Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Lessons of Fear

Fear preoccupies us, consumes us. We can't get it out of our minds. It follows us around, a shadow that's always just a step or two behind. It impacts our actions. It's distracts us from our responsibilities and keeps us from our dreams.

It's amazing what happens when we let fear dissipate. A weight lifts from our shoulders. The world is a little brighter. There's a little more hope in our hearts. Best of all, we are able to be more ourselves without fear. We can see all the possibilities in front of us.

So how do we let go of fear? Like most other ailments, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So here are some ideas on how to banish fear and also how to keep it at bay, along with an example of a fear I've worked through.

1.) Identify the fear. Give it a name.
I always thought I had a real fear of not having money. But then as my earning power increased, I found I was still afraid. It took me a while to realize that my real fear was not being able to provide for myself.

2.) With the true fear identified, consider what would happen if we had to handle the fear head-on tomorrow.
Once I realized that I was afraid of not being able to provide for myself, I thought about what I would do if I suddenly found myself living my fear. I made a list of friends and family who might be able to help me. As I worked through my list, I realized what an amazing support group I have.

And then I considered all the times in my life when I had been very close to living my fear. I thought about how I'd previously gotten myself out of tight budget situations. In college, I was always on the verge of being completely broke. I would get an extra job or pick up a few hours at my current jobs. I even participated in psychology experiments run by grad students at my university to get an extra $25 or $50. I was very good at cutting my expenses down to nearly $0 if need be. I got used to super-cheap food, and I went without every possible frill imaginable.

3.) Talk to others about the fear. Articulated fears are much less scary than those that swim around in our minds.
This one was hard for me. For the majority of my life I was really embarrassed about my financial situation. And then I met a bunch of people in college who also had a hard time making ends meet. They were more at ease about it than I was and they always had some odd job leads that were very helpful.

4.) Set-up a plan to keep the fear at bay, and remember that a fear can be a wonderful motivator to promote good habits.
Because I was worried about not being able to provide for myself, I made an action plan of how to get myself into a situation that made my fear irrelevant. I put myself onto an aggressive savings plan so that I'd have a cushion to fall back on if something went wrong. I also became an expert negotiator for my salary and for variable priced purchases like cars and rental apartments.

My fear about not being able to provide for myself also made me very empathic toward those who truly can't provide for themselves. I knew that fear and sadness and embarrassment they felt. I'd felt it, too. And spending time with those people made me realize how extra ordinarily lucky I am, even at times when I didn't have much at all.

I also realized that I wanted to have more control over my earnings. The roots of my entrepreneurial spirit were started in my desire to provide for myself, to take my future into my own hands. And while I wish that I hadn't allowed fear to plague me for so long, in the end I learned to make the most of it while it was here. I lived through my fear many times over and the sky didn't fall down. Maybe what I was afraid of was fear itself.

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