Why becoming fearless is a myth (and can hold you back from following your dreams)

by Katie on October 16, 2014

I once read an interview with Oprah Winfrey where she said she rarely got nervous during her daily talk show, remembering only three times she felt nervous– interviewing her personal heroes Diana Ross, Nelson Mendela, and Sidney Poitier.

Only three times?? All those years of being on national television, interviewing all sorts of celebrities, dignitaries, and she was only nervous for three of them.

I wish I had that ability.

I get nervous for all sorts of things. Talking to people I don’t know, speaking in front of a large group. Sharing my feelings. Being vulnerable. Taking risks. All of these things scare me and can bring up a lot of fear.

I’ve always looked at other women who I consider successful, and who in my mind are living authentically, and who are playing big in their lives and actions. And I’ve always assumed they were born with some hidden strength that I didn’t possess. Some extra chip that allowed them to fearlessly take risks. In order to do what they do, I believed, they must not be scared to express themselves, they must be unafraid of the possible criticism and failure.

Since I don’t have this superhuman strength (I, on the other hand, am terrified of criticism and failure), I must not be as capable of doing important work and daring greatly. I must not be as qualified to put myself out there and follow my deepest desires. Some people were just born with extra confidence and self-esteem, right? The rest of us are off the hook and can stay in our safe little shell. We have an excuse. We just don’t have the naturally thick skin.

But I’ve learned…this is not true. Even the most “successful” people-those who I imagine must have received some extra mojo at birth-get scared too. Even the people who I admire and look up to as being fearless, they too have fears and insecurities and self-doubt. Just like the rest of us. They’re not superhuman, they’ve just learned to recognize their fears and move ahead anyway.

Of course everyone has different strengths and stronger fears than others. What terrifies me may come easy to someone else, and vice versa. But deep down we all have the same fears that hold us back. And deep down we all want to belong, feel safe, and do work that matters. And waiting until you don’t feel those fears anymore, until you become more confident, or until you become “fearless” is not a good use of your time. You will be waiting a long time.

Fearlessness isn’t about removing fear completely, or about never feeling scared or self-doubt. Instead, being fearless is about allowing yourself to feel the fear, anxiety and nervousness, and choosing to take action anyway. You’re not overcoming the fear, but rather moving through it. Taking a walk with it.

We often want to wait until the fear goes away to take action. It’s just too hard otherwise. We assume we’ll wake up one day free of fear and then we’ll be ready. But it doesn’t work that way. The fear only persists and gets stronger. The real courage comes from recognizing the fear, feeling the fear, and jumping anyway. Taking the leap. Telling the truth. Choosing not to wait anymore.

Recognizing that fear and self-doubt are part of the process is oddly liberating. I too can follow my dreams, in spite of my fears. Being afraid doesn’t mean I’m weak or that something is wrong with me. Or that I’m less capable. It is a defense mechanism learned as a child that no longer serves me, but it is also a natural part of human existence.

And ironically, the best way to lessen the fear is to go ahead and do that which scares you the most. The more you do it, the less powerful the fear becomes, and it will get easier. It may never go away completely, but your willingness to choose courage will get stronger.

Even Oprah gets nervous sometimes. But she does the work anyway.

Don’t wait until the fear goes away to get started. Don’t wait until the self-doubt and insecurity cease to exist. They may never go away. It’s just a part of the process. Start now. Do it anyway. We need your brilliance.

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