We love talking about overcoming fear. I’ve come to realise that overcoming fear is hard. (“No shit, Sherlock!” I hear you say.) Instead, I’m coming to realise the simple power of acknowledging fear without judgement.
One of our greatest fears as social creatures is social rejection. This week I really felt what this meant when I realised I was afraid of the whole world, every single person.
I’ve been wanting to write a medium blog for about 9 months. I had set up my profile and my publication, I knew what I wanted to write about, I had experimented on a less popular blog in preparation, I had linked it to my website… But I still hadn’t posted on medium.
I knew I was afraid of whether people found my work valuable. Even though I’d been working on it and the fear had lessened, there was still a hook.
Acknowledging fear: “What’s the worst case scenario?”
This is a question I have always avoided. As an optimistic realist, I considered this a moot question –
a) because the worst case scenario never happens
b) therefore it’s just negative thinking
c) I found this stressful and I don’t like stress
After hearing this question again on a podcast, I decided to be brave and answer it once and for all.
I thought I was always afraid of my work being mediocre, of people saying, “meh, it’s ok” or “it’s not great”.
It turns out this fear was a heck of a lot bigger. A whole world bigger.
“I’m afraid of putting out my opinions, thoughts, views and people disagreeing with me, with people becoming hostile and of being ridiculed. I’m afraid of feeling shame and feeling embarrassed. I would then have to give up my work, with shame and embarrassment, and attempt to get another job, carrying the shame and embarrassment of the world hating me.”
The world. All of it. Every single person.
Shame and embarrassment. Lots of it. A whole world of it.
Observing fear: “Thoughts?”
“Well that’s obviously not true,” was my immediate response.
Four and a half pages were then dedicated to writing my thoughts about the fear of hostility, ridicule, humiliation and shame. These were observations, a non-judgemental flow of thoughts about the thoughts.
The more I wrote, the more the initial fear transformed. There was a recognition that even the most hated people in history had some followers, that my work is hardly controversial or taboo, that I was generalising ~7.6 billion people into… 1.
And maybe, just maybe, a couple or even a few people might like my work. A couple or a few might even love my work. A few could mean more than 2 or 3, right? So maybe, just maybe, 10 or 30 or even 100 people could like or even love my work. Slowly, slowly, the numbers escalated. From hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands. Gradually my vision of massive positive influence became more and more possible.
The most beautiful part was that the process was so simple and almost effortless. The key, I think, was in the observation of the thoughts. I made no attempt to discredit or invalidate the fear; I didn’t try to change it. I also didn’t collude with the fear by assuming it was true. I just let it exist and be seen.
Through acknowledgement and acceptance, we’re able to fly in spite of fear.
I’d love to invite you to play with the process and see what comes up for you. I am also leaving some notes to support your process.
1) What is the worst case scenario? (What are you ACTUALLY afraid of?)
2) What are your thoughts about your answer? (What do you notice?)
- Remember that this is just a thought experiment. The fear is just a thought in itself. As much as it scares you, you can handle the thought.
- If the answer to question 1 seems a bit light (eg. People might say “meh” about my work) ask yourself “is this the worst case scenario?” If the answer is no, keep asking the question until you reach the worst case scenario.
- There is a difference between judging your fear and observing your fear. Question 2 asks you to observe your answer to question 1 without judgement.
Instead of: “what a ridiculous fear, what a stupid thing to think.”
We could say: “it’s quite extreme. I notice there are some generalisations.”
Interestingly, I posted my first blog on Medium the day after doing this process.
Please get in touch or leave a comment – I would love to hear how you get on with this process.
If anything in this post has resonated, touched you or triggered something for you in any way, please feel free to get in touch and share you experience by contacting me here.
Also published on Medium.