Our Fears: Knowing What is Holding Us Back

Our Fears: Knowing What is Holding Us Back


I was once on my way to give a presentation, sure that I knew what I was talking about and fully confident that I’d come across as a Rockstar. As I drove I was going over my points in my head, hoping I wouldn’t forget. As I waited I was trying to get a grip on how I would say it and the language I would choose, even though I already knew what I was going to say. I looked around at the people who’d be listening to me, and my palms began to sweat. I had forgotten the Rockstar. I glanced nervously at the clock. I started to question “Do I really know what I’m talking about?” “Do these people really want to hear me?” “What if they think I’m full of it?” “What if I say the wrong thing!?” Heart racing, sweating, and subtly trembling, I stepped up to the podium.

In the course of just a few minutes I had gone from expert to phony.

I had made the leap from educated presenter to incompetent charlatan. I covered my confidence with a thick shroud of anxiety. The best part was, I did it all in my mind. I had stepped into the realm of fear.
Fear can be an excellent servant, but it’s a terrible master. Fear holds us back. It keeps us from expressing ourselves fully. When you allow your fear to master you, when you allow it to hold you back, to hamper your efforts, to sabotage you, to keep you from expressing yourself fully, then you’ve accepted limits on your otherwise limitless potential. Our fear sabotages us in surprising ways, mostly because we are unaware of it.

Sometimes fears are perfectly justified.

Fear developed as a survival mechanism. I’m sure my ancestors would have been afraid of a saber-toothed cat. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one down a dark alley. Fear is what kept us from doing stupid things and dying unnecessarily. It kept us from taking on more than we could survive. Best of all, it led us to innovate. Fear was a driving factor which led us to protect ourselves with fire and shelter. It’s the reason we developed strategies and tools. We knew what it was like to live without these things, and having comfort in innovation helped take the edge off our fear.
Most of us these days, however, have adequate shelter, have strategies and tools, and don’t have to run away from saber-toothed cats. Most of the fears which once would have served us now just help us be neurotic. We turn the fear that kept us from leaping off a cliff that was too high into a fear that keeps us from taking the metaphorical leap to success. Some of our fears manifest as phobias: things we know we shouldn’t fear but we do anyway. We can be scared of spiders or afraid of heights. Some fears seem sillier but may have even bigger impacts on our lives. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear rejection, intimacy, money, poverty, and most of all, the unknown.

Fears like these hold us back every day.

They keep us from being the people we’ve always wanted to be (the ones our parents warned us about), and they keep us from fully expressing our truths. Fears keep us from taking necessary risks like investing in new skills or a small business, or falling in love. Not only that, no matter how much we work on them they tend to stick around for a while.
So, we sabotage our efforts in order to keep from confronting fears. We don’t want to fail? Don’t try. We don’t want to succeed? Don’t try, or try but subtly cause failure. We don’t want to be alone or rejected, but we’re afraid to be authentic and intimate. We fear poverty, but we fear the connotations of wealth even more. If we can’t do any of these things, what can we do? We can choose awareness.

Awareness is the key to overcoming fears and stepping into success.

I’m talking about any kind of success, not just monetary. If you want to be a successful artist, you have to understand your fear of being judged. If you want to be a successful person, you’ve got to get to know the fear that says you don’t have permission to be you. Awareness is the first step towards lasting change. When you’re unaware that your fears are holding you back, you can’t do anything about it. When our minds are saying “We can’t go to the podium, we’ll be killed!” we can remember that that’s our fear talking, then if we do or do not step up to the podium it’ll be a conscious decision. We know we won’t be killed. Our audience isn’t made of saber-toothed cats.

Next time you’re about to embark on a life-changing journey

(like attending a yoga class or deciding to get out of bed in the morning), notice how that little voice tells you not to try, that it isn’t worth the risk. Anais Nin reminds us that in the life of every flower, there comes a time when the risk it takes to stay in a tight bud is more painful than the risk it took to bloom. When your fear is holding you back close your eyes and take a deep breath. Exhale your tension then make a choice. A conscious one. Fear will still be there, but it’ll no longer be master of your decisions.
How has fear held you back? What have you learned?
Visit The Adjustatorium today.

Dr. Ryan K. Marchman