Three Simple Tips to Help You Overcome Fear

Photo by  dryhead  via Flickr.

Photo by dryhead via Flickr.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can paralyze you. It certainly has affected me in my life but I’ve discovered three simple techniques on how to overcome fear. To help set the stage, let me share with you a recent personal story on how fear gripped me and how I eventually succeeded to kick fear to the curb.

Nearly four years ago, I had a big decision I needed to make. I realize that I had spent 15 years with one company, working hard to re-invent myself, but was afraid that I had pigeonholed myself by staying at the same place for so long. I wanted to try something new, but fear gripped me. What if I couldn’t find a job? What if I failed at that new job? What if?

When I look back at my career, I realize that I often faced fear. After graduate school, I landed a solid job in the medical publishing industry. I started in the Publications department proofreading articles on cancer research, then with the explosion of the internet, joined the Information Technology team and finally when social media came on the scene I moved to the Communications department. My resume showed my growth over time as I learned new skills and took on different roles being promoted along the way, but I had one lingering question: Could I face my fear and take a leap of faith and succeed at another company?

I’ve had to face down fear in many different aspects of my life. Getting married (what guarantees were there that all would turn out okay? Ha!), having children, and helping my mother when she went through a bout of depression after both her parents, my grandparents, passed away within two months of each other. All of these life-altering events became major roadblocks for me. None of them were easy to overcome, but I eventually did.

For switching the company that I worked with for 15 years, I wanted to share this story because I think it’s relatable on many levels. I work full-time and am also an author. I struggle with deadlines and work issues just like everyone else. When I approached my 15th year anniversary at my company, I asked myself an important question: If I needed to get another job, could I do so or would my time at only one company be seen as a detriment to a potential employer?

I had two kids, a mortgage to pay and was afraid. To overcome my fear, I did a couple of things. Some of them you might think odd or unusual, but I share them because they worked and I hope they’ll help you.

Share Your Fear

I’m a science fiction and fantasy buff. Okay, some might call me a geek, but it’s who I am. Back in the '80s, I remember seeing Frank Herbert’s Dune and there’s a scene in which the hero Paul needs to face his fear. His a literal challenge. To test his abilities, he needs to stick his hand in a box and his mind thinks that his hand is on fire and that he’s in tremendous pain. 

To overcome his fear and pain, he says the following:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” - Frank Herbert, Dune

I remember watching that seen as a kid and being impressed. At the time I was too young to really understand Dune and love the books, but the quintessential element of facing fear stayed with me. I didn’t agree with everything in the litany, but I appreciated the sentiment. 

I believe that it’s critical to admit one’s fear. That doesn’t mean a simple “Oh yeah, I’m afraid,” but to talk to a trusted friend or to write it out in a journal. When I tell something what I’m afraid of, I’m shining a light on a vulnerable side of me. The fear cannot hide within my soul, but by sharing it, its power is lessened. 

I cannot stress this enough. When I share my fears with someone I trust and love, it’s the first step for me to overcoming my problem. I don’t just share this out as a Facebook post or tweet it to the world, but I am thoughtful and take time to explore my fear by talking it through with a friend. To me, that’s critical and helps initiate a process in which I can, over time, overcome my fear.

Take Baby Steps

The next step that I use to overcome fear is to approach the problem from a well-planned out approach. I don’t like to just rip a bandaid off and jump into the fire. For me, that doesn’t help me process my emotions, think through them, discuss them and eventually lead me to a path with a resolution. Sometimes in life there are no easy fixes. Life can be messy.

To use the example of my fear of leaving my job, I took time to admit my fear, talk with my friends and then share with them what I was afraid of and discussed strategies. I did job hunting, talked with friends about whether they knew of any jobs like I wanted, researched job hunting techniques, and even went on a run with a friend of my wife’s to talk about career choices. The steps that I took to find a new job took time. For me, the process took about two years, but I know others who resolved their fear and found jobs in months.

Everything is relative as the fear that hung over me will be different than yours. We’re different people. What you might find simple, might take me longer to resolve and vice versa. But what I realized is that I could reach my goal, but needed to work to overcome my fear. It took me time.

I tried many things and failed. I tried various job websites, rewrote my resume, updated my LinkedIn profile, and even did all the exercises in the amazing book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” No matter what your fear might be, I think the take home message is that change takes time. It doesn’t happen in a day and that’s okay. No one (well, no one I know) can snap her fingers and just have the fear and problems surround that problem just go away.

When I take baby steps, I break down the process into pieces that helps me take my time. I expect, like me, there are many responsibilities that you’re juggling in life: Work, family, crazy schedules, deadlines, and a whole bunch of stress piled on top of all that. At the time that I left my job, I had just started writing book 2 of my Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries series.

Now that I look back at all of this, I realize how much I juggled all at the same time. I put in crazy hours at my job and still made time for my family, look for a job, interview and work on my next book. To make my life easier, I dialed back my personal writing goals when work or job hunting became too demanding and adapted as necessary.

After lots of hard work, I went on three solid in-person interviews and thought that the third job opportunity was the best fit. For the first two jobs, they became practice sessions for me and I didn’t get those jobs. Yet the third interview goes down as one of the best interviews I’ve had in my career so far.

Visualize Overcoming Your Fear

After I’ve admitted my fear and taken baby steps to work toward overcoming it, I started to visualize being past it. I thought about how I would feel once I had a new job. I saw myself happy at a new place, successful and thriving. 

When I’m in the midst of a problem, I find it hard to break out and overcome the issue. But if I stop, relax and take the time to see myself get through my fear, then I’m well on my way to overcoming it. For some people, the process to get through this point takes more time because it’s a hard step to take. If you’re not ready, slow down, try different baby steps.

This is another reason why I don’t recommend the “jump all in” approach because I’ve found that highly complex problems often tangle up many of our emotions and could take weeks or months to sort through. Doesn’t matter what your fear is (breaking up with someone, getting a new job, coming out of the closet, dealing with substance abuse, etc.), I’ve found that these steps take time to process.

I’ve made decisions in the past and think that I’ve pushed through my fear, but sometimes it comes back when I’m tired, stressed and beaten down. Again, that’s okay. Working to overcome fear is a process--often it’s not like flicking on a light switch. That’s not how life typically works.

Being Open to Change

It’s important to face fears, overcome them and also give yourself breathing room. We are imperfect beings. We could slip back into old behaviors, but need the tools and network of friends to help us. The hope that these tips will help you to overcome a fear that you’re struggling with in your life. Drop me a line and let me know.