At least once in your life, I’ll bet you’ve made a decision out of fear—whether it was a fear of being different, of being alone, of failure—or even of success. I know I have. I’ve taken the less risky job, stayed with the boyfriend who was no longer compatible, moved to the familiar city, shelved a creative dream. After all, I’m only human, and so are you.
But when I look back and compare those decisions to the ones I made when I looked fear in the eye and said, “You won’t stop me,” there is a stark difference. When I allowed fear to stifle my choices, I stayed the same. When I let it inspire me, I grew.
In Meera Lee Patel’s new book, My Friend Fear, she explores the ways our fears hold us back and how facing them and befriending them, allows us to become actualized and fulfilled. She posits that fear is actually here to help us—not hinder us—in our journey to discover ourselves.
When we examine our day-to-day lives, we may notice how much we self-censor. We don’t laugh as loud as we want, and we don’t answer honestly when someone asks how we are because we’re afraid of feeling othered, of exposing our truth. Over time, Patel says, this self-censorship obscures us from our true self, leaving us insecure and uncertain. Though that feeling isn’t a good one, she says, it is an easy one. It means you don’t have to figure yourself out; you can get by doing what everyone else thinks is best. It sure is easy when someone else makes the decisions for us—if something doesn’t work out, there’s always someone else to blame.
When we pursue our passions, it means exposing our hearts and our true selves. What we fear in doing so is rejection. “Fear of rejection is so common because there is always someone or something to reject you: a person, an entire community, a job, a feeling, yourself,” Patel says. “You’ll spend your entire life running away from rejection, continually changing who you are, and still never escape it—unless you stand still.”
The next time you recognize that fear is holding you back, Patel advises hugging it close instead of running from it. Permit yourself to be curious about your thought patterns and to feel lost or abandoned while exploring them. “Exploring a feeling closely dissolves its hold over you,” she says. “Resisting only ensures that it will linger.”
The moments where I’ve turned to face my fears have been uncomfortable. When I realized my time was up in my chosen city and at my reliable, but unfulfilling job, it was scary—but the thought of remaining in either place was even scarier. When you consider the regrets of an unexplored life versus the risks of the explored, I guarantee that whatever you might endure in facing the unknown will pale in comparison.
Embracing fear as a helpful friend is a journey, but it’s a journey you can start today. Begin with the small stuff—when something is funny, laugh heartily. If things are tough, answer honestly when someone asks how you’re doing. If your honesty makes them uncomfortable, that’s their problem—not yours. Says Patel, “It took me years to understand that the authenticity of being an artist and a human being both depended on one and the same thing: developing the strength and courage to be honest.”
When we start being honest with who we are and what we want from our lives, our journey forward gets easier. It doesn’t mean there won’t be obstacles; instead, it means we’ll have the energy and the drive to overcome them. Let fear be your friend—not your enemy. After all—you cannot grow until you step outside your comfort zone.
Illustration: Anna Ismagilova/Shutterstock