I was having a little think the other day about the amount of people who go through life holding themselves back from pursuing their dreams. The amount of people who hold themselves back from doing the purposeful work that they think they want to pursue.
What’s holding them back?
Fear of putting themselves out there in public. Fear of failure. Fear of being judged. Fear of choosing the wrong path. Fear of not being good enough.
Do any of these fears sound familiar? They’re very common, and hold a lot of people back from pushing themselves into the discomfort and uncertainty of meaningful work.
These fears cause us to procrastinate, distract ourselves, comfort ourselves with food and social media and shopping and games, avoid even thinking about it, and beat ourselves up for not doing anything.
If we could deal with these fears, we’d all be highly successful in whatever we wanted from life.
I’d like to share just a few techniques that will help overcome that fear and hopefully allow you to pursue your dreams:
Allow yourself to feel the fear
This is where we bring in mindfulness — when you’re feeling fear, instead of turning away from it or trying to escape/avoid it… try running towards it. Actually allow yourself to feel the fear. We don’t often want to feel it, but we have a greater capacity to feel fear that we give ourselves credit for.
Try it: notice how the fear feels in your body. Not your story about it, but the actual physical sensations of the fear in your body. Allow yourself to stay with it, to be with it, to tell yourself that it’s OK. Be friendly towards yourself and the feeling of fear, gentle, curious, open.
You will transform your relationship with it, even if it doesn’t go away. In fact, you’ll start to realise that you don’t need to get rid of the fear, you don’t need to do anything about it. It’s not a problem, it’s just a feeling, just an experience, just a part of the meaningful work you want to do.
Most people make the mistake of imagining themselves at the scariest part of the journey of their meaningful work — speaking in front of a huge crowd if you want to do public presentations, having an audience of hundreds of people if you want to write a blog or do a podcast, managing a huge team if you want to run a non-profit organisation.
But that’s like wanting to be an actor and starting at the Oscars. You’re not ready for that kind of pressure. Instead, start with smaller organisations, freelance, do it for yourself and work your way up.
If you’re an author, this means just write one blog post. No one will read it at first, so there’s no pressure. Then write another in your own time.
If you want to do public speaking, just speak in front of a few friends. Then a group of 10 people. One small step at a time, and you’ll get more and more prepared as you do each step.
This is known as “exposure therapy” — exposing yourself gradually to the thing you fear, starting with the least scary version of it. It is quite effective, and you can use it by structuring your progress gradually, starting very small.
Practice Dropping Your Ego
Fear comes up because we have a story about what might happen to us — for example, “If I try to write this book (or start this business), I’ll fail, people will judge me, because I’m not good enough.” This is natural, and it’s good to notice what our story is, to become more self aware, and then to start to see its power over us.
Once we become more aware of the story, we can practice dropping it. And dropping the ego (self-centeredness) that is at the centre of the story. How? By dropping into the present moment, becoming aware of the sensations of the body, the breathe, the fear, and everything that surrounds you.
Dropping into the present moment, becoming fully immersed in what is happening right now, our ego drops away. The story about what might happen drops away. We can’t think about both at the same time. So the story will come back (along with our self concern) and then we practice dropping everything again and being present. Arise and drop, over and over, until we get good at letting go and being here.
Being in the present, we can do the work. Take the next step. Not worry about ourselves, but instead take action for the sake of the people we most deeply want to serve.
Open, Open, Open to Joy
So we’re taking small steps (exposing ourselves gradually to the fear), we’re feeling the fear, we’re dropping the ego and stepping into the present — now from this place, we can practice opening.
What is practising opening like? Imagine that you have to do the hard work to get your meaningful project started. You feel the fear and resistance, stay present with it, but open to the action of the task in front of you. You become fully present with the task, opening your mind and heart to it. You start to fully appreciate the beauty and joy of the task, opening yourself to this incredible experience, which might include discomfort, uncertainty, fear and resistance. All of it.
It’s all mixed in with the joy and gratitude you feel for being here, now, with this task. Doing it for people you care about, not only yourself. It’s fantastic, and you have the privilege of being able to do it.
If you’d like to dive deeper into facing this fear, come practice with me in my personal development coaching sessions. We’re going to train in this together.