our goodbyes were filled with awe at how wonderful it felt to connect so easily. And I was reminded of how amazing it feels to approach people with love instead of fear.
We all have fears, some of them are sneaky and subtle. But what I learned from that subway ride is that once we stop and identify them, we can then decide to open our hearts and courageously place more trust in ourselves and others.
I recently took on someone else’s fear story as my own. I empathized so deeply with their struggle, that I made it my struggle.
Suddenly I couldn’t sleep at night, I was in a constant state of worry and anxiety.
If you’re sensitive by nature, it’s easy to empathize with others so deeply that their emotions become your own. Before I knew it, I had gone down a black hole of fear that was impacting how I perceived my current reality and was causing me to say things I’d later regret.
When I finally stopped and identified this fear and where it came from, I was able to let it go. By holding the fear in front of me for observation, I could suddenly see my ability to separate someone else’s fear story from my own reality.
And in that moment, my entire perspective changed and my worries subsided.
You Are Stronger Than Your Fears
When I initially listed out all the ways fear was controlling my life, I felt so deflated. So disappointed in myself.
But now I realize, that is the work of being human. We all have fears, they sneak up on us and take control. But the more we identify our fears and question their merit, the more we can take back our power over them.
Listing out our fears allows us to check in with ourselves and make decisions about the person we want to be. It allows us to determine the changes we need to make to live our lives from love instead of fear.
We won’t always get things right, and sometimes fear will take over. But the more we check in with ourselves, the more we hold our fears in front of us for assessment, the more we can take charge of them and let them know who’s in control.
Have you ever allowed fear to control your life?
Bravely Do Scary Things Worksheet
Download this free worksheet to help you change your perspective on the things that intimidate you.